Bernadette Kiely examines whether managing in turbulent times is a threat or an opportunity.
Is managing in turbulent times a threat or an opportunity? This depends! It depends on quite a number of factors. Your attitude, previous experiences, position in the company, the business model for the sector that you are in – the vision, culture and values of the business, the team, the customers, products and markets and, of course, how much cash or equity there is in the business.
In this article I am using the term business as a generic for all the stand alone and integrated health care related services including hospitals, consultants, doctors, nursing staff, management, administration, cleaning, security, pharmacy; suppliers, drivers; etc.
Of course there are the fundamental practices which I am confident are evident within the health services sector. However, for completeness let’s touch on them here. Start by analysing costs. Specifically utility costs, rent and rates, raw materials and supplies. The world has changed and every contract has the potential to be re-negotiated. There are deals to be got. All that is necessary is the “ASK”.
The leaders and managers who find it within themselves to rise to the current challenges are the people to follow
Next look at the way business is done. What are the core processes? What works really well? What has been put on hold for review or change during the boom? What processes are not adding value? Ask a few simple questions “How does this system or process contribute to service and then the bottom line? Would the business survive without it? What does it cost? After analysis, eliminate obsolete systems. Action and update systems that add value and efficiency.
Finally, advice that I give to leaders and managers of businesses with responsibility for a team of people is “START WITH YOU.” What do I mean? Well quite simply ask yourself ‘How do I feel about managing in turbulent times? Am I optimistic? Am I worried? Do I have the skills to help others get through these difficult times? What do I want? How can I help? Where do I need support? How can I get support? What can I do differently?’
The leaders and managers who find it within themselves to rise to the current challenges are the people to follow. Why? Typically, managers who are downbeat, depressed, negative, short-tempered, not taking ownership etc., are signalling to others that the game is up. They cannot or will not effect change. It’s time to shut up shop, sit back and wait and see.
Do you know any of these managers? Do they energise you?
Leaders and managers, who are managing turbulence and view it as an opportunity, bring a totally different mindset to the issues facing the business or the department. In my experience, these leaders have decided to make a difference. They have decided to influence change. They have self belief and self confidence. They see possibilities and are prepared to develop these. They are motivated by what could be and might be. The possible! They dig deep within themselves; work with their personal values and beliefs to create a vision of what could be a new future for them personally and their business or team.
In creating their vision of a different future, they research opportunities, speak to customers, test ideas, evaluate inputs and build energy around potential opportunities. They engage with all stakeholders, internally and externally, who might impact the new future. They build alliances. They start to build momentum and energy around the opportunity i.e. the new product, service, process, market, customer, supplier etc.
Re-discover your hope and optimism and it really will make a difference to you today and tomorrow!
What I have observed is that it is not only leaders that can and do initiate change during turbulent times. Employees can dig deep within themselves and decide what they can do to get through these very challenging times. The secret is first work on you. When you are clear on what it is you want and need, start by suggesting new ideas and ways of doing work which will reduce costs, improve efficiency, improve quality and/or bring in customers. Engage in discussions with others about your ideas and how they might work. Invite them to join you in your revolution to “Seize the Moment. Make a Difference.”
Imagine how the health service team nationally would operate if every employee regardless of position came to work with the belief that “I can and will make a difference to the patients, their families, colleagues and the community by the quality and efficiency of the service that I provide today.” Imagine the sense of satisfaction of living up to that belief. Remember, “Experience is not what happens to a man, it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldous Huxley.
The vision for any business has to be clear and easily understood. It has to be compelling. It has to be relevant and engage people. Remember, Obama Jan 2008, “Yes, we can change” and “Yes, we can seize our future.”
During uncertain times, employees look for a level of stability and certainty. Employees look for and admire those who lead by example. Those who not only “Talk the Walk” but also “Walk the Talk.” It is the consistent demonstration of positivity over a long period of time of the “can do” “will do” attitude which builds trust and confidence which in turn stabilises the workplace and business performance.
We should remember the old adage of “No man is an island” by John Donne and emphasise the importance of keeping the whole team engaged, occupied and productive during difficult business times. Now, more than ever, it is important, to clearly articulate goals and quantifiable outcomes for every member of the team. For example, the waiting time for a patient to see the Practice Nurse will be reduced from, on average, 15 minutes to five minutes in the next three months.
Communicate, Communicate. Communicate
I would encourage the establishment and development of effective teams to analyse and solve problems. Business should encourage employees to identify problems and improve existing systems through the use of brainstorming, suggestion boxes, open discussion, sharing data/feedback and seeking employees’ comments on same. Business will grow by making employees part of the solution. Encourage them to take the initiative. Reward them for risk taking and success. Learn from mistakes. It is important to note that “People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals – that is goals that do not inspire them.” Tony Robins.
Another key success factor for management is communications. Communicate, Communicate. Communicate. Clearly, Concisely and Consistently. Keep everyone up-dated. What is happening? What is not? Be honest. Be timely. If it is necessary to reduce costs through headcount reduction and/or the reduction in hours worked, plan out the requirement.
Communicate the rationale. Take the worse case scenario. If at all possible, try to plan for a one time major change or reduction in team size. Communicate the plan, the timing and advise the individuals who will be impacted on a one to one basis quickly. Be fair, be open, be honest and be respectful. Remember these people have been part of your business and they will market their impressions of you and your company/service when they leave. They can positively or negatively affect your business performance in the future.
It is worth remembering, that after a major change or loss of a number of employees from the team due to redundancy, the remaining team members have concerns. I advise managers to make time to address the concerns of retained employees. Communicate and discuss with them the vision for the future. Listen attentively to their issues. Involve them in the solutions. Answer questions about the future viability of the business honestly. Reassure and build trust. Secure them. Remember “The mind is slow to unlearn what it has been long in learning.” Seneca.
I have mentioned reward. There has been a lot of discussion regarding rewards in the media of late. What place do rewards have to play in management at these times? Rewards are critical to engaging people and keeping them motivated. What people tend to forget is that rewards do not have to be monetary. I believe that business can reward people for their contribution to success in a number of ways and very frequently without incurring any costs.
A genuine thank you from the manager or CEO is very effective. Speaking about an individual’s or a team’s success in an open forum is powerful. Committing the achievements of a team or an individual to an article and photograph in a newsletter or journal is effective. Promoting an individual is a recognised form of reward as is asking the individual or team members to present their findings or new process to colleagues, members of the management team or the Board. Finding ways to reward individuals and team members is not difficult. All it requires is a little creativity and time. Remember, People work for People!
In summary, I would encourage people regardless of position to think “You”. Re-discover your hope and optimism. It really will make a difference to you today and tomorrow! “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Napoleon Hill.
ANU HR Consultants