We had a rollicking session, given the subject matter, on changing organizational culture at The 2019 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat. The session, The New Executive Strategy Role: Becoming The Agent Of Change For Your Organization, featured executive faculty members with three very different “change” situations.
Luanne Welch, President and Chief Executive Officer of Easterseals UCP North Carolina and Virginia led the $88 million organization through a turnaround and now is in the midst of a managed care transformation in both states of operation. Gary Bonalumi, the Patient Experience Director of WellSpan Health System—a 19,000-employee, $3 billion health system—is amid major mergers. And, Dyann Roth, President and Chief Executive Officer at Inglis, a $49 million organization serving people with complex physical disabilities, is in a community-based transformation.
My big takeaway? Leading these big changes requires an executive team with personal courage. To be successful with organizational transformation, the speakers spoke of “having the stomach” and fortitude to make necessary moves. That courage, however, isn’t strictly a characteristic of individual leaders. Ms. Welch explained:
In my experience, I initially had a “naïve” courage. I knew enough to know the closets had skeletons. Then came an “informed” courage. At some point, you move to a “whatever it takes” courage. The key is an ability to listen, and to listen to the right people. I think in our case, the right people are the front line. They know more than the c-suite most days. You also need a bias for action. In terms of an organizational ability, you need to bring different teams together so that you can bring different lenses together, so you have a broader view of the real issues. Then you can make great decisions.
So, what do you do if your organization is on the brink of a transformational change? In addition to taking your own “personal courage inventory”, these executives spoke to three other crucial tactics—basing action on data, leveraging the power of middle management, and engaging the board.
Basing action on data—All three executives spoke to the need for leaders to have “bias for action.” But, that said, that action plan needs to be based on data and on an understanding of the organization, market, and competition in front of them. With data in hand, “ruthless execution” is the goal but with the ability to change course as the situation changes. In organizational transformations, recalibration of tactics is the rule and not the exception. Ms. Roth noted:
What data is important and what is noise? And how can we base action on the data? What does the board, the executive team, and the management teams of service lines each need in terms of data and what are they going to do with it? We need enough balance of “inside and outside cats.” We need people who are really “out there” forming the relationships, selling the new identity, and positioning us, and enough inside folks continuously working on quality. Our top executives need to balance being both.
Leveraging the power of middle management—Plenty of great leadership visions have been derailed because leadership didn’t understand how to communicate that message throughout the entire organization. Not unexpectedly, all three executives spoke to communication, overcommunicating, and “you can’t communicate enough.” Leveraging the role of your organization’s middle managers is a fundamental part of this communication strategy. Mr. Bonalumi noted:
There is a unique role for the middle management levels of the organization. They are between the strategy makers and the largest number of employees. As change rolls out, it rolls out in different ways. You need folks that are persistent and patient, that recognize there is a process and there is an urgency, but they can respect the feelings that go along with it. And they can point out the opportunities that go along with it.
Ms. Welch also explained that there is a definitive process to change and culture management—and described how her organization profiles managers to find the “humble, hungry, and smart.” She discussed how executives need to direct the change process:
If you are in touch with your front line—the heart and soul of the organization—you know the manager controls your culture. You must include the manager as part of the solution and clarify their role. You as the executive can frame the issue, but if you aren’t bringing along your managers then you are missing an opportunity to move change forward. At first, staff will likely fear the change, then they will hate the change, then they will love the change, and finally they will embrace the change. You can shrink the time it takes for that process, but you can’t eliminate it. Change takes time to be successful.
Engaging the board—There is a big difference between talking to your board, and truly engaging the board in an organizational transformation. As these executives noted, many board meetings become an “information dump” with an occasional question and answer session included if there is time. This is not engagement in change. While it’s paramount to keep the board abreast of the latest information (and there is a lot of “the latest” in health and human services), it’s also important to keep them active and engaged. Mr. Bonalumi noted:
A lot of board meetings are about dumping information, and then maybe shoe horning in a question. You have this immense talent sitting around the table and rarely do you have a chance to ask them what their experience is with your issues, in their businesses. There must be more conversation and engagement.
While most health and human service organizations don’t know exactly what the future holds (see How Many Strategies Actually Get Implemented?), planning for that future change is essential. Building the courageous leadership team to take that strategy from concept to action is the key to success.
For more on leading organizational transformation, check out these resources from The OPEN MINDS Industry Library:
- What Do Today’s Leaders Think About Managing Change?
- Creating and Leading A Team in Times of Change
- Don’t Just Sit There: Change!
- Managing Change as a Leader’s Challenge
- Managing at the Speed of Change: What Does It Take to Be Nimble?
- Bot, Anyone? The Question-What Services Can You Automate?
- Anticipating The Looming Strategic Surprises
- Add ‘Speed’ To Your Treatment Tech Planning List
- Even ‘Change Management’ Is Changing
- Taking The Risk On A New Service
For more on changing to meet the demands of the new market, join me on February 14 at The 2020 OPEN MINDS Performance Management Institute for my keynote, “Transforming Organizational Performance: Using Data To Find Advantage & Sustainability.”