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7 Change Management Skills Every CNO Should Master

7 Change Management Skills Every CNO Should Master

Shane Parker, RN
Co-Founder and Chief Nursing Officer

In our recent post “6 Fascinating Healthcare Trends for CNOs to Watch in 2020,” we noted today’s CNOs must become “masters of managing organizational change.” Sometimes, advanced nursing degree programs don’t equip future CNOs with the practical tools they need to manage change, projects or people. But you can easily self-study to develop the skills you need to lead your organization through ongoing changes designed to improve outcomes and drive business results.

Start by developing these seven change management skills every CNO should master.

1. Ability to Deeply Analyze the ‘Why’ of Any Proposed Organizational Change

Organizational change frequently encounters resistance from various stakeholders, particularly the staff members who will feel the direct impact of the changes in their day-to-day work life. While frequent, transparent communication will be key to managing resistance, you must develop a deep understanding of why the change needs to be made so you can speak knowledgeably to this question every time it arises.

By digging deep into the ‘why,’ you can assure yourself the proposed changes align with organizational values – and that the values of every department and person involved also align with organizational goals. Deeply analyzing the why assures this congruency across the enterprise.

Thoroughly examining the ‘why’ also may lead you to conclude the organization is seeking change for change’s sake, which is not a valid rationale. In this case, you can lead the way to more appropriate allocations of resources and efforts in projects that actually help move the operation toward its stated goals and benchmarks.

2. Elite Communication Skills

As a leader, you must be able to communicate with very diverse constituencies, from fellow executives to managers, staff people and vendors. In particular, learn to communicate openly and transparently because this type of discourse fosters trust within any stakeholder group.

“Open and transparent” means you communicate setbacks, failures and wrong turns when they happen, not just major and minor successes. Change never happens without setbacks, but setbacks don’t indicate that a change initiative was folly or that it won’t ultimately be successful.

It can be hard to openly communicate setbacks, especially if you feel they make you or the organization look foolish. But when you frequently and transparently discuss why the organization is pursuing a certain change and provide honest periodic updates about it, you gain staff trust and support. You also keep people focused on the end goal, which is crucial for ultimate success.

3. Top-Notch Delegation Skills

Today’s CNO must juggle multiple projects at the same time, which requires an ability to delegate with precision. Fortunately, no nurse reaches the C-suite without a great deal of experience with delegation. Then again, anyone can up her delegation game.

When delegating important tasks related to enterprise initiatives, learn how to identify the best delegees to take on various components of the initiative. For instance, recruit your best “people people” as project evangelists to foster support and engagement from their peers. Delegate the detail-oriented portions of the project to a person you’ve previously noted can juggle multiple details with ease.

By learning how to divide projects into components worthy of delegation, identify delegees, set clear goals and meet periodically to receive updates on the project’s status, you free up your own valuable time to work on the higher-priority functions of your position.

4. Project Risk Management Skills

‘Risk management’ in this context is different from healthcare risk management, which analyzes and mitigates risk to patients, staff people and members of the public. In project management, risk management involves analyzing an initiative for potential points of failure or setback. Every organizational change plan possesses a weakness or two that could derail the entire project. A savvy CNO will critically assess every project to identify these potential failure points, anticipate them and create a plan to address them if they occur.

One excellent way to identify project risks is to hold brainstorming sessions with various stakeholder groups. Very often, the stakeholders closest to the change (such as nurses who will be using a new scheduling software) can point out potential pitfalls that others might overlook. After collecting a list of project risks, assign a priority level to each one, and then develop plans to prevent or mitigate it.

5. Ability to Cultivate C-Suite Project Sponsors

Any large-scale change within an enterprise requires the active support of the CEO and others at the top of the organizational chart. Sometimes these individuals feel simply making a rousing speech at the project’s launch is enough, but that approach often feels like ‘token’ support to staff members and doesn’t promote their buy-in. Instead, an organization’s executives should be actively involved in promoting a change initiative throughout the project.

You can cultivate effective project sponsors by:

  • Asking for their help during the early, planning stages of the change so they feel fully involved and invested in the project, instead of feeling like an afterthought
  • Keeping them informed and engaged in the project by providing status updates regularly and requesting their input on setbacks
  • Creating opportunities for them to visibly and actively support the project, such as through speaking to small employee groups or participating in special events related to the project
  • Developing good working relationships with other executives as a matter of course, not only when you need something from them

6. Exceptional Negotiation Skills

Many executives think of ‘negotiation’ as a tit-for-tat situation: “I’ll promise you X, in exchange for Y.” But in managing organizational change, negotiation more often involves finding compromise between disparate stakeholder groups with varied or competing interests. For example, the IT department may push back against a proposal for their department to absorb the entire cost of purchasing and installing an enterprise-level software package, instead proposing that the expense be distributed across all departments within the enterprise. But departments that won’t be using the software very often may push back against having to fund it.

Successfully negotiating these situations requires a pivot away from the “all-or-nothing,” “winning or losing” mindset.

“The goal of a successful negotiation in organizational change, such as transitioning to a new scheduling software, should be to hear and understand the various stakeholders’ values and concerns and then find solutions that come closest to aligning with each group’s goals and needs,” said Shane Parker, RN, ShiftWizard Co-Founder and Chief Nursing Officer. “This is the approach we take with clients, to customize the software in order to satisfy all the stakeholders and leave everyone feeling like they ‘won.’”

When it comes to managing organizational change, CNOs may also need to negotiate with fellow executives, vendors and even public stakeholders. You can become a much more effective leader by learning how to employ various negotiation strategies based on the personalities involved or the types of situations that need to be negotiated.

7. Dynamic Public Speaking Skills

Hand-in-hand with developing exceptional communication and negotiation skills, CNOs today should master public speaking to effectively lead organizational change. In fact, your ability to address various types of assemblies, from legislative bodies to small department meetings, can directly impact your organization’s ability to achieve its business goals.

Great public speakers can influence and motivate large groups of people, but you don’t have to become Winston Churchill to be an effective leader for your organization. Try these tips:

  • Customize your remarks or presentation for the audience
  • Don’t be afraid to let your passion show
  • Use stories to make key points (though, of course, never disclose an individual’s PHI)
  • Rehearse your speech or presentation in advance
  • Don’t simply read presentation slides
  • Use humor when appropriate

With a little practice, you can excel as a spokesperson who achieves buy-in from multiple stakeholder groups to help ensure the success of any project.

Enlist the Help of Vendors to Achieve Organizational Change

One of the more challenging types of organizational change a CNO may encounter involves deploying a new enterprise-wide software package. At ShiftWizard, we help our clients lead this type of change by providing exceptional training and support. Contact us today for a free demonstration of this game-changing scheduling software designed by nurses for nurses – and discover how smooth and seamless it can be to adopt a scheduling solution nurses love.

Healthcare Staff Scheduling. Developed by Nurses for Nurses.

ShiftWizard makes nurse scheduling and communication easy, so you can focus on what really matters---improving patient outcomes.

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