In the fast-moving healthcare industry, there are more patients and challenges than employees. This means everyone, from front-line staff to the executive suite, is managing multiple issues at any given time. The excessive burden of work experienced by today’s healthcare leaders has created a serious pothole in the road to success for some organizations – the development of a firefighting culture.
A culture of fighting fires is marked by short-term focus. Fighting the fires of the day can consume operations and management must make choices of where to allocate resources based on the current crisis. Within a firefighting culture, productivity and employee engagement suffer, and long-term goals are jeopardized.
To prevent a firefighting culture from taking hold, or to redirect a culture that has gotten off course, you must be able to recognize the symptoms:
- The problems outnumber the problem solvers. The team is stretched too thin, is working long hours and seeing few results; little forward progress is achieved.
- There is a band-aid focus, rather than a desire for long-term solutions. The team is moving too quickly to overcome problems and not addressing the underlying issues.
- Problems return and are escalated. Because of incomplete solutions to previous problems, new problems are created and can impact multiple parts of the organization.
- The team is always in crisis mode. There is no time spent on long-term planning or on strategic initiatives designed to accomplish future goals. Future plans are deferred because fires must be fought, leading to a decrease in productivity and performance.
If your healthcare organization is working within a firefighting culture, it is possible for the right leadership to create a successful, problem-solving culture. To make this shift, executives must be ready to lead innovation, implement process improvements and manage the unexpected. Recognizing the perpetual firefighting issues within your organizational culture is the first step to moving toward logical, future-focused solutions. As you design your plan to take your organization forward, consider these insights:
Set priorities for your team. When problems arise, evaluate them against established criteria based on your team’s priorities. Do not allow outside agencies or groups to dictate where your team spends their time; if you own your time, you will be able to move your own initiates forward.
Establish and maintain clear expectations. It is a tendency of many leaders to jump in during a crisis. While this may help in some circumstances, the team will not learn how to manage high-pressure situations if they are not allowed to test their skills. If you hire team members with the talent to meet your expectations and accomplish your goals for the organization, you must step back and let them succeed. If failures continue to happen, creating crisis situations, it could be a staffing issue rather than an operational issue.
Look for the best solution, not the fastest. While putting a patch on a problem may allow you to move forward for the moment, there are likely to be consequences later. Some issues do require a ‘quick fix’ in order to keep the organization running. However, you must identify where this issue fits into your list of priorities and dedicate time and resources to finding a long-term solution. To prevent similar challenges in the future, it is also important to understand the underlying issue that created the problem in the first place.
Understand the needs of your team. A firefighting culture puts great strain on employees. They have little job satisfaction because they are not able to make forward progress, they feel unappreciated and they burn-out quickly. This can lead to costly turnover and a revolving door of recruitments. Make sure you know how your team feels and take steps to encourage high levels of engagement through development opportunities, employee recognition programs and by allowing them to have a seat at the table when priorities are established and processes are discussed.
Leverage your reporting tools. To achieve the best results, your key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics should be aligned with your long-term goals. Put checkpoints in place to review the numbers and make sure that your operations are supporting your strategic vision. If you are not meeting your goals, look at the underlying reasons and see where the team is off track.
A firefighting culture can be costly to a healthcare organization, leading to high turnover, low productivity and a lack of vision. Putting processes in place to correct this will allow your organization to move into the future with operational processes that support your goals.
To learn more about the leadership you need to create a productive and positive culture, contact the Cejka Search Team here.