Turning Point: Lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg. A Summary of the Open Minds Leadership Retreat

SueAnnArkenson_1Recently I attended the Open Minds Leadership Retreat in Gettysburg, PA.  Like all Open Minds events, the speaker lineup and presentation quality was exceptional.  In addition, the content of the three-day retreat corresponded with the key events of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, considered by most to be the turning point of the Civil War.  This format allowed for in-depth learning in the morning accompanied by battlefield tours in the afternoon, which really brought the morning’s key objectives to life.  As is common practice for me, with such conferences, I was completely absorbed in the presentations while I was there, and quickly returned to business as usual upon my return.  Until earlier this week, that is, when I ran in to a colleague of mine who had also been in attendance.  She commented that she didn’t realize how much information she was taking in at the time, but that many facets of the retreat were setting in more and more in the weeks since.  She was right; I realized that I, too, had been experiencing the slow permeation of information as it crept into my daily thoughts and actions.  Here are the top three takeaways that have been resonating with me:

1. Strategy and positioning are key components to weathering the changing healthcare marketplace.  Have you and your executive team developed a three or five-year strategic plan in the past year or two?  If so, it may be outdated.  Today’s strategic plans must not only be updated more frequently, but must also be built into the infrastructure of the agency’s operations and used as a guide for executive decision making throughout the year.  The current environment requires agencies to engage in rapid repositioning and constant innovation to keep pace with dynamic movements in the system; as such, executive leaders must  dynamically responsive to market trends and funder demands to secure and maintain a competitive market position.  Continually revisiting the strategy and re-assessing your  marketplace position with each change is critical to future success.

2. Services must be evidence-based and outcome-oriented.  In a system shifting from volume to value-based payments, providers must demonstrate the science behind their service delivery systems and provide tangible evidence of outcomes.  As Dr. Kevin Huckshorn so pointedly stated in her opening keynote, “Review all your clinical practices; if they have no evidence base, you need to replace them.”  In addition, providers must ensure that program offerings are relative to the marketplace in which they operate,  and must include either providing new services to existing customers, finding new customers for your current services, and/or providing new services to new customers.  Because product life cycles are shorter in a changing environment, conducting regular analyses of your portfolio by service line provides key information regarding needed improvements or which services may need to be phased out.  And don’t forget to take the consumer’s needs into consideration; in today’s marketplace, that means services that are easy, convenient, accessible, and outside the traditional ‘facility-based services during business hours’ model.

3. Executive leaders must liken themselves to athletes and train accordingly to successfully face current challenges.  Today’s leaders must adapt and change at an unprecedented pace; indeed, I’ve heard the phrase “speed is the new competency” on more than one occasion recently.  Leaders must react quickly to opportunities and threats without allowing their own resistance to change to compromise their actions.  Leaders must recognize that we can’t rely on what we’ve always done, and that what was once ‘good enough’ or even great at a previous point in time will likely no longer apply in the future environment.

Given this, executives must take care of themselves in order to ensure they are energized, focused, and committed to accomplishing the job at hand.  According to Dr. Carmella Sebastian, MD, how much an employee is engaged, enthusiastic, and committed to the organization helps predict their overall health and well-being.  Similarly, non-engagement leads to chronic stress and poor performance, putting the success of the entire agency at risk.  Not only do leaders need to take care of themselves, but they need to encourage the same in others to ensure a happy, committed, and collaborative workforce able to execute the company’s objectives.

As I continue to reflect on the lessons and events over the course of that three-day period, I am awestruck with the monumental task that lies before us.  As Monica Oss stated in the final keynote of the retreat, behavioral health agencies are just beginning to ride this “tidal wave” of change in a marketplace that is “less forgiving” than anything that has come before.

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