In today’s challenging healthcare environment, group practices increasingly are leveraging new tools to achieve success. However, many are finding that they do not have the internal resources necessary to foster the desired changes.
Appointing an interim leader is one way group practices can acquire vital expertise, especially if they have been unsuccessful during previous attempts at change management. By bringing an outside expert on-site to assess the situation, develop and implement a process improvement plan, and serve as team manager, practices gain distinct advantages.
In any change management situation, it is essential for the group practice to develop a partnership with the interim leader. Together they should create the goals and objectives, as well as discuss the assessment and strategy.
Expect a weekly written report that includes activities for the week, percent completion toward the goal, expected completion dates, and a roadmap of the work being accomplished is recommended. Face-to-face meetings should be used to probe obstacles and develop corrective actions and solutions.
Integral to the entire process is an exit strategy that must be taken into consideration throughout the engagement.
The advantages of interim leadership
There are two scenarios in which an interim leader is most helpful. The first is when an unexpected opening occurs within an organization. The second is a so-called “turnaround” engagement.
In the case of a sudden opening, the goal would be to maintain current initiatives while meeting with staff, managers, leadership and physicians. It is important in these situations to effectively gauge the mindset of the affected department, ensure a positive attitude and assemble documentation to train a permanent manager. Practices can use the time to rebuild confidence, improve staff competencies, optimize workflows, improve communication and offer transparency, which can build trust.
By contrast, an example of a “turnaround” engagement might be the oversight of one clinical department or the entire group practice. An Interim Leader can provide expertise to an organization which has been unsuccessful in meeting the changing demands; sometimes after multiple attempts. Interims are used at the Manager, Director and the C-Suite levels. The scope of the job is varied based on the task at hand. It could include a review of the entire patient cycle from the point of scheduling to claim adjudication, an assessment of the IT infrastructure or to develop recommendations for re-structuring the leadership team.
In the case of overseeing a department or a division, the interim leader will assess the current state of the practice. Based on discussions with staff and physicians, observations, and review of written materials, the leader will document the existing workflows, obstacles and operations within the practice. This observation and verification is integral to the process and cannot be ignored, because even small changes in a workflow can result in an unintended impact.
The well-documented observation of an interim leader offers a platform from which to recommend new, more efficient and effective workflows designed to improve metrics and the patient experience.
Another important step is an open and honest assessment of all practice managers and staff. The objective perspective of interim leaders allows them to observe staff, review job requirements and competencies, and make tough decisions. Once an interim manager has completed this step, the permanent manager can start with a “clean slate.”
Effective listening, transparency and honesty are necessary to build trust and a positive attitude—especially in the case of failed attempts at change management. The job of the interim leader is to serve as a champion for change, encouraging long-term skill-building, knowledge development, teamwork, independent thinking and enthusiasm within the team.
Upon completion of the assessment, a succinct presentation of the results should be given to leadership and physicians. A summary of identified issues and a corrective action plan should be offered prior to implementation. Once the leadership team confirms its support for the plan, they can turn their attention to the staff.
A full staff meeting to discuss workflow changes, obstacle elimination, and new expectations regarding behaviors and achievements should be planned. The Interim Leader can provide the leadership in making the changes assist with identifying a replacement and transition the permanent replacement. This process offers the new manager a “fresh start.”