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As published in Healthcare Executive, November/December 2012, pp 64-65. Reprinted with permission.

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The Affordable Care Act and other recent changes in the field have placed new stresses on healthcare organizations. The challenges facing C-suite leaders and other healthcare managers are enormous.

These changes will test all of us, but some individuals are more prepared to succeed in the new healthcare environment than others. Many of those who will thrive are equipped with certain behavioral competencies — underlying behavioral characteristics that lead to superior performance. What are the competencies necessary for capitalizing on health reform to the benefit of your patients, community and organization, and why are they important?

How nimble are you?

Flexibility and adaptability are especially important in the reshaped healthcare arena. The command-and-control leader will encounter special problems in the new environment, as most of the old rules will be rewritten. Organizations will be more matrixed and complex, whereby accountability and authority will be spread throughout the organization rather than resting solely within the C-suite. The result will be an unfamiliar, ambiguous operating environment. Service line positions in particular may experience the impact of operational vagaries, as when the service line leader is responsible for the growth and profitability of the service line but may not be in a position to supervise the operating portion of the service line.

New job titles with new duties are appearing weekly; Chief Transformation Officer and Chief Health Enablement Officer are two that come to mind. Only the flexible and adaptable should apply, as these kinds of jobs require the type of executive who is willing to take risks.

While the future may be bright, the strategy to get to that future is not always clear. Quick, potentially risky strategic changes will be required as the new rules and a new future unfold. Those who can adapt will be rewarded.

What is your tolerance for risk?

As a general rule, nonprofit healthcare organizations are not characterized by a high tolerance for risk. They tend to operate with caution and are prone to conducting extensive analysis before making business decisions. The new environment will demand that changes be instituted quickly — without the benefit of time to gather all possible relevant information. Opportunities will come and go at a faster pace than ever before. Therefore, some mistakes and misjudgments are inevitable. Executives and their organizations need to be comfort¬able with risk assumption and potential failure. This means that communication skills have to be even better.

How adept are you at communicating?

Excellent communication skills have always been essential to achieving success as an executive. In times of rapid change, these skills become even more important. Those who are seeking to communicate a message in the new world of healthcare service delivery should keep in mind the following considerations:

  • Think through the message to its logical end: how it is delivered and how it will be received. Some messages are better shared in person rather than via e-mail. Other messages must be delivered through the postal service. Still others are important enough to warrant overnight delivery, while other messages are best suited as a tweet or another microblogging approach. In other words, both the medium and the message are important considerations.
  • Be available, visible and attentive when communicating with important constituents. Stop multitasking: Set aside your mouse, put down your smartphone and listen to what people are saying during each interaction. Don’t just make your presence available, make your mind available.
  • Learn to be persuasive rather than merely selling your position. Only in rare cases can you tell someone to do something and be rewarded with enthusiastic compliance. Persuading others to your point of view on the basis of data, facts or the potential gains that the idea represents will be a key to success.

Do you develop meaningful relationships?

If your communication skills are excellent, you will have an advantage over other executives in the ability to develop relationships. Building robust, trusting relationships with new entities and players will be essential as you navigate health reform mandates. Your worst adversary may become your new ally. Nurturing a new relationship requires a level of trust that must be cultivated first. You can demonstrate that trust by being transparent in your actions and making sure those actions match your words.

Physician relationships are even more important as new organizations, such as patient-centered medical homes and Accountable Care Organizations, evolve. It is difficult to maintain good working relations with physicians if they don’t trust you. You can gain physicians’ trust by showing them that your actions are good for patient care and, secondarily, good for their practice.

Relationships are also important for your work with team members such as your boss, peers and subordinates. You can be a good team member by doing your job well, shouldering your part of the organizational burden and treating all you encounter with respect. Being the “lone wolf” and looking out only for yourself in the emerging healthcare services framework will be detrimental to your career.

The new environment will require the executive to be effective in a world that is more complicated, that requires more resources than are available and that will consume even more of the executive’s time than prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act. An executive will have to exhibit extraordinary time management skills in order to accomplish all that needs to be done and still participate in family life. The ability to run meetings efficiently and eliminate unnecessary meetings, for example, will be a significant indicator of whether an executive can manage every activity in the time allotted. Adopting effective behavioral competencies will be crucial for executives who aim to succeed in the new world of healthcare.

Do you have the behavioral characteristics necessary to survive and thrive? If you don’t, start working to develop them. These competencies will enhance your career success now and in the long run.

Republished in Tyler's Tidbits, Winter 2013 issue.