While today “The Brady Bunch” might seem like a quaint reminder of a simpler time, it was actually quite controversial when it first hit the airwaves on September 26, 1969. Instead of telling stories about a traditional family, a la “Father Knows Best,” it highlighted the challenges of blending two already-established family units into a single, cohesive family.
Even if the challenges are different, healthcare organizations going through a merger or acquisition can learn a lot from the Brady’s core message: the greatest success in turning two separate entities into a blended organization will be achieved when they work together, leverage strong leadership, proactive communication, defined governance and transparency.
It is particularly true for blending two workforces into one cohesive, aligned and high-performing unit. After all, technology either fits, or it doesn’t. It is not so easy with people.
When Mike and Carol got married, their six combined children had to learn how to share a single bathroom (that famously didn’t have a toilet), divide their chores and generally learn how to get along. It required scheduling and negotiating and a fair share of compromise – no doubt driven by leadership (i.e., their parents telling them they needed to make it work).
Healthcare organizations are no different. It is essential for leaders to help their teams understand the new reality and create alignment if the merger or acquisition is to succeed.
Effecting change starts with having solid executive sponsorship on both sides who instill a spirit of collaboration from the beginning, define a plan for what the organization will look like and establish well-defined governance moving forward. How the two c-suites work together and positively inspire their teams will significantly influence how decisions and actions are received and supported by the team.
Do not forget those ever-important operational business leaders. They should be the first line of clear communication, with open minds to help determine the organization’s standards moving forward. All messages should link back to executive leadership, as well as be clear and translatable by every organization level.
It is essential to explain why the merger or acquisition is taking place, why it is good for the community, the organization and the employees.
Executives and business leaders need to do what Mike and Carol did when they explained to their children why they were getting married in the pilot episode. They explained that the two families’ merger would be a fun adventure. Ultimately, bringing everyone on board so they could all move forward together.
If your staff sees the value and buys into the reasoning, they will be far more likely to accept the changes (always a difficult challenge) and move ahead enthusiastically. The more transparency around the move (within the bounds of what can be shared without violating legal requirements or business ethics), the less space will be left to fill with rumor and fear.
Of course, the most significant concern anyone has during a merger or acquisition is what will happen to their jobs. Since the Brady children paired closely in age, each of them had to wonder what their roles would be in the new, blended family. Let’s face it: we know they were really focused on which room was going to be “theirs.” Like Jan, some employees are apt to worry that they will become invisible when the “bunch” gets larger. Mike and Carol worked diligently to make sure the kids knew they would be heard and no one would be left out.
The c-suite must be sensitive to these concerns and address them with as much transparency as possible.
Take the example of two systems directors, each of whom has been overseeing the information systems within their organizations. Suppose the plan is for one to be elevated to lead the newly merged organization and the other to continue managing systems at his/her current hospital. In that case, leadership should clearly state the intention.
This approach should not just happen at the manager or executive level, however. Suppose the manual work of scanning faxes into the EHR will be replaced by automation. In that case, the executive team should explain this in concert with a plan to re-train those workers for other positions – providing that is a viable solution.
Either way, creating guiding principles at the outset, making them clear and sticking to them through the challenges ahead will go a long way toward blending the two organizations quickly and positioning the new entity for success.
Blending two organizations into a cohesive, aligned unit is rarely easy. But it is definitely worth the effort because without it, the internecine battles that inevitably occur can delay the realization of the original goals behind the M&A activity, costing time and money. It also can damage the smooth operation of the new organization for months or even years.
By starting with the “why” and cascading that message from the top-down, being as transparent as possible with the plan and maximizing the efficiency of the new organization that is stronger and more efficient, you too can combine two groups and create your very own “Brady Bunch.”
Joe Clemons, Director, Engagement Management, Data Analytics & ERP contributes practical experience and guidance to his clients through his advisory and ERP practice leadership role at Pivot Point Consulting.
Joe brings over 17 years’ experience in healthcare IT strategy, EHR and ERP planning and implementation, merger and acquisition execution, process improvement, change management and organizational development. His expertise intersects the clinical components of the EHR with the business components of ERP to drive organizational strategy and value. He routinely contributes to industry articles, podcasts and video interviews and the development of methodology and best practices. Joe serves on the Oregon Chapter of HIMSS Board of Directors as the Sponsorship Chair. He holds a BS in Healthcare Administration.