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2021 State of Interim Leadership

interim leadership in 2021

With the nationwide rollout of the COVID vaccine now well underway, we have begun to enter a new phase of life following a pandemic. Declining cases have allowed, for the most part, hospitals to reinstate elective procedures and reopen departments that were repurposed for COVID patients.

These changes have undoubtedly pushed healthcare leaders to a new level of understanding and evaluating priorities in a high-crisis situation. We spoke with Ms. Ozge Denizli, VP of Leadership Solutions at Mission Search, to understand the trends and future predictions in the landscape of Interim Leadership mid-2021.

Q: What were some of the unique challenges that healthcare leaders faced during the time of COVID-19?

A: To start with, healthcare leadership staffing has always been a significant challenge for hospitals. Healthcare executives and organizations continue to face difficulties in filling critical leadership vacancies, on top of focusing on organizational culture, resources, and of course, quality patient care. The pandemic has upset many traditional approaches to workforce management and aggravated long-standing workforce challenges for healthcare organizations. Leaders are struggling to support and maintain highly capable care teams while simultaneously figuring out how to improve margin in the current environment.

But the risk of not finding the right balance has never been higher since a considerable number of healthcare workers report serious burn-out and many are considering leaving the field after the pandemic. (Source American Hospital Association, 2021)

Before the pandemic in 2019, C-suite leaders were particularly focused on ballooning costs, government mandates, financial challenges, and patient safety quality challenges. Similarly, access to healthcare and access to technology were big themes in 2019 as there was a decline in reimbursements, a decline in the patient experience, and cybersecurity started becoming a big concern.

At the start of 2020, the top challenges that healthcare leaders faced were with regards to managing these costs and managing transparency. There was already a lot going on – and then COVID happened. The first phase was major panic, but fortunately, we were able to quickly learn and pay attention to emerging signals and needs so that we at Mission Search could best support our partner healthcare organizations while also supporting our leadership candidates.

Q: What were some of those emerging signals? And how did Mission Search provide support?

A: Since March of last year, we made every effort to stay in contact with our client organizations and at first, all was about frontline workers. Everything was geared towards COVID, and we were at their service as a trusted partner providing them immediately available leaders with the ability to “hit the ground running” — adapting quickly to meet objectives with little orientation or direction. 

When the Intensive Care Units (ICU) flooded with patients, we were able to help by providing Critical Care, ICU and Emergency Services managers and directors who had the skill set to wear multiple hats. We made sure to reach out to our clients each and every day, paying attention to different modalities of demand – may it be Infection Prevention, Laboratory Services or Long-Term Care. We just stayed in consistent contact reminding them that we were there to support them with our immediately available established leaders within our network.

As to risk, the management of biological risk has taken on extreme relevance, given the immense uncertainties of virus propagation. This required healthcare professionals to constantly evaluate and reevaluate scenarios that impact the value chain of healthcare businesses. Healthcare leaders we delivered had to be open not only to new technologies, but also to new ways of doing things. This demanded a high level of flexibility and the ability to learn quickly. We had to be dedicated to assess the caliber of talent who had these strengths.

Q: After the first phase – the “panic” phase, what other trends in healthcare did you note?

A: The priority of leadership vacancies shifted slightly with needs also focusing on Case Management and Care Coordination, Quality and Risk Management as well as Perioperative Services. We also recognized that since there is still change and uncertainty ahead as everyone navigates the post-pandemic world together, today’s leaders need to be ready to adapt to those future uncertainties. We found ourselves having to be extra selective when collaborating with our leadership candidates and focused more on representing established professional interim leaders, who perform interim work as a career in order to manage and implement change and deliver sustained results.

Like Infection Prevention and Control, the need for Laboratory Services remained focal as the need for testing grew. Mission Search helped place Lab and Pathology experts, as well as those managing ancillary services, who became just as important on the frontlines.

Q: What were some unique ways that Mission Search also supported healthcare leaders at this time?

A: As a boutique and small business, we qualified for the Paycheck Protection Program and were able to allocate some of those funds to help offset the costs for some of our partners, particularly in states with more strict mandates. For instance, some facilities required a 10-day quarantine period before a new employee could begin working, as mandated by the state. We were able to cover housing costs for the 10-day period so that the hospitals did not have to cover this expense. This was especially important for places in the North East, and rural areas where COVID was especially critical.

Q: What concerns in Interim Leadership are we seeing today?

A: Scarcity of established interim talent for one…

Now, we’re seeing that Key Performance Indicators (KPI)s related to quality outcomes as well as financial and quality metrics of hospitals have started improving. Clinical performance metrics that various service lines focus on such as average length of stay – LOS – data is important because it provides hard data over time on care efficiency. Improved LOS and HCAHPS scores as well as decreased readmission and mortality rates all impact hospital financial performance and patient experience. Since a variety of specific metrics and KPIs have been recovering for hospitals and health systems, we have seen a considerable increase in demand for strong and impactful interim leaders from our clients. For example, when elective surgeries started coming back and operating rooms were reopened, we received a major peak of requests for Interim Perioperative Service leaders. The concern has been the ability to attract established leaders for assignments due to the high demand they received suddenly.

Availability of Case Management and Care Coordination, Quality and Risk Management as well as RN Prepared Infection Prevention leaders has also become a challenge since they are in demand and due to the uncertainties of the climate, most professional interim leaders have either taken on permanent roles or they remain engaged in long-term transitional assignments.

Q: What’s the next trend that will become more important for Interim Leadership?

A: Today more than ever, healthcare employees want to find work that aligns with their core beliefs, which means healthcare organizations need to create a culture that reflects a positive mission and values system. However, culture of a healthcare organization is more than just its mission and vision statement; It takes an extremely transformational and collaborative effort to identify and create pathways for cultural change. We think that bringing up the topics of “organizational culture change” and “effective succession planning programs” is key in today’s healthcare eco system. Therefore, we included healthcare consulting to our service solutions and incorporated topics like “How to measure Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for a stronger workplace”, “Ways to build a strong culture within your healthcare organization: Pathways for Culture Change” and “Leadership Succession Planning”. Just like our interim leaders, healthcare consultants we represent are subject matter experts who coach and mentor in order to help the organization establish and accelerate leadership excellence and cultural transformation to empower dexterity and long-term success. Because Interim Leaders are essentially healthcare consultants unencumbered by an organization’s history or politics, they can enter with a fresh perspective and enact new policies and changes to strengthen that organization.

Q: What else has become apparent during this unprecedented time?

A: The only way we can survive is by being transparent with our partner client organizations as well as our leadership candidates. Upholding our commitment to forging deeper and meaningful client relationships and remaining devoted to changing expectations by merely focusing on alignment and transparency for success are critical. So, transparency is our number one priority that we fulfill by always staying dedicated on having thoughtful and clear dialogues about culture; by addressing all topics that can be potential barriers to success, which ultimately ensures transformational and compatible pairings between candidates and our partner clients. Collaboration with a strong focus on trust and transparency help us reveal the fundamentals of our client organizations’ culture and allow us the best chance of success in finding qualified candidates.

The future of management in healthcare is not completely clear, but we know that the competencies of crisis management and rapid problem-solving will be critical for success.

At Mission Search, we have supported healthcare organizations navigate an ever-changing and dynamic environment by being dependable, no matter the challenge. To learn more about our Interim Leadership solutions, contact our team today. We have the knowledge and expertise to help you overcome your obstacles and emerge stronger.

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