In June 2022, North Highland connected with over 560 leaders across key industries—including financial services, healthcare, health and human services, life sciences, and transportation—to better understand the trends and challenges confronting today’s businesses as they navigate the end-to-end transformation journey. What we discovered is a desire to build more adaptive operations to power continuous transformation; a need for greater alignment across employees and leadership teams around transformation strategy; and opportunities to integrate data and analytics into every step for greater success. Amidst the transformation that is reshaping our economies and societies, every business has a clear path to a better vantage point. In this blog series, we'll uncover what it takes for each industry to maximize its transformation potential.
As the disruptive forces of the last several years calm in their urgency, healthcare leaders are assessing the changes made in-crisis while charting a path forward.
For the 70 healthcare leaders we surveyed in June 2022, that path forward is overwhelmingly focused on enhancing analytics capabilities (49 percent), improving ways of working (37 percent), and optimizing talent (36 percent) to gain a competitive advantage.
To realize those competitive advantages, healthcare leaders in the U.S. and U.K. agree on the importance of two things: setting a strategic vision—96 percent of respondents say it's important or somewhat important to do so—and then aligning leaders and employees around that vision. Ninety-five percent of respondents believe it's important or somewhat important for leadership to be aligned on the transformation strategy, and 99 percent believe the same is true for employees.
However, respondents also overwhelmingly report that they are struggling to achieve alignment, with 79 percent saying they frequently struggle to align leaders, and 70 percent reporting the same for employees.
In this blog, we’ll spotlight the transformation priorities, challenges, and techniques dominating the mindshare of healthcare leaders today. Then, based on the opportunities this data spotlights, we’ll provide actionable ways healthcare organizations can differentiate themselves on the path to change.
YOUR NEXT VANTAGE POINT: ACHIEVING TOP-DOWN ALIGNMENT
While the industry is in clear consensus on the value of aligning leadership teams and employees around transformation strategy, most respondents acknowledge it’s often difficult to make alignment happen.
Why is alignment so critical? Healthcare leaders note that when it’s lacking among employees and leadership, it’s a primary barrier to delivering on transformation strategy (63 percent and 46 percent, respectively).
In an effort to achieve alignment among leadership teams, 89 percent of healthcare leaders say they’re utilizing leadership coaching. They’re also leveraging data and analytics (D&A) to make the case for change and to align leadership around the transformation strategy (61 percent). When it comes to aligning employees around transformation strategy, respondents say they lean on employee engagement surveys (43 percent), change management (43 percent), and reskilling or upskilling (43 percent).
Despite these techniques, the barriers to alignment persist predominantly due to a simple, yet difficult-to-solve, reality: 47 percent of leadership and 49 percent of employees lack clarity around transformation strategies.
Other significant barriers to alignment amongst leadership include disagreement on drivers of value and associated priorities (46 percent), lack of clarity around future state roles (43 percent), and change aversion/saturation (43 percent). It’s likely these barriers are a result of several years of disruptive transformation driven by external factors (namely the COVID-19 pandemic), in which healthcare organizations needed to flex to respond to quickly changing priorities on a seemingly daily basis.
Among employees, nearly half of respondents (43 percent) cited poor communication from leadership as the second most significant barrier to strategic alignment, just behind lack of clarity around transformation strategy, a likely side effect of alignment obstacles at the leadership level.
It’s in the DNA of healthcare to be urgent, to respond instantly to change and new information. But there is also an opportunity for leaders to take the time to prioritize alignment across the enterprise—especially at the top—to be able to respond with more clarity and efficiency, no matter what comes next.
YOUR FIRST STEPS
The value of alignment is clear in healthcare. These are your first steps to overcoming alignment obstacles:
- Facilitate dialogue and co-creation among leadership teams. Currently, just 44 percent of respondents report utilizing leadership co-creation as a technique for achieving leadership buy-in, 11 points below the average of all industries we surveyed. And while healthcare leaders are committed to Voice of Employee (VoE) data collection—76 percent say they solicit employee feedback on the direction of transformation efforts—the industry may need to adopt new methods to better understand the voice of its leadership team specifically. Consider frequent focus groups and feedback sessions to enable your leadership team to process and respond to transformation in smaller increments, and to generate consensus through co-creation.
- Use data to make the case for change with employees. While data is readily used to make the case for change amongst leadership, according to 61 percent of those surveyed, it’s second to last on the list of techniques used to achieve employee alignment. Just 30 percent of respondents report they leverage D&A, only outperforming “co-creation” (11 percent), which came in last on the list of techniques used to achieve employee alignment. Data can be a powerful tool for making the case for change among your employees. It creates an unbiased case for priorities and value drivers, and promotes clarity, engagement, and alignment around transformation strategy.
- Convert employee feedback into intellectual capital. While leaders in healthcare report they are readily collecting employee feedback, there is an opportunity for them to do more than simply listen. Leaders can leverage data to co-create alongside employees, something only 11 percent of those we surveyed say they do to achieve employee alignment. Consider maximizing VoE data with AI-powered analytics platforms that can mine large volumes of data, including quantitative and qualitative, structured and unstructured, internal and external. The resulting insight should inform all phases of your transformation journey, fuel co-creation and alignment, and amplify value through the inclusion of employee intellectual capital.
