By Christopher Cheney
Three dozen healthcare experts from 17 countries have published a consensus statement on 10 healthcare organization leadership imperatives during the recovery phase of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a novel model for the pandemic and other global crises, there are four progressive stages in a crisis: escalation, emergency, recovery, and resolution. The co-authors of the consensus statement say the pandemic has reached the recovery phase, which includes leadership challenges such as balancing competing priorities, maintaining staff engagement, and avoiding burnout.
The consensus statement, which was published by JAMA Network Open, features 10 leadership imperatives to rise to the challenges of the recovery phase of the pandemic:
1. Acknowledging staff and celebrating success
2. Supporting staff well-being
3. Developing an understanding of local and global pandemic conditions that includes informed projections
4. Preparing for future emergencies in areas including personnel, protocols, contingency plans, coalitions, and training
5. Reassessing priorities explicitly and regularly while providing purpose, meaning, and direction
6. Maximizing team and organizational performance while discussing enhancements
7. Managing the backlog of paused medical services while avoiding burnout
8. Sustaining innovation, learning, and collaborations while imagining future possibilities
9. Providing regular communication and engendering trust
10. Providing safety information and recommendations to government, other organizations, staff, and the community in consultation with fellow leaders and public health officials to improve equitable and integrated care as well as emergency preparedness
“The unprecedented and high stakes nature of this global phenomenon highlights an urgent need for clear guidance to support leaders at all levels in navigating the course of this crisis and in preparing for those to come,” the consensus statement’s co-authors wrote.
Keys to success
One of the co-authors, Jaason Geerts, PhD, of the Canadian College of Health Leaders in Ottawa, Ontario, and the Bayes Business School at the University of London in the United Kingdom, told HealthLeaders that there are five essential leadership qualities required during the recovery phase of the pandemic:
- Healthcare leaders need to have humility to distribute leadership by enabling and supporting others. No leader can effectively master all 10 imperatives alone—trusting others is essential.
- Healthcare leaders need to be able to accept a context that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) as well as have the capacity to lead and prioritize effectively in this situation. In the recovery stage of a crisis, the context changes often. Even at times when things appear to not be changing, there is constant volatility.
- Healthcare leaders need to be able to make clear decisions based on the best available information even though the volume of information can be overwhelming and conflicting.
- Healthcare leaders need to have the vision to be able to anticipate future developments, including preparing for resurgences, and to imagine future possibilities and to support innovation. Healthcare leaders should not react to immediate issues as they arise or focus exclusively on what is urgent in the present.
- Healthcare leaders must be able to engage in effective communication, which is fundamental to all 10 imperatives. With so much uncertainty, frustration, fear, and burnout, it is essential to maintain open lines of communication. This involves listening to frontline workers and other leaders regarding required resources and recommended improvements, listening with empathy regarding how people are faring, celebrating staff and achievements, and communicating the evolving priorities and the constants.
Focusing on the well-being and morale of staff is critically important, Geerts said.
“In any organization, our people and those we serve are our Number One priority. This pandemic has been tough on a lot of people and has lasted so long that many healthcare professionals are burned out—many were burned out before the pandemic. It is essential that we give them the rest and support they need and to factor their well-being into decisions about re-introducing procedures that were paused during the pandemic,” he said.
Reassessing priorities during the recovery phase of the pandemic is particularly challenging, Geerts said.
“Reassessing priorities during a crisis is an ongoing imperative according to the rapidly and constantly changing circumstances. Some tasks or procedures that were front and center yesterday may quickly have to change based on safety directives. This requires gathering information on an ongoing basis internally and from outside the organization through environmental scanning and strategic foresight. Reassessments should be informed by the input of those closest to the work and informed by input from the community. For many people, especially those with a strong proclivity toward predictability, processes, and routine, this situation is very challenging,” he said.
There are several factors involved in engendering trust inside a healthcare organization, Geerts said.
“Trust is earned by respecting staff and trusting them to do their job without unnecessary restrictions, listening to and acting on their recommendations for improvements, and instilling in them the confidence that priorities are being decided and decisions are being made with their best interests at the forefront and that they are based on the best available information. This also involves transparency—admitting mistakes including what has been learned as a result, appropriately expressing the times when the situation is uncertain, and addressing the way in which decisions are being made,” he said.
Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders.