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MANAGING CHANGE

Inside your practice: Communicating, leading, & managing amid change

The only thing constant is change, said the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. And although he never managed a medical practice, his words certainly apply to the healthcare environment.

The case for transparency

Change is a constant for the healthcare industry. Mergers, acquisitions, facility closings, and new technologies and methods—it’s hard enough just to keep up let alone keep your staff apprised. Regrettably, failure to provide information breeds uncertainty, rumor, fear, and negativity that harms morale and productivity. That’s why it’s so important to take the trouble to communicate at least some information to those affected by events, even in situations calling for confidentiality.

Here’s how to handle common scenarios:

Merger or acquisition: Once M&A talks begin, word gets out fast and fuels speculation. While you can’t disclose the details, you can make a point to ensure staff gets the news from you rather than the media, social networks, and water cooler crowd. It doesn’t have to be a formal, detailed announcement.

Example:We’re having preliminary conversations about merging with another practice. We’re in the very early stages and no decisions have been made. I wanted you to know because there are bound to be rumors. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I also promise to let you know as soon as any decisions are made.

Continue to provide updates. At some point, information about redundancy and possible layoffs may become available. Don’t avoid discussing these matters. Employees will appreciate that you are forthcoming, even when the news may create personal hardship.

Practice closing: You should let staff know as soon as possible if your practice is closing. Your approach will depend on how the closing impacts staff members and their jobs.

Practice relocation: Relocations aren’t as traumatic when they’re local—although seemingly minor moves can be dislocating when they affect employees’ commutes. Moves involving geographical distance are a different animal. In either case, consider the situation in the context of what you would want to know if you were in staffers’ shoes. Make an effort to share news and answer questions. Get answers to any open questions, and then share the news.

Legal implications when layoffs are involved

It’s important to note that when a practice closing, merger, or acquisition leads to mass layoffs, it may trigger legal obligations under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which mandates transparency under certain circumstances.

The federal law requires that companies with more than 100 employees provide 60 calendar day written advance notice when 50 or more employees at a single location are affected. There are exceptions to the rule, such as when a closing is related to unforeseeable business circumstances, along with other stipulations. More information about WARN is available at the U.S. Department of Labor website.

WARN is a federal law. Some states have their own layoff notice laws. The California law, for example, applies to employers with 75 or more employees where 50 or more employees are to be laid off. If you haven’t already, familiarize yourself with the requirements of the states in which you conduct business.

Dealing with internal changes

Although not as dislocating as mergers, acquisitions, closings, etc., introduction of new technologies, processes and leadership can also be extremely stressful. Recognize that these changes aren’t just business as usual and that communication is essential to help employees cope.

New technologies and/or processes: Explain why the new technology or process is necessary.

At the same time, focus on the benefits of the change and the ways it will:

  • Make your practice more efficient;
  • Enable the practice to make a more positive impact on patients and even save lives;
  • Increase profitability.

New leadership: Gallup research finds that one in two employees have left a job to get away from a manager. If a change in leadership is planned at your practice, help everyone get off on the right foot by briefing staff members, ideally before the new leader starts.

Conclusion

Effective, timely communication during times of change won’t address every issue related to a transition. It will, however, make it easier for your practice to move forward.


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