Lead Change Like a Strategic Champion, Part 1

Organizational change is notoriously difficult. In healthcare, change is even harder than in most industries. Clinical and administrative staff often view their work as a vocation as much as a profession. They are historically suspicious of senior administrators and resistant to strategic agendas.[1] That makes it sound even more interesting. What adventure isn’t somewhat perilous?

Leading change is worth the risk when the vision is clear, the strategy is well planned and executed; using an approach that is easily translated at the operational level. This article draws from the wisdom of those who’ve successfully done this, and supporting studies that show us how to create the conditions for the most successful path forward.

Start by Establishing a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is defined as both the belief that skills and abilities can be improved, and that developing your skills and abilities is the purpose of the work you do. That means that the act of improving one’s capability is an essential focal point and an important part of the purpose for any work done. It’s distinguished from a fixed mindset here.

Research showed that “the extent that a leader espouses a growth mindset, employees perceived him or her as being more just, consistent with feedback, unbiased and willing to listen to employee input; these perceptions, in turn, were directly related to greater organizational commitment” and overall performance.[2]

A culture that fosters a growth mindset, then, is a culture in which all employees are seen as possessing potential, are encouraged to develop, and are acknowledged and rewarded for improvement.[3]

The advantages of cultivating an organizational growth mindset are:

47% of staff were likelier to say that their colleagues are trustworthy.

34% were more likely to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the future of the company.

65% were more likely to say that the company supports risk taking and is supportive even after failure.

49% were likelier to say that the company fosters innovation and creativity.

How Do We Instill and Promote a Growth Mindset?

Teach from the Top: As you know, people learn from the behavior and communication they witness from the top of their organization. The message that helps is, “Be the best at getting better.” As leaders, we can focus on our teammates’ improvements over time, to communicate that it’s the process of getting better that moves the needle.

Praise the Process: When praise is given, it should emphasize whenever possible, the process that led to success.[4] For example, it helps to compliment hard work, persistence, use of good strategies, determination or attention to detail.

Incentivize Improvement: Make it clear that incentives and evaluation are motivated by a ‘get better’ orientation instead of a ‘be good’ orientation; meaning it’s more helpful to focus on an individual’s capacity to grow, versus relative ratings or rankings between colleagues. Put the emphasis on long term mastery over ability to tap into your team’s internal motivation to learn and grow. The research shows that this has a strong relationship to improved performance.

Bootstrap the Brain: Teaching people about neural plasticity increases the growth mindset. If you tell your team that with hard work they can change how smart they are, it will shift the way they processes errors. They’ll tend to use the feedback from errors to improve themselves for later performance, versus thinking they’re bad at something and giving up. The research showed that this increased satisfaction, engagement and performance at work.

In Practice, Take Three Approaches:

1. Guidance: Communicate your expectations for performance in very clear terms and use constructive feedback weekly, regarding performance outcomes. During your weekly check in, provide specific feedback for how to improve, with an emphasis on the process of ‘getting better’ versus ‘being good.’ For example, “I see that you’re working on improving the accuracy of your documentation. I noticed that you’ve gotten better at describing the way your patients are reaching their objectives in about 65% of your caseload. Consider documenting during the session, so that you’re able to capture even more detail in your daily notes as you continue to improve the accuracy of your documentation.”

2. Facilitation: Help your team to analyze and explore ways to solve problems and enhance their performance. For example, a team meeting could provide opportunities to role-play a short therapy session, so that others can ask questions and problem solve together. Create opportunities for your team to learn how to learn by challenging them to come up with multiple solutions to any problem. Show them how, then incentivize the best problem solvers with a reward.

3. Inspiration: Challenge people to realize and develop their potential by showing them that the learning process is the point, and mistakes are just opportunities to improve. When we communicate that we care as much about their long term capacity to advance as a professional, we show them that we value them, not just the work they do. “I’d like to see you own the Abilities Care program and teach it to your colleagues, because I think you would be a great resource for everyone in that regard.”

The advantage according to Travis Bradberry is that, “people with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with effort. They outperform those with a fixed mindset, even when they have a lower IQ, because they embrace challenges, treating them as opportunities to learn something new.”

The opportunities to learn new approaches to effective leadership will remain continuous in our work and in our lives. By establishing a growth mindset for yourself as a leader, you’ll model the humility, flexibility and willingness to learn that will surely be a positive contagion. With the ability to guide, facilitate and inspire others, engendering the long-term value of ‘getting better together’ the door is more likely to swing wide open for greater success during organizational change.

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