Why is it that one of the largest challenges on any project is miscommunication and out of control rumors? While many projects need and would benefit from more communication, even with the best of communication plans, project teams can spend more time dispelling false information than proactively communicating.
I believe in strong communication plans for EHR and ERP projects that include a wide range of communication including town halls, newsletters, emails, signage, internet sites, and other methods of sharing correct information. But on every project, no matter how much we communicate, certain hospital staff will find other sources of information.
I can see the rumor coming when an email or conversation starts with “I heard that…” or “Is it true that…”. These are telltale signs that I am about to hear a rumor. Rumors can range from minor details to far-reaching implications such as a perceived change in project scope or even the live date. While most rumors are just annoyances, responding to them and controlling them can be a significant strain on the project team’s time.
I believe that hospitals have a unique challenge in that proactive communication is more challenging than in many traditional businesses because it is common for a large portion of the staff, including nurses and physicians, to rarely check email. As a result, they are often in a position where “hallway conversation” is how they first hear information and are more likely to give it credibility.
While I admit that I have personally never been able to fully eliminate the rumor challenge, I’d like to share several ideas about what I have seen as an effective way to keep the rumor mill under control:
1) Establish a clear Source of Truth – From the very beginning of the project, communicate to every possible audience how decision and communications will be distributed and who they should contact with questions and information. If it doesn’t come from one of the accepted Sources of Truth, its not true. When I lead a project, I prefer to be the Source of Truth – if it doesn’t come from me verbally or in writing, it isn’t true.
2) Encourage questions and respond to all of them timely – When I am running a project, my motto is “Ask me anything, anytime”. At times, I will get dozens or even hundreds of questions a day through meetings, phone calls, texts, and emails. I respond to every question, providing the truth if I have it, or getting them to the person who can provide the truth. Rumors often start because staff members are not getting answers or don’t feel their questions are welcomed. How do I respond to so many requests? I do it immediately so they can’t accumulate – which also helps inspire confidence and a feeling that they can ask rather than assume.
3) Town Halls – I strongly believe that a change management and communication strategy must include town halls. During town halls, project teams should provide an overview of what is occurring that is relevant to the staff, do occasional software demonstrations, and most importantly – field questions. Creating those proactive communication channels is a powerful way to avoid people creating their own truths.
4) Provide the complete truth – Sometimes the answer to a question is not known because it has not been determined, or has not been considered. Sometimes it is not what the person wants to hear. Regardless, provide the truth – and the complete truth. There is nothing wrong with saying that you don’t know – but can find out. Or that a decision has not been made, but now that they have raised the concern we will make it and get back to them. Responding immediately doesn’t always mean providing an answer immediately, as long as the follow-up is done once the answer is available.
5) Communicate Everywhere – A communication plan must be extensive and include many different points of contact. Intranet sites can look impressive and have lots of great information on them – but usually only a small percentage of the staff will check them. Consideration must be given as to how to communicate with contracted employees, physicians, and traveling nurses. This is particularly challenging during an EHR roll-out when all of these parties must be enrolled in training classes and kept up-to-date on the go-live. Find and use every possible communication challenge. There are always questions about how much communication is too much – but they apply to the volume of communication you push through a particular communication channel – not the number of different communication channels you use.
Finally, accept that no matter what you do, rumors will form and will need to be dispelled. Its part of project management and change management that always had existed, and always will. Properly controlled, the rumors can be a minor distraction at worst – entertainment at best.
Please share any ideas you have found to be successful in keeping rumors under control.
If you’d like to receive future posts by Brian in your inbox, you can subscribe to future Healthcare Optimization Scene posts here. Be sure to also read the archive of previous Healthcare Optimization Scene posts.