June 9, 2020

9 Steps to Build a Culture for Better Clinical Outcomes (Part 3)

Clinician Leadership | Leadership Development | Team Development

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“For better and worse, culture and leadership are inextricably linked,” reports the Harvard Business Review, echoing the old adage: Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

In healthcare organizations, culture is either a liability or advantage. Astute leaders proactively shape the kind of culture that ensures strong clinical and financial outcomes.

With that in mind, we explored the people, process and structure components of strong cultures in previous posts. In this third and final installment, you’ll learn the final ingredients for a high-impact culture: conveying benefits to all audiences under your care.

Emphasizing benefits to providers and patients

Neuromarketers, experts at applying brain science to persuasion, argue that humans run all information through the “what’s in it for me” filter, whether consciously or subconsciously. Healthcare leaders can leverage that dynamic to frame messages around benefits to end users: providers, patients, partners and more.

Put another way, when seeking buy-in for a new initiative, process or approach, think of it in terms of the transformation your “ask” makes possible to patients and providers. How will your proposed change improve people’s lives, health, work or daily routines? What pains can it eliminate for your audience? While it sounds like a no-brainer, most leaders fail to convey benefits to the people you’re asking to behave, think or proceed a certain way.

Take standardization, for instance. For many, standardization is synonymous to constraints or limitations. You’re asking people to put aside their preferences and adopt yours instead. Emphasizing the pains standardization alleviates for your audience is your best chance of shifting perspectives in your favor.

Benefits specific to our standardization example might include:

Patients Providers
Receiving individualized, “best-for-you” care.

No unnecessary care, steps or tests.

Speedy care and answers, fewer delays.

Easier decision-making; no need to memorize current recommended tests and treatments.

Ability to focus on patient deviations that might warrant a different approach.

Faster, accurate diagnoses.

Using positive language in communications

Words matter, particularly when your goal is to change behaviors.

If conventional terms like protocol, compliance or expenses tend to feel restrictive or punitive, try swapping them for benefit-focused alternatives.

While using positive language may sound overly simplistic, the reality is that reframing your language works remarkably well in shaping perceptions.

Back in the 80s, research in reframing defeated the assumption that humans behave rationally. Instead, findings showed humans are “consistently irrational, relying on a number of mental shortcuts to speed up our reasoning, which can make us remarkably sensitive to how things are framed,” reported The Guardian.

Consider the following, for instance:

Conventional language
may signal barriers, challenges
Benefit-focused alternatives
frame the same ideas around positive outcomes
Protocol Shared baseline, care process
Compliance Recommended utilization
Expenses, costs Financial opportunity, investment
Standardized Consistent, common, base

It’s a relatively easy shift that can boost engagement significantly.


People forget and get distracted. In the absence of information or clarity, they fill in the blanks with assumptions, creating their own narrative. This is why leaders must overcommunicate, continuously.

Public relations experts have long said that when you begin tiring of your messaging and feeling like a broken record, that’s when your message is just beginning to resonate with people.

For healthcare leaders, a six-part recipe for communication that sticks includes the following:

2 Cs: Connection + Concern
(Maintaining individual connection and showing genuine concern.)

4 Ps: Purpose + Picture + Plan + Part

(Defining a shared purpose, co-creating a picture of success and how you’ll get there, and clarifying each employee’s part.)

Nobel laureate George Bernard Shaw once said “the biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Like learning a new language, internalizing organizational culture and messaging takes repetition — lots of it.

. . .

Healthcare is changing, quickly and drastically. The culture you create today will determine the clinical outcomes you experience just weeks or months from now.

The good news is you can take definable steps to create a high-performing culture where all stakeholders, from board to front-line providers, are fully engaged.

It’s up to leaders like you to make it happen.

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About the author

Brent E. Wallace, MD

Brent E. Wallace, M.D. is a seasoned physician leader, having been the Chief Medical Officer of Intermountain Healthcare for 12 years.

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