Leading With Calm Urgency in Times of Crisis

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By Rodney D. Reider

Whether coming from outside your organization or internally within your own hospital or health system, crisis situations have a lasting mark on the healthcare organizations they impact—and the CEOs who run them.  Disasters—and how executives respond to them—can cost them their jobs and, more significantly, the public’s trust in their organization.

The fact is, you can have the best health system in the nation, and one crisis can eliminate years of goodwill and good work.  Clear, decisive, prompt communication from a healthcare organization’s CEO is the key to navigating disasters while maintaining trust.

As a leader, you must bring calm urgency to communications with: 

  1. Your employees,
  2. Other organizations and stakeholders in the community,
  3. And the general public

Employees

When a crisis occurs, many executives focus primarily on their message to the general public, trying to provide accurate, up-to-date info, stay ahead of public opinion, and set the tone for communication about the incident. While this is certainly important, it is also essential to provide care and attention to your employees. 

In times of crisis, a lack of stability impacts the workplace culture.  Employees at every level of the organization will feel the effects of this. As an executive, it is your responsibility to ensure your hospital’s greatest asset—its people—receive accurate and timely communications regarding the crisis your organization is facing.  Make your confidence in your staff clear, and actively seek out ways to be a source of stability.

Furthermore, the people within the walls of your hospital are often at the front lines of responding to emergencies within the community, and may bear the emotional weight and trauma of those experiences.  You must support your people.  Make sure your employees are informed about the resources available to them.  In situations like these, executives must take seriously their responsibility to inspire and encourage their employees.

Community stakeholders

Your hospital is an asset to your community and partners with other organizations within your community to foster the health and safety of its citizens.  These organizations have a vested interest in whatever crises may impact you, and are often working alongside your hospital to respond to these disasters.

Before disaster strikes, your executive team needs to develop a list of other organizations in the community that will require updates at regular intervals. This list may include local police, vendors, suppliers, or EMS squads, to name a few.  With these community stakeholders, err on the side of over-communication. Give consistent updates—perhaps every few hours, depending on the situation and specific stakeholder—as the situation develops.

General public

While your communications officer or spokesperson may be highly skilled in crisis communication, statements from the CEO have a unique ability to instill confidence in your organization’s ability to respond to a disaster with wisdom and urgency.   The accountability to the community that this demonstrates is essential for maintaining the public’s trust in your organization. I don’t think we harness that power enough in the healthcare industry.

When briefing the general public on a crisis situation, rapid, decisive, accurate communication is the key.  This is true whether you’re communicating with local news outlets or directly with community members via your social media channels. Be as transparent as you possibly can while still respecting the privacy of those involved in the crisis and observing HIPAA regulations.

Despite prevention measures and the development of crisis communications plans, crises cannot be entirely avoided. As an executive, communicating with calm urgency with your employees, community stakeholders, and citizens will allow your organization to respond to a crisis while upholding the public’s confidence. 

For more than 25 years, Rodney has been involved in the healthcare industry and has positioned organizations to adapt to the continuously and rapidly changing healthcare environment. An International Scholar twice-over, he has a thirst for knowledge and a drive to explore, create and support innovative solutions within the healthcare space that make a lasting impact. He writes about healthcare innovation and leadership at rodneyreider.com.

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