In the whirlwind of activity surrounding healthcare transformational change, it's easy to be uncertain of where to put your focus. So much is going on, and in many organizations the constraints are more significant than ever before. If you are charged with supporting the implementation of a project or program, where should you be spending your time?
In this case, there is clear and compelling directional guidance that our change management consultants would all agree on: There is nothing that is as important as getting aligned Sponsorship for your project. This is true whether we are talking about implementing ICD 10, implementing Epic, or implementing shared services!
Who is a Sponsor?
In many healthcare organizations we support in our change management consulting work there is confusion over who exactly is a "Sponsor," and secondly, what are the Sponsors' responsibilities. Sponsorship is not a volunteer opportunity. Individuals are Sponsors based on the position they hold in the organization in relationship to the content of the particular change.
As Change Agents. we have to know who all our Sponsors are, and where they are located. There will be senior-level Sponsor or Sponsors who authorize the funding for the project. There will also be layers of management personnel (Reinforcing Sponsors) who are responsible for managing individuals who are impacted by the change (what we call Targets.)
To get to benefit realization for any healthcare transformational change, we need to get dedicated commitment from each and every one of these individuals.
So "Sponsorship" is based on both the position an individual has on the organization chart and the actions required by each and every Sponsor to demonstrate commitment. Depending on your particular project or workstream, you may have different Sponsors at the project level from the Program level.
If you are working in a large and complex healthcare organization, it is no simple task to identify the Sponsors, but you will find that the time invested is well worthwhile!
Why Do You Need Sponsorship?
Simply put, the most significant of all the barriers to healthcare transformational change is the lack of aligned Sponsorship. What happens when your Reinforcing Sponsors don't visibly demonstrate their personal commitment to the change?
You can likely recall your own examples. In over two decades of change management consulting, we can cite numerous cases where the Authorizing and Reinforcing Sponsors say the right words, but fail to follow up those words with the appropriate actions. When that happens, you just don't get the behavioral change you're seeking.
To make this more simple for Sponsors, we provide three basic actions that each Sponsor must take to demonstrate personal commitment:
- Sponsors must say the right words about their commitment (Express)
- Sponsors must model their commitment by their own actions (Model)
- Sponsors must provide appropriate consequences for their direct reports (Reinforce)
You can, for example, put new equipment in every corner of the organization on your Epic implementation, but if there is no reinforcement to use the system to the desired level of full functionality, what have you achieved? If your physicians are calling in an assistant to enter in data on every patient rather than doing it himself or herself as the system is designed, are you getting the efficiencies you anticipated?
Reinforcement is the most important of all the Sponsorship activities. Three times more important than what is said-- yet still, so many healthcare transformational change efforts incorrectly focus on communication as the primary means for driving behavior change!
Every healthcare transformational change requires Sponsorship to get to behavior change. Every Change Agent needs to focus on Sponsorship as the most important contribution to benefit realization for their assigned project.