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Case study: Adjust without overreacting

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

On the surface, it looks simple. If you put a new plan in place but the numbers show it’s failing, you tweak it, or dump it. The trick is correcting course without overreacting. And that can be more delicate than it seems.

George Irwin, assistant administrator at the Broome County Sisterhood Hospital in upstate New York, launched a satellite clinic network to provide frontline preventive care. He mobilized support by giving each unit money and autonomy. Everybody was on his side.

After 10 months, the network’s data showed that he needed to re-evaluate his plan. The utilization rates were too low and the doctor/patient rates were too high. Worst of all, the clinics had become bureaucratic. Things were going OK, but not great.

Basically, some doctors had to change how they dealt with patients. Some administrators needed to watch their doctor/patient ratios. One or two clinics might have to close. And the program might come apart altogether.

Irwin needed to fix things without demoralizing people. Overreacting could kill their enthusiasm. If he did nothing, the clinics might start losing money ... but maybe not. The temptation was to leave his staff alone.

He could call a meeting and lay it on the line for everybody, telling them things weren’t working, but he knew that his constructive ideas might be viewed as hostile. He also could use informal communication and talk up his findings in casual conversations.

Irwin decided on a more direct approach. He called a formal meeting of the staff to share his concerns, following it up with clinic visits and meeting with people informally.

How would you have handled this? Except for complete inaction, various approaches would work in this case, including brainstorming with clinic leaders.

Bottom line: It’s your responsibility to provide feedback, good and bad, so your people stay on track. Your role: “chief development officer.”

—Adapted from Keep Them on Your Side: Leading and Managing for Momentum, Samuel Bacharach, Platinum Press/Adams Media.

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