David Norris, MD, MBA

A Guide to Leading Change in Your Hospital or Organization

Leading change is perhaps one of the most challenging tasks facing leaders. Nothing remains the same forever; what worked in the past might not work today. As hospitals turn increasingly to technology to transform their operations, many are facing significant change. If hospital leaders fail to manage this change effectively, implementation may be slow or ultimately unsuccessful. If you're implementing change in your hospital or organization, here are a few ideas to consider to help make your change easier to manage and succeed.

  1. Recognize the problems for what they are. Today's problems are the result of yesterday's decisions and actions. Those decisions, good or bad, might not have been the best ones. Remember, the old system in place contributed to the problems you see today, which are symptoms of a broader issue. Use the issues created by the old system as a launching point to change the system into something new.

  2. Set a marker. When you're leading change, set a specific point in time that signifies the old system's end and the new one’s beginning. Mark it as a point of no return. You've crossed the Rubicon, and there is no going back. Be sure to share the event with everyone in the organization so they will understand and accept the change as permanent.

  3. Complaints will occur. Listen to them. People will complain about the change. Some might wish for the old system back; they might sincerely believe the new system won't work. Take some time to listen to their concerns. Show that you are interested in them as people and that their concerns have validity. You'll often discover they are afraid; they may be uncomfortable with change and want their fears to be heard and understood. Once they know their problems have been recognized, work with them to adjust to the new system. They will be more open to new ideas and more likely go along with the change.

  4. Provide access to the decision-makers. Change implementation will require people: no matter how much planning you do on paper, people will be the ones who actually make the change. Make your decision-makers accessible to those implementing the change so that feedback can be received quickly. Feedback isn't complaining. Feedback is the revelation of the blind spots you had while designing the change. I know it's natural to resist being accessible because you don't want to listen to complaints. I would suggest establishing rules for access. Something like, "Come with a problem and bring two solutions. Use data to support your points." As a leader of change, you'll want problems brought to your attention so you can make the change effective, but it’s also important that those problems are brought in a productive way.

  5. Pace your change correctly. Quick change may seem to have a shorter timeline, but it has a more challenging time sticking in the long run. Ensure you time your transition correctly to maximize its sticking effect. One key to successfully timing your change is telling people when it is coming and when to expect it. Find the balance: take change as slowly as necessary for your people and as fast as needed for your customers or patients.

Whether you are looking to make smaller updates or sweeping changes to processes or systems within your hospital or organization, the manner in which you are leading change can mean the difference between success and failure. Using these five guidelines will ensure you give yourself the best chance at a favorable outcome.

About the Author

David Norris, MD, MBA is a practicing anesthesiologist who is dedicated to improving the business intelligence of all healthcare providers. As an author, speaker, and teacher, he helps other providers develop the practice they desire. And as someone who is passionate about enabling physicians to deliver quality care in an efficient manner, David is proud to serve on PrefTech's board of advisors. You can learn more about David at