Leadership Considerations in the Coronavirus Crisis

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Crises test leadership, and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic represents an extreme example. Healthcare executives are hard at work piloting their organizations through a myriad of challenges. Their most urgent priorities are care provision and caregiver protection, however leaders cannot afford to avert attention away from longer-term staff needs and organizational strategies. Building on lessons learned from its research and advisory practice experience, AMN Leadership Solutions offers here five recommended areas of emphasis leadership can pursue now to help best achieve that balance.

Exhibit a Steady “Personal Touch”

The value of “soft skills” in management stands out even in normal times. With staff under duress, many required to work remotely, and concerns and fears about their own health escalating, the need for leadership empathy and personal connection has never been greater. The entire leadership team must communicate steadily and demonstrate empathy while delivering difficult messages. Transparency, always a desirable goal, is also crucial. Keeping these skills on display can go a long way toward motivating employees and fostering teamwork during a trying time.

Be Mindful of Engagement

Beyond staff motivation, management’s ultimate short- and long-term need is to nurture an engaged workforce. The evidence is clear that employee engagement breeds alignment with organizational mission and success in executing strategies. The COVID-19 crisis heightens risk of employee frustration and even disengagement. Ongoing efforts to build engagement should continue and are perhaps even more necessary in these strenuous times.

Particular attention must be paid to clinicians. Their engagement was a significant concern pre-crisis. In AMN Leadership Solutions’ annual Intelligence Report, 69% of organizations perceived nurses as having medium to low engagement. The figure for physicians was 77%. A Merritt Hawkins survey conducted for The Physicians’ Foundation found that 55% of doctors described their morale as somewhat or very negative. AMN Healthcare’s annual RN survey saw 44% admitting they often feel like quitting. To help avoid the crisis becoming a burnout tipping point, it is essential to attend to clinician needs: safety in treating affected patients, minimizing excessive overwork and supporting as much work-life balance as can be attained.

One additional observation: Patient engagement is also vital in this situation. Successful patient interaction has become a fundamental aspect of addressing rising consumerism and maintaining market share in the face of growing retail competition.

Maintain Recruiting

The pandemic has not repealed healthcare’s highly competitive talent market. The Intelligence Report found that 48% of organizations find filling executive vacancies with quality candidates extremely or very challenging. Looming shortages of doctors and nurses have been well-documented. Though front-line care is the paramount focus in combating COVID-19, leaders should reserve some time to ensuring that HR and management are continuing to take any possible steps to keep key hiring on track and the talent pipeline filled.

Derive Lessons from Leadership Flexibility Evidenced During Crisis

As they deal daily with the pandemic, many executives are taking on added functions, coping with new demands within their existing jobs, and sometimes crossing over to different departments. Several implications accompany this fluid scenario:

  • Some existing roles and management structures may benefit from a post-crisis adjustment.
  • Entirely new roles may be needed. For example, there is great likelihood that reliance on telehealth during the crisis will stimulate expanded adoption. That may require a number of new or enhanced roles to make this service approach a core operation.
  • Some key competencies will require investment in leadership development that may not previously have been viewed as necessary.
  • As they display important skills and flexibility during crisis mode, high-potential leadership candidates will emerge, creating an opportunity to identify them and plan for their development.

Protect Long-Range Strategies

With healthcare undergoing fundamental transformation on the road to value-based, population-centric, and highly digital care, organizations have invested considerable time, effort, and money implementing critical strategies to match those trends. The current crisis – especially if its duration is lengthy – may create costly delays or setbacks to key implementations. The danger of reversion to traditional ways of doing business is present. The strategic disruption could be considerable. Leadership can guide the long-term direction of their institutions by monitoring the strategic dashboard and reinforcing that certain initiatives need to be protected, even if slowed for a period.

Conclusion

The balancing act described here is a tall order, and leaders deserve much credit for pursuing it. Find internal help as there are many displays of professionals “stepping up” in the current situation. Where appropriate, seek outside help to supplement strained staff and provide independent counsel. Staying on course with these five areas of emphasis can help mitigate short-term pressures and reap enormous rewards for the future.

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