- Apply design, systems, and scenario thinking to set a strategy that keeps leadership aligned and adaptive. While healthcare leaders report they are already using design and systems thinking to a small degree in the creation of transformation strategies (20 percent and 23 percent), it’s beneficial to extend these capabilities earlier and more broadly through the transformation alignment process. Design thinking brings stakeholders together to co-create and align on the future state, while systems thinking, the practice of considering interactivity and systemic impact, facilitates shared understanding and alignment within a complex organizational ecosystem. Consider combining design and systems thinking with scenario thinking. This technique pushes design and systems thinking forward across multiple possible futures to help healthcare leaders navigate continuous change. The integration of these techniques forms a methodology we call DSS Thinking.
YOUR NEXT VANTAGE POINT: BOOST AGILITY WITH BEST-FIT DATA AND TECH
Over the last few years, the healthcare industry has fundamentally transformed operating models to match the accelerating pace of not just public health needs, but regulatory decision-making.
Looking toward 2023 and beyond, we believe agility—in the form of flexible operating models that enable small changes often—will be the leading characteristic of organizations that shape the future of healthcare quickly and effectively. And it all starts with how they transform. In pursuit of a flexible transformation strategy, 64 percent of leaders report they are establishing an operating model that enables change little and often; 57 percent say they are empowering employees with a test and learn culture; and 46 percent report they are establishing agile ways of working.
Potent fuel for agile ways of working in healthcare is D&A and technology. Over the last few years, healthcare providers have seen incredible advances in their ability to collect and analyze data. However, the stakes are exponentially rising with data-first companies, like Amazon, acquiring small but significant portions of the healthcare market. Data is the lifeblood of healthcare. It's what helps the workforce identify gaps in care, opportunities to improve outcomes for our patients, and discover new treatments. It’s what allows providers to see where they need to change their behavior, and it delivers the insight they need to make those changes work.
Based on our research, leaders in healthcare are considering the role of D&A at every point along the transformation journey. Nearly half (49 percent) of leaders utilize D&A capabilities to define a clear strategy, and an even greater number integrate Voice of Customer (VoC) insights (54 percent) to do so.
When designing transformation strategies, D&A is the top factor that healthcare leaders consider (59 percent), but fewer (30 percent) apply data capabilities directly to the design of their strategy.
Finally, while more than half of respondents say technology (53 percent) and D&A capabilities (50 percent) are their most powerful tools in delivering transformation strategies, far too many cite inadequate digital (40 percent) and data (30 percent) capabilities as barriers to delivering on their transformation strategy. Clearly, there is momentum surrounding data in the healthcare transformation journey, but there is room to build out these capabilities to power a more agile future.
Much like the data story, leaders in healthcare acknowledge the role of technology in powering transformation. When it comes to delivering on strategy, technology takes the top spot, with 53 percent reporting technology is their most effective facilitator of strategy delivery. But healthcare leaders are missing an opportunity to incorporate technology earlier in the establishment of transformation infrastructure. Currently, only 27 percent of respondents consider the introduction of new technology/digital capabilities when defining transformation strategy. And in the strategy design phase, only 20 percent consider digital/technology a priority.
YOUR FIRST STEPS
Data and technology give healthcare organizations the insight they need to learn and adapt. Healthcare leaders can apply D&A and technology as crucial facilitators across their transformation by implementing these first steps:
- Strengthen your digital core. To build an adaptive enterprise that is driven by both data and technology at every stage of the transformation journey, establish a strong digital core. A digital core brings together the technology, analytics, and operational capabilities you need to flex and respond to constant change. It helps you sense internal and external change with data, and respond with the right operational and digital infrastructure. A mature organization with a sophisticated data and technology infrastructure can facilitate more efficient patient and provider journeys, improve workforce retention, and most importantly, support the best patient care delivery.
- Drive digital dexterity. In addition to establishing a strong digital core, it’s critical for industry leaders to increase digital capabilities among the healthcare workforce to maximize the potential of data and technology. Start by assessing your employees’ current data and digital literacy. Next, consider the tools, guidelines, governance, competency models, metrics, and more you’ll need to build literacy. Then, establish regular training and reskilling programs to build digital dexterity. Importantly, when building data literacy, be sure that change management is a part of your strategy to boost data and tech adoption, improve ways of working, and optimize talent. This will help you avoid change saturation.
- Blueprint data and technology across your operating model. Use data blueprinting to identify the data that is consumed or created at every patient or employee interaction. Then, map how to use that data to support operations, processes, tech capabilities, and more. This roadmap will help you better visualize how data can be applied to design and deliver flexible transformation strategies, enhance patient experiences, and enable adaptability. Data blueprinting also supports greater alignment across all organizational levels by providing clarity around value drivers.
- Build an agile, test-and-learn culture with data and technology. Fifty-seven percent of leaders report they’re building a test and learn culture, one where people at all levels and operational areas are empowered with the skills, incentives, processes, and tools to launch and test data-driven process improvements. We believe these organizations will lead the pack in 2023 and beyond, through their ability to change little and often in response to new conditions. Consider the ways in which data and technology can be used to support testing and learning at the employee level. This often starts with increasing access to data and technology. Then, it’s about building the right skills and capabilities continuously, as new data and tech become available and as organizational objectives change.