Disruption is a buzzword many people are hearing a lot these days.
Many, if not most, industries are facing disruption as a result of a confluence of factors, including technology, globalization, climate change, demographic shifts, and more. Disruption may be pervasive, but it would be hard to argue that any U.S. industry has been more disrupted than health care.
What are those disruptions in health care? There are the obvious ones like the furious pace of technological advancements, and the less well known ones, such as the increasingly diverse nature of the health care workforce and patient populations. Disruption is also inherent in the generational differences between health care workers. Disruption is also fundamentally changing the way health care is monetized and is driving the movement to control costs.
“The disruptors in health care are everywhere, and if they are going to result in positive change that makes our health care system better, we have to react to them and react to them now,” says Ben Spedding, DHA, faculty chair for Health Leadership and Innovation at Capella University.
To react to, and ideally get ahead of, the disrupters in health care, Spedding provides the following advice for health care leaders to evolve their leadership styles to adapt to the changing realities around them.
Step 1 – Recognize the New Realities
Dealing with the disruptors rocking the health care industry starts with recognizing that they are happening and embracing what those changes could represent.
“Health care leaders can’t have their heads in the sand when it comes to what’s happening to the industry,” Spedding says. “That’s a sure way to be left behind. The status quo no longer works, and health care leaders must understand that they need to communicate differently, instruct differently, incentivize differently. Everything is changing and, if dealt with thoughtfully, hopefully for the better.”
For example, Spedding says that the most efficient, highest quality care is typically delivered through a team of health care professionals. That requires effective communications styles and a collaborative mindset. That new paradigm is very different than in the past when many health care providers took pride in a go-it-alone mentality.
“That authoritarian, my-way-or-the-highway manner of thinking just won’t fly anymore,” Spedding says. “Today, health care professionals at all levels, from the neurosurgeon to the technician, need to be collegial and embrace true two-way communication.”
Step 2 – Seek Constructive Feedback
Progressive health leaders might think they are embracing and reflecting the new realities in health care, but are they really? Self-assessment and self-awareness can only take us so far, Spedding says. He encourages all health care leaders to seek out constructive feedback – from their peers, from their leadership, from those who report to them – to find out if their leadership style truly facilitates the collaborative, nimble, innovative workplace culture that is needed today.
“Health care leaders absolutely need to ask those they work with if their leadership style is effective and resonating,” Spedding says. “They need to seek honest feedback and ask if other leadership styles might work better. In essence, they need to ask, ‘What do people think of me, and what do they think I could do better?’ and adjust accordingly.”
Step 3 – Be Agile
To effectively respond to the disruptors changing the health care landscape, flexibility is key. That can mean flexibility in where people work, how they work, when they work. It can also mean flexibility in terms of how leaders engage with staff, surface their ideas, and act on those ideas. Everything needs to be on the table.
“Health care leaders need to exhibit flexibility and inclusiveness, but they also need to find the balance between meeting their colleagues where they are and unleashing the Wild West where it’s chaos and everyone gets what they want,” Spedding says. “That is the challenge of flexibility. You need to be open to new ideas and new ways of working, but always through the filter of, ‘Is this is what’s best for the patient?’”
Step 4 – Double Down on Communicating
In today’s health care environment with a hyper focus on collaboration and team-based care, being an effective communicator is essential. To be an effective communicator requires the presence of mind to be an active listener.
“It should be obvious, but we all need to be reminded that communication is a two-way street,” Spedding says. “Just communicating more to employees and colleagues is not the answer. Health care leaders need to talk with them. Communication in the health care setting needs to be a true dialogue where employees are encouraged to provide feedback to all levels of leadership. And that leadership needs to listen and thoughtfully respond.”
Spedding adds that although it might seem counterintuitive, it’s important to embrace the disruptor that is technology when trying to facilitate better communications.
“Technology can and does allow us to communicate more immediately and efficiently,” Spedding says. “Think texting. Think live video conferencing. Private social media groups. These are all channels to help us communicate and are very familiar to many health care workers today. Meet them where they are. Don’t overdo it, but understand that we now have much greater ability to connect with each other in real time. That can be a huge boost in providing care efficiently.”
Step 5 – Leave Your Biases Behind
As with the rest of society, health care is becoming more and more diverse, both in terms of workers and patients served. That reality requires health care leaders to leave any biases they might have behind.
“You can’t be stuck in old cultural norms if you are in health care today,” Spedding says. “You need to see and be open to the global nature of health care and the diversity that presents. Bias has no place in health care. If this new global world of health care is uncomfortable for you, you need to find a new career. Every health care professional needs to address any biases so that they don’t negatively impact patient care.”
By recognizing the disruptions happening in health care and adjusting leadership styles accordingly, health care leaders today will prepare themselves, and the industry, for future success.