June 2, 2020

When Covid-19 emerged, health care organizations across the country enacted emergency response plans that disrupted many leaders' day-to-day jobs. But now, some health care organizations are entering a period of relative "calm"—and the transition from a sprint to a jog may feel disorienting for leaders whose teams that have been firing on all cylinders.

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For leaders, this moment presents a unique opportunity to pause, reflect, and reorient their team for the long haul. Below, we've outlined four ways leaders can use this time to care for their own needs and lead their team through the uncertain months ahead.

1. 'Refill your cup' so you can continue to show up for your team

During Covid-19 leaders have had to balance significant stress and change in both their personal and professional lives. The wide reach of the pandemic offers few opportunities to pause and reflect. While it may feel difficult to do so, one of the best things you can do for your team is take a step back and "refill your cup."

Many leaders have been heads down for weeks on end, managing both personal concerns and those of their colleagues and teammates. A key first step is to pause and check in with how you're feeling. Once you can reflect and process your own feelings of grief or loss, you'll be able to return as a more focused and energized leader for your team.

Then, even though it may feel uncomfortable, consider taking a step back from your day-to-day work in whatever form feels helpful to you. This may include taking a day—or even an afternoon—off your e-mail, debriefing with a trusted peer leader, spending dedicated time with family or friends, or simply blocking time to go for a walk. When we talk to leaders across the country, many express guilt or concern at the prospect of taking a step back. But you can't lead effectively if you're suffering from your own burnout. And remember, as a leader, you set the tone for your team. When you practice self-care, you signal its importance to your colleagues.

2. Resist the urge to scale back Covid-related communication to staff

 As case counts decline, you may feel inclined to scale back communication to give your team a break from the stream of updates over the last couple of months. But communicating now is just as important. We're entering a period of uncertainty that's full of gray areas—from reopening practices to navigating social distancing as businesses open their doors. Chances are that teams will continue to turn to you for consistent guidance and clarity. Don't be afraid to overcommunicate. Continue to rely on tried and true e-communication channels to share what you know, flag what you don’t know, and dispel any rumors in between.   

In addition to organization-wide communication, it's a good time to pull up with colleagues you haven't had the chance to connect with on an individual level. Look for opportunities to connect with team members and check in on how they're doing. As you hold these conversations, consider how you can elevate their feedback or proactively address shared concerns that arise.  

3. Create opportunities for meaningful peer recognition

During Covid-19, there's been an outpouring of widespread, well-deserved recognition for frontline staff. To sustain this momentum, look for opportunities to integrate meaningful recognition into your team's workflow. We think of meaningful recognition as having three characteristics: it's timely, specific, and includes people who are significant to the individual being recognized.

Here are a few of our suggestions for staff recognition:

  • At the beginning of team huddles, pose this question: Have you seen one of your colleagues go above and beyond this week? Dedicate a few minutes for teammates to share stories recognizing each other.
  • Give team members a central channel to submit peer-to-peer recognition—like an inbox or message board. Dedicate one member of your team to collect and send these stories to the group over email—and consider starting team meetings by highlighting examples that caught your eye.
  • Share staff recognition cards team members can use to acknowledge their teammates’ contributions in the moment.

Although health care organizations often have channels to recognize the usual suspects—frontline clinicians—they tend to neglect those working behind the scenes. Don't forget to highlight the valuable contributions of employees who are historically overlooked, including environmental workers and business operations staff.

4. Resist the urge to 'autopilot' back to your pre-Covid workflow

Covid-19 has turned many health systems' processes upside-down. While we're here, it's important to ask: what should stay different? There are positive lessons to adopt from how you have responded to the pandemic, whether it's that new relationships between silos can benefit patient care, that more efficient processes have developed among teams, or that you've been able to scale change more quickly.

Personally take the time to audit of all of the responsibilities on your plate and reassess if there are opportunities to let go of or delegate some components of your workstream. As you update your calendar, here are a few prompts to help you think through which projects you should continue, and which should go on hold:

  • If we weren't already doing this today, would we start it tomorrow?
  • If we want to start doing something new, what will we stop doing?
  • What is the "stop trigger" we'll use if the new approach doesn't work? (For example: A predetermined end date, a threshold for how "past due" or over budget the initiative can be.)

Covid-19 is unlike many of the previous crises that health care leaders have had to weather—it's important to take a moment of pause to reorient to your most pressing priorities and push back against the "old" way of doing business. You may find that these challenging times provide an opportunity for new insight and innovation and could change the course of your organization over the long run.

From all of us at Advisory Board, thank you for the contributions you’re making to fight Covid-19 and the steps you're taking support your team through this unprecedented time. 

Webinar: Support staff and build resiliency in an era of great turbulence

Join Advisory Board’s weekly Thursday webinars to stay up to date on the Covid-19 epidemic.

The topic of focus this week will be on clinical resilience. Frontline caregivers have been bearing much of the responsibility for caring for patients with Covid-19. How can health systems, payers, and other players in the health care sector meet the financial, emotional needs of these essential members of our workforce while acknowledging the continuing business challenges that most of the industry still faces during the ongoing pandemic?

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