Change of any kind can be difficult, but any change that meets with resistance from any level of an organization can quickly become impossible—something we’ve written about before (see Challenges In Changing To A Culture Of Value (Or Making Any Culture Change) and Are You ‘Coachable’?). This is true for changes to business operations, service lines, performance management, and contracting models—and the tech infrastructure necessary to make all those requirements for a health and human service operation a success.
This digital transformation in health and human service organizations—and the culture shock that can often accompany it—was the focus of the recent 2019 OPEN MINDS Management Best Practices Institute session, Breaking The Barriers To Organizational Change, Salisbury’s Story, featuring Salisbury Management team members, Tracy Hockenberry, Director of Business Systems and Shaun Poulton, Chief Information Officer. They described their process and lessons learned, in building and executing a digital transformation strategy.
Salisbury Management provides professional, operational, and management services to companies in the fields of behavioral health and special education. Salisbury is privately held with operations in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and with approximately 1,700 staff. There are five companies within Salisbury House—Salisbury Management, Salisbury Behavioral Health, Growth Horizons, PAHrtners Deaf Services and NewStory Schools. When asked about strategy, Mr. Poulton explained:
We built our strategy to support Salisbury’s overall mission and to support growth from a “mom and pop” company to an enterprise organization. Salisbury is growing and has plans to continue rapid growth, so having systems and processes in place are critical to the overall success going forward. Our digital transformation kept that in mind as we prioritized and focused our efforts.
But having a tech strategy and implementing that tech strategy are two different business issues. The key is managing to a digital transformation. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, a digital transformation happens when the digital adoption and usage enables innovation and creativity at an organization. And we have covered this extensively in recent years—see Does Your Organization Need A Digital Transformation? Is Your Team Ready? and Digital Transformations Demand Digital Dexterity. As Mr. Poulton explained:
This isn’t just about IT. This is about how business units operate effectively and efficiently with People, Process and Technology. We wanted to get started with our digital transformation to support our growth at Salisbury. In 2019, it is assumed that technology will be there, and competitive advantage is rarely created through technology. The application of effective technology within your business is expected by staff, clients, and partners. From a compliance and business process standpoint, you need to have it. This isn’t about inventing tech; it was about adopting best practices and making our business more effective.
Making the digital transformation happen is about change and change management. And, that starts with culture and moving that culture from a “my computer is broken, can you fix it?” attitude to one that collaborates with the tech team on all business processes. Turning Salisbury’s culture around (and avoiding “digital culture shock”) involved six transformations—digital first, streamlining, growth, cross departmental communication, visibility and empowerment, and new policies.
Digital First—Many organizations still rely on paper-based systems, or have a electronic health record (EHR) because “they have to.” Adopting a digital first approach means organizations must jettison the paper, adopt an automated EHR that is linked to billing, performance management, and reporting. It also means eliminating other manual processes, such as payroll or human resources work.
Streamline—Legacy systems are the bane of many organizations’ attempts to upgrade either their tech systems, or the culture necessary to run a new system. But running different parts of the organization on different systems is untenable, and makes reporting, billing, and performance management especially difficult. Putting as many operations on one system and building a culture that embraces that approach is key to supporting greater and more valuable innovation and collaboration.
Growth—Building scale (or failing to build scale) is often the litmus test that many organizations cannot pass. Having a great service or community presence is good, but small in today’s health care field isn’t often better. Adopting a digital first approach for both tech investments and culture change is a good way to build scalability without adding additional resources (i.e. cost).
Cross Departmental Communication—At the heart of changing a culture from “analog” to digital, is the ability to foster communication across previously siloed departments. The biggest cross departmental bridge must necessarily be between the IT department and the rest of the departments. This allows for management to prioritize the roadmap and enforce IT/Business alignment, and then for different departments to reach out to IT to support innovation and business decisions.
Visibility and Empowerment—Not only are discrete business units siloed at many health and human service organizations, so are individual staff members and sometimes, even projects that could have a wider importance to the organization but “get lost” in the shuffle. Repeatable system implementation process can bring increased visibility and accountability for key projects and staff who can then serve as a source for innovation in the future.
New Policies—Big changes to operations require big changes to the policies that guide those operations. These policies can also serve as a blueprint for how teams and organizational culture operates in a newly adopted digital first environment.
To speed this transformation, avoid digital culture shock, and develop a digital culture, make sure that all staff understand the “why” driving the process and provide the “basic” support that can improve staff buy-in and support. Ms. Hockenberry explained:
To gain acceptance, we had to take the time to teach and explain to the business ‘why’, and what these things are for. We found in the process a really tangled mess.We discovered a lot of situations where, how did we do this in this way for so long? This got to the roots of what we are doing and why. We are always trying to keep consumer care at the front of everything. We must think of the clinical professional in a chaotic environment, and they can’t have a device that isn’t working. Say they don’t have a mouse…little things like that really affect care. To meet their basic needs, that raises employee morale because they can focus on clients, not the tech.
Even though the pace of change isn’t the same for all the organizations that go down that path, the competitive advantage is still to be had in the implementation of the tech (not simply the adoption of the tools). Looking for more on both change management and digital transformations? Check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:
- Crossing The Digital Health Chasm
- ‘Going Digital’ For A Better Consumer Experience
- Your Digital Tech Integration Checklist
- Digital Health Still ‘The Exception’ But Get Your Plan Ready
- Planning For The Digital Reinvention Of Your Market
- What Do Today’s Leaders Think About Managing Change?
- Creating and Leading A Team in Times of Change
- Don’t Just Sit There: Change!
- Managing Change as a Leader’s Challenge
- Managing at the Speed of Change: What Does It Take to Be Nimble?
For more on adapting to the fast-paced change in today’s health and human services field, join me on September 12 for The 2019 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat session, “Executive Strategic Role Becoming The Agent Of Change For Your Organization”, featuring Joseph P. Naughton-Travers, EdM, Senior Associate, OPEN MINDS.