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Is Your Practice Facing a Crisis? Use TNT to Blast a Path into the Future

by Angela Davis Sullivan

Are you feeling stressed and overwhelmed?  Most of my clients are.  The past two years have been something that no one alive has experienced before, and it’s been incredibly scary for our industry. We’ve constantly had to work through uncertainty, plan for the worst, and pivot due to sudden changes.  We are tired, our teams are tired, and everyone is confused and hoping that someone will tell them what comes next.

A crisis is like a giant mountain that has planted itself between the current state of your practice and the future you had planned.  It can be COVID-19, a suicide of a team member, the sudden death of a team member, or even firing an office manager after a serious breach of trust.   The mountain is new, it’s big, it’s scary and it’s all anyone can focus on right now.  As the leader, your job is to help your team blast a tunnel through that mountain so that your practice can come out on the other side.   If you succeed, your practice will emerge from that tunnel more resilient, mature, and creative.

The thing is, a big mountain of a crisis needs a big approach to making that tunnel.  To get through this, you’re going to have to resort to TNT – three tactics that will help you blast away that obstacle so that it becomes a place where your practice grew stronger, not a place that stopped you cold and destroyed everything.

TNT isn’t expensive. It doesn’t take special equipment. But it does require you to become a better leader.  Are you ready to put together the tools you need to make this crisis into a growth opportunity for you and your team? Let’s go!

T – Talk

Silence creates fear.   It makes that mountain loom larger and look more impassable.  When we leave things left unsaid, the team begins to make up their own stories.  Sometimes those stories are good and true, but most of the time they are scary and false.  As a leader in the practice, we must share information with the team, even if when we’re still gathering information ourselves.

It’s better to say, “I know these are challenging times right now.  I promise to share anything I know with you as soon as I know it.”  When my doctors do that, they energize their teams and rebuild trust.    

Tips for Talking in Tough Situations

Choose your words carefully. Sometimes your team doesn’t need to know the entire story, or you’re not legally able to give them all of the details.   You still need to communicate what you can. Your team needs to know that you see the problem, you have a plan, and you’ll take care of them.

Check in daily.  What your team needs to hear from you may change as the crisis develops. Check in with them. Find out what they’re worried about, and where they feel most secure.   This is especially important when the crisis in your practice is linked to a larger disaster like a pandemic or a hurricane.  Do they have childcare? Do they need time off to wait for repairmen?  

Empathize.  In a crisis or change the team needs to know the decisions you are making are what is best for the practice, the patients, and the team.   Try to be empathic with your team members.  If they have to miss work because of emergencies, they’re already upset.  They’d rather be able to live in a calm world and have a routine again.

N – Nurture

A crisis is a time to be a leader- this is your opportunity to really use your leadership skills and stay connected to the team while you lead them through to the other side of the crisis mountain.

You nurture your team and make them stronger when you lead by example.  If you are stressed about something in the practice, use it as a way to bring in the team and work together on the solutions.  John C. Maxwell says that “A Leader is one who knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way.”  It’s not enough to tell people what you want them to do in a crisis, you need to show them.  This is a lot like being a parent. Telling a toddler what to do gets you nowhere, but when you model skills, the child copies you.  By setting an example, you set your team members up for personal and professional growth even in a crisis. 

Using a Crisis as a Chance to Nurture Your Team

Don’t React, Plan. Do you feel like so many things are flying at you that all you can do is duck, dodge, flail, and panic?  When you’re at the mercy of events, you don’t nurture your team, you frighten them.  Instead, take time to plan.   By coming up with contingency plans and applying them calmly, you show your team how to react and move forward.  You can restore calm and focus by modeling calm and focus.

Be Like Knute Rockne! Use the setback to motivate your team.  It is like being down at halftime, and you go to the locker room and pump everyone up!  Let’s go out there and do better!  Win one for our patients! The team that gets excited about the process will own it, and help you make it through the crisis.

Model Resilience.  Resilience is the ability to recover quickly after a failure.  It means that instead of despairing and throwing a tantrum, you get back up and try again.   A resilient cook doesn’t give up after a burnt sauce, he starts again.  Be frank with your team. Tell them, “We tried this, it didn’t work, so we’re going to try something else.”  Over time, this will become their “head voice” too, and they’ll be able to see failure as a chance to try again.

T – Take Time

It’s tempting to want to rush right through to the other side of that mountain, but you’re digging a tunnel, not making a wish.  Give it some time.  A crisis means a big change, and that means you and your team need time to adjust. Resilience is about the ability to cope, talk about it, and staying connected with people who support you. Y

Honor the process.  Whether it is this pandemic or the loss of a team member- good or bad, time is often your friend.   Change is hard, and people need to grieve the loss of the old normal before they can start working to build a new normal.  Recognize that need and own it.

Give your team permission to grieve, process, and rebuild.  Let the team know that you understand– new processes and new normal take time and you’re prepared for that.  Give them permission to express their discomfort now, so that it doesn’t explode forth later. Part of the point of TNT is a controlled explosion and creative destruction.   So don’t blast that tunnel until people are ready.   

Set a timeline.  Time to process and grief is important, but so is making sure you don’t get stuck.  So set a timeline for your team. “This month we will spend on X, but by next month we will begin to do Y”  This is key to being able to blast through to that new normal on the other side of the mountain.

Every practice encounters crises.  Some of those crises are small, but others are life-changing.  When you’re faced with an insurmountable crisis like a pandemic, natural disaster, betrayal, or death, remember to bring your TNT to the problem.  The mountain may be blocking the sun, but your practice has a bright future ahead and you can get there by talking, nurturing, and taking time.

Angela Davis Sullivan

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