Learning to Find Answers in the Storm

This is the fourth in a five-part series about demonstrating BOLD leadership during a pandemic transformation. Each entry in the series focuses on the characteristics of BOLD leadership that can help move organizations from reacting to COVID-19 to proactively anticipating and preparing for the opportunities that lie ahead.

Amidst the devastation that COVID has inflicted and is inflicting on us in so many ways, BOLD leaders see that we are united by a common purpose: the pursuit of universal health and well-being as communities and as a society. It sets a stage to think differently and innovate powerfully to emerge stronger in many ways – and BOLD leaders have a vision for that. The COVID environment has given people the ability to come together to create changes that in “normal” times would have taken us much longer (necessity is clearly the mother of invention). It has unlocked “innovation for the public good” and includes things like:

  • Lower priced insulin programs that have been needed for years (and years) springing up in a matter of weeks.
  • Rapid increases in telehealth utilization with patients, and reimbursement changes for providers and payors.
  • Media companies producing new data visualizations to quickly bring collective social awareness.
  • Interdisciplinary and cross-sector learning and innovation coming together quickly (think Google + Apple = contact tracing).

BOLD learning and innovation are born out of an openness to the change happening around us.  As my colleague, Tony Glebe, described in the previous post in this series, BOLD leaders are able to “transform themselves and others and accomplish tremendous things because they stayed open to the change happening around them and responded accordingly.” Being open allows BOLD leaders to gather the empathetic learnings and insights that fuel their actions. Drucker might have said it best “learning is a lifelong process that keeps us abreast of change.”

Be Fearless and Learn Fast

Now more than ever we need BOLD leaders to learn and find answers in the chaotic unknown. They have an innate curiosity that drives them to scan the environment for new needs to be solved for their customers and employees. Above all else, BOLD learners are exceptional at asking the right questions to define the most critical problems to be solved. They are data driven but only through an empathetic understanding of the people and opportunities they are solving. “Do we know, or do we think we know?” is a question that BOLD learners naturally are assessing all the time.

Armed with empathetic insights, they are ready to rapidly prototype and test. BOLD learners are not afraid to try some things, learn, and adjust. Failure is not something to be feared but rather a part of achieving the best possible solution. They embrace the approach of “pivot or persevere” (outlined in The Lean Startup by Eric Ries).

A rapid learning cycle framework can help illustrate the importance of fast learning and testing in this COVID environment. When markets and customers are changing fast, BOLD leaders know that empathetic learning alongside rapid test/try feedback yields speed to impact and outcome.

Bringing Mental Health Out from the Shadows

Someone who harnesses the power of BOLD, rapid learning to drive change in healthcare is Babette Apland. Babette is Managing Director of Mental Health for American Public Media (APM). Prior to her current role, she was a senior executive at HealthPartners leading Behavioral Health and Care Management teams over the course of a 20-year career.

With the mission to foster new conversations about mental health, APM brought Babette on board to build the strategy and plan to bring mental health out from the shadows and create greater understanding and engagement. She shared, “This is an integral part of our overall health, but people typically suffer in silence, blame themselves and wait for years before seeking help.” I loved her response when I asked if they thought about it in terms of “lifting stigma.” She replied, “Stigma suggests there is something inherently wrong. We like to use the term ‘discrimination.’” The language we choose matters.

As a content hub and conduit to the broader media and health community, Call to Mind is the mental health initiative that Babette and her team developed as a catalyst for change around mental health.

In a recent conversation, Babette shared that an important consideration when leading change (especially in times of crisis) rests on balancing when to stay the course and when to leverage new data and insights to ignite change. What I heard Babette describe is something BOLD leaders do often: they scan the environment for new information and quickly determine what is most relevant.

Under the guise of Churchill’s famous quote, “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” Babette described the unique opportunity she and many other leaders have in the mental health field to understand and respond to the needs of patients in our current environment. “This crisis is creating a critical tipping point for mental health services to be seen as integral to overall wellbeing. Mental health is now a concern for the entire