The healthcare industry has experienced significant challenges as a result of the pandemic, including the rising cost of operations and the growing scrutiny of governments. As a sector that has been somewhat insulated from disruptions occurring in other industries, such as retail and banking, it can no longer assume it’s “business as usual.” Healthcare needs to embrace digital transformation and create a connected community that links digital care seamlessly to physical environments.
SLD’s physi-digital transformation study on the healthcare sector indicates the latter is falling behind other industries in omni-channel transformation, such as banking and retail. The study identified only 13 out of 48 transformational initiatives have reached 70 percent deployment – most were still in the planning stages. For comparison, banking has 22 and retail has 29 at 70 percent or more.
Some may argue the pandemic has forced healthcare organizations to focus on meeting immediate needs. However, transformation does not happen overnight, with many initiatives taking decades to reach completion. As Peter Drucker famously said, “culture will eat strategy for breakfast,” meaning no matter how great the strategy is, it will fail if the organization’s culture does not embrace it. The headwinds facing healthcare management as they attempt to transform are predominantly culture-based and human-centred. While the pandemic may have put some initiatives on the back burner, moving forward, organizations must overcome these internal, humanistic challenges.
Some of the key challenges for healthcare include insufficient resources allocated to transformation initiatives, workforce empowerment, skills gaps that leave staff struggling to manage new needs, and too many priorities overwhelming staff. These headwinds lead to lower confidence for healthcare leaders as their transformational initiatives struggle to succeed. Therefore, at the crux of driving the success of transformational programs, healthcare executives will need to place greater importance on human needs and organizational culture.
The following five strategies focus on organizational culture, supporting change through an approach that connects physical, digital and human systems:
Clarity on the need and approach
In our study, the executive suite reported that a lack of clarity on the problem for the end-user was the most significant risk to their transformational program. Leaders and management must determine both short-term and long-term programs and gain alignment through understanding the needs of both healthcare workers and the patient. A practical approach consists of stakeholder interviews, journey mapping and collaborative working sessions to understand the challenges and opportunities. A second critical factor is to ensure ongoing communication of progress to ensure a strong focus on goals is maintained, even through multi-year projects.
Avoid organizational silos
Most transformational initiatives within healthcare are driven by department-specific needs, leading to a fragmented system. Often these needs lead to conflicts as managers jostle for resources. In addition, these silos undermine the ability to gain scale and efficiencies on programs, as misalignment between departments leaves gaps that are often easily avoided through a more holistic approach. The C-suite needs to ensure there is solid alignment within the various departments, with those having a more significant impact on patient experience and outcomes prioritized.
Strong plan and process
It is tough to navigate long-term change without a roadmap with clearly defined milestones and goals. Understanding the complexity and challenges of transformation is the first step in ensuring the plan prepares all stakeholders to navigate the many potholes that appear along the transformational journey. The project also needs to minimize internal human barriers, such as biases and short-term thinking. As we will discuss in point four, the process must break down the plan into achievable shorter-term goals to help build internal positive goodwill and confidence the project goals will be achieved. Helping build internal confidence is critical in maintaining stakeholder enthusiasm as new priorities and challenges emerge.
Leveraging a trust ladder approach
The plan must maintain momentum towards long-term transformational initiatives. This is not always easy, given there will be personnel changes and emerging needs that can easily side-track leadership. Organizations must implement change as part of a step-by-step approach with easy wins, helping set the positive momentum for the greater initiative. We have defined this as the Trust Ladder. This approach instills confidence and pride amongst managers and employees that transformational programs are achieving success as part of the more extensive, long-term program. The planning process needs to divide the journey with key achievable goals for each step. Only when the goals are achieved should the institution move to the next level of change, ensuring all stakeholders are aligned in the process. This approach also works well when asking patients, frontline workers and other stakeholders to adjust to new experiences.
Shifting towards a human-centric process
The spotlight on transformation has predominantly focused on digital, often at the expense of human resources, culture and leadership, employee and patient physical experiences and marketing, to name just a few. Our study identified that leaders felt digital transformation was not serving the needs of patients. One of the leading causes is that transformational programs traditionally focused on cost reductions and streamlining operations to achieve better bottom-line performance. However, this focus on solving an operational and/or financial need has created friction with the human needs that keep a healthcare system and the people it serves healthy.
Leaders need to overcome their bias that bottom-line performance is a technology-only solution and consider that without patients and employees being fully engaged, remaining competitive will become increasingly difficult. To succeed, healthcare organizations should be focused on the ideal employee and customer journey and how the transformational process can improve the overall experience.
Sadly, irrespective of the effort and time spent on transformational initiatives, the majority fail to deliver, resulting in billions of dollars in wasted investments. The principal cause is that the purpose for change is not anchored on solving a human need, nor is a customer-centric approach taken as part of the transformational process. Only a human-centric approach will deliver truly sustainable performance across the entire organization.