Change can be difficult. Although it is constant in today’s world, it is still met with significant resistance within many organizations. Opposition to change can quickly derail improvement to business processes and impede progress, increasing exposure to risks and inefficiencies. However, once change is accepted and embraced, it can lead to improved culture, better ways of doing things, and the potential to make progress and grow.
One of the presentations at the 2019 OPEN MINDS Management Best Practices Institute held in Long Beach, California gave attendees a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look into the experience of two leaders who were able to effectively change their organization for the better. The lessons they learned can be used as an excellent roadmap by anyone who is implementing major changes within their own organization.
Mr. Shaun Poulton, BS, Chief Information Officer and Ms. Tracy Hockenberry, MA, NCC, LPC, Director of Business Systems at Salisbury Management utilized their digital transformation initiatives as a driver for organizational change within the Salisbury House portfolio of behavioral healthcare companies. They shared their approach, initial results, roadblocks, and continued plans for Salisbury’s transformation from a “mom and pop” culture to a more data driven, process focused enterprise in their presentation, Breaking the Barriers to Organizational Change.
Salisbury House provides a broad range of high-quality, therapeutic services to must-serve populations through a family of leading behavioral health brands, which are supported by a common infrastructure. Mr. Poulton and Ms. Hockenberry work in information technology (IT) at the management company which provides administrative support services to each of its operating businesses. Salisbury House behavioral health services are provided at 176 locations throughout Pennsylvania by five operating companies.
Underlying this work are three core company values. First, try to hire the best people – think employee excellence. Second, maintain super-high standards so staff can deliver the best client care. Third, operate in a fiscally smart way in terms of business operations.
“So, it starts with culture,” an important point stressed by Ms. Hockenberry. She has seen a transformation from people operating in a silo mentality to one of partnerships and collaboration since the change initiative began, but it was not an easy barrier to tear down.
Upon the arrival of Mr. Poulton two years ago, an evaluation of the systems and procedures commenced throughout the entire company. Mr. Poulton and Ms. Hockenberry were met with a culture of high resistance and knew they had their work cut out for them. “They were very used to operating the way that they had been operating for 30 plus years,” said Ms. Hockenberry. “IT struggled to gain the trust of the business in the beginning. That was the real struggle – they didn’t trust what we were trying to do, why we were asking for the information we needed, and why we needed to be involved. Eventually as we built our relationships and began building the small wins, they did begin to trust us more and more easily share information.”
Their uphill battle with cultural change had begun, but they came in with a plan. They spent time educating staff and worked through the resistance with their stakeholders over many months. They spent time building relationships. They identified early adopters and grew their support system within the company. After a while, they were no longer seen as the enemy, and staff wanted them involved in their projects. “It’s also a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with failure. So, for us, that was really the tenant of what we were looking to do,” said Mr. Poulton.
Mr. Poulton and Ms. Hockenberry suggest starting with the easy stuff. Gain trust from stakeholders and gain momentum for future endeavors by addressing their pain points. The example Mr. Poulton gave was implementation of new software to improve the payroll workflow process. They found staff were spending countless hours preparing payroll manually. Some people were working every Tuesday until eight or nine o’clock at night to complete payroll tasks. After implementation of the new, automated system, those payroll tasks were completed by noon. Staff said they never wanted to go back to the old ways. This streamlined system change brought in a fountain of goodwill to IT.
Mr. Poulton also talked about the importance of technology and processes. Look at your operations. Do you have the right people in the right roles? Do the processes align with the company strategy? Are you still carrying around binders of paper? Are there processes that interfere with providing quality and timely service?
The company’s view of the technology also needed a big change. Mr. Poulton said a major focus of the firm’s President was to have growth, but current infrastructure could not support the growth happening at the organization. “So, it was key to have that infrastructure in place. So, we saw much room for improvement,” said Mr. Poulton. This was the impetus needed for digital transformation at Salisbury.
As Mr. Poulton told the audience: “How can we work smarter, not harder? How can we use automation to improve processes to do things? Let’s not write stuff in spreadsheets anymore.” Mr. Poulton continued, “Our job is to take the burden off of them as much as possible.” One example he gave was of a staff member who was using an eight-year old laptop taking 15 minutes to boot up. Tired of waiting, the staff member would fall back to paper records. The quick and easy solution – they bought that person another computer right away.
“Invest the time, effort, resources, and whatever else is needed up front to do things the right way,” Mr. Poulton advised the audience. He also stressed how important it is to provide excellent customer service, as well as finding “change agents.” These are the people who are going to be change supporters and champions out in the field. They should be vocal and get other people to follow them. Change leaders ensure that they show appreciation and acknowledge these supporters by sending thank you notes or gifting reward points.
Ms. Hockenberry provided an example of a project that put everything in perspective. Partnering with Welligent, they implemented a new system for their vocational program at Growth Horizons in 2018, which eliminated the paper, photocopying, and staplers, providing improved access to needed information. Growth Horizons staff, accustomed to company practices that were predominantly paper based, started out with a lot concern, fear, and resistance. Now, the project has become one of IT’s biggest success stories. Their employees are some of IT’s biggest advocates in the Salisbury family. Mr. Poulton added that “they’ve done such a great job, and really the CEO would be the model for us working with our other businesses.”
Mr. Poulton also provided an example about how much time and productivity was gained through changes in technology. Salisbury had many teams who often spent 6 to 8 hours traveling to a site for staff meetings. Now, instead of going back and forth in a car, everyone uses Skype to virtually meet and communicate. Travel time has significantly decreased and has allowed staff to work from home. Productivity has gone way up and has increased collaboration among staff. “People have received that (Skype) very well,” said Mr. Poulton.
Ms. Hockenberry closed the formal remarks by asking: “How are we measuring our outcomes?
Well, you can’t measure outcomes unless you have good information, right?” She said that is a really important part of the work performed by Mr. Poulton and herself. She wrapped up by saying she talked with Salisbury Management CEO Paul Volosov, Ph.D. for his observations and advice. He said: (1) over time, we can accomplish a lot, (2) everything always takes longer than you think, and (3) people have feelings. Ms. Hockenberry volunteered that knowing you have the support of the CEO allows everyone to do their jobs better.
About the Salisbury Presentation
View the Salisbury Presentation Sponsored by Welligent at the 2019 OPEN MINDS Best Practices Management Institute:
5 Ways to Build an Effective Change Plan (PDF) is a 7-page pamphlet prepared by Welligent and Salisbury that provides easy-to-follow steps to implement change in an organization.
Breaking the Barriers to Organizational Change, Salisbury’s Story” is the slide show presented by Mr. Shaun Poulton and Ms. Tracy Hockenberry
Welligent provides a fully integrated, cloud-based electronic health records platform and mobile apps to help you work smarter. We have complete solutions that can streamline your practice management, clinical documentation, revenue cycle, and more. We serve behavioral health, human services, public health, foster care, I/DD, and student health communities across the country. Welligent.com. Norfolk, Virginia.