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By Matthew Chamberlain

Last week, my colleague Monica E. Oss wrote about how health and human service organizations can build a “connection culture” – a piece in which I shared my work building organizational maintenance plans (OMP) to help understand how organizations function at the operational level (see Building Your Connection Culture). That piece got a lot of great feedback from OPEN MINDS Circle members, including this insightful response from one of our readers:

I have seen open meeting approaches fail because staff members, whether they are offered a platform or not, have already drawn their conclusions of what leadership wants. They do not trust their leaders and often fear the opportunity to “speak their mind.”

This is a very real concern when implementing an OMP and one of the critical aspects of the plan is executive buy-in and mandatory participation. While participation in each monthly meeting is optional, participation in the process is not and staff are expected to contribute when appropriate for their team or department. This needs to be an organizational policy, not an opt-in item.

Participation is also limited to supervisors and team leads (or higher) and they should only bring front-line staff into meetings if there is a very specific benefit to having them there. This does some positive things and helps greatly in avoiding the pitfall of having “staff sit on their hands.” This reinforces the front-line staff’s relationship with their supervisor and makes the supervisor accountable for sharing their team’s and/or department’s information and needs. It also keeps the meeting at a level that encourages participation and doesn’t have the “spin session” effect that would occur if everyone was in the room.

The lack of trust and fear of leadership is a main deterrent to participation, and I agree that in many organizations, this can be an issue. Having a negative culture degrades every facet of the business and would certainly make implementing an OMP nearly impossible as communication is the most critical item of the plan. Ensuring the right leadership and organizational culture is a linchpin for everything else and without that, it greatly reduces the odds of success. While it can take some time to change culture across the entire organization, doing that down to the leadership and supervisor levels is much faster and will certainly trickle down to front-line staff.

I have personally seen staff that felt the organization ignored their needs turn immediately into advocates of this process and become significant contributors. I will say that the only way this happened was that leadership communicated why they were implementing the OMP and not just that they were doing so. In addition, the mediators of the meetings must be strategically chosen to bring much needed credibility to the process. The most important thing an organization can do to help the OMP succeed is to follow through with the commitment to the process – there is no better encouragement for staff.

The idea that leadership has already made their wants known is great observation – and a serious concern when working with an OMP. That can be handled in two ways.

  1. Leadership should rarely attend an “open forum” other than to encourage and thank people for attending before the meeting begins. It is the job of the mediator and staff assigned to the process to document everything brought to the meeting and after review, take it to the appropriate department or leadership when necessary.
  2. Never attempt to find a “solution” or “the answer” during the meeting. All the review and further work toward a solution (when the information warrants it) should be done separately. If something requires planning or development of a solution, a specific team or group should be assigned to move that item forward.

These comments reinforce why it can’t be called the “have a monthly meeting” plan – having the appropriate organizational culture and building the required framework to support the OMP are both critical items that without, success is hindered.

For more, join James Stewart, President & CEO, Grafton Integrated Health Network & Institute Chair on February 15 at The 2018 OPEN MINDS Performance Management Institute, for his session, “Building The Human Talent You Need To Succeed With Value-Based Reimbursement.”

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