Do not Pack Nanna – relocation in health care

In Relocation by Barbara0 Comments


I remember walking down the silent corridor, mentally ticking off the last minute checklist for the opening ceremony of this beautifully refurbished health care facility for the aged.

Everything was in its place, the rooms ready for their residents, the kitchen cooking up a feast, the nurses stations all set up with the latest technology, the systems had been tested. Relocation had been successful.

And the silence was deafening, at least in that moment.

On the other side of the office door, a group of resident’s families were lying in wait and I knew the silence was short lived. Emotions had been brewing for a while and were about to explode. I took a deep breath, gave the GM a supportive look and together we walked through the door.

Another change program that has created more long term problems that it solved.

There are numerous examples around which show when a relocation or refurbishment project focuses primarily on the project management of the physical elements, then the power and energy of emotional forces often become uncontrollable. And this includes stakeholder analysis and the resultant communication plan.

The learnings from this example show that even though the external stakeholders had been an item on the plan; they had received a letter informing them of the changes; had received notifications regarding progress; and even had a telephone number to call if they wanted to… it was not enough.

More importantly, what was done was technically correct, however the residents’ families feelings in the room showed they really were irrelevant.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

Where did this stakeholder plan go pear shaped?

Sharing information about the facts of the expected change, even in good time, is not the same as communicating so that people become engaged with the outcomes associated with a project which is going to impact on their lives.
This is just as relevant with external stakeholders, as it is with staff members and managers.

There are 3 actions which always lead to increased costs and emotional storms with external stakeholders in particular.

  • 1. There is a disconnect between what they want to know and what the project or managers think to tell them. Their views are not really sought – they are assumed and by and large we tend to get them wrong!
  • 2. There is no feedback loop that moves questions, successes and assumptions between the project team and the stakeholders, thus missing the opportunity to improve relationships and build in a buffer of trust for when things do go off track.
  • 3. The communication that does occur does not obviously reflect the values which have been espoused to the stakeholders and which have formed their expectations.

When the stated values of an organisation are not reflected clearly in the relocation materials or experience i.e how people feel they have been treated, the gap that exists between the stated and lived values creates an environment where distrust flourishes. It takes months and huge investment to recreate trust again. Low levels of trust always lead to lower levels of performance.

In all, the ingredients are in place for delayed returns and increased investment.

Engaging external stakeholders to improve relocation ROI

The challenge facing both care staff and families is how to capture the excitement and enthusiasm of the newly refurbished home and translate it into improved productivity that uses the new facilities to its best advantage. The sad thing is in the aged care industry – there are more areas of commonality with other businesses than differences, – getting the external stakeholders on sides really is an easier job.

The risk associated with not dealing with these issues timeously and proactively together with the financial incentives for doing so mean it is in everyone’s interests, including facilities managers, project managers and line mangers to ensure that they offer relevant change leadership with enough time to support their people.

If it were this simple and easy to manage, the whole debate about ROCI (return on capital invested) from projects would not be so loud. Instead, real returns are influenced by the people involved in the project – how they think, how they behave and what they do to deliver the new work environment AND then how they work, live and use its facilities. In many industries, the influence of external stakeholders goes unnoticed, as most clients merely walk away. It is not the case in health care.

How to get past this – with residents and their families on side

Remember external stakeholders are a critical resource, so therefore:

  • Ask them – or at least a representative group what they would want to hear regarding the proposed change – and when. There are a number of options- social media is a perfect platform, focus groups and 1 on 1 discussion with clients run by staff as they naturally interact, or even a pen and paper survey conducted from reception.
  • Always use existing feedback loops and communication channels with information they want to hear, remembering to include space for their thoughts, questions and feelings to be shared.
  • Always Respond!! No matter how minor, petty or irrelevant to the change you think the issue may be.
  • Always double and triple check the language, tone, timing, examples, testimonials and case studies in the communications always reflect the values clients have been told they can expect. This includes how staff interact with them during the time of change.

Who is responsible for thinking about these issues? Not the project manager as he has other contributions to make to the success of the project. It should be your change manager in conjunction with the communication/internal communications team.

What experiences have you had where the external stakeholders were appropriately engaged in change situations?

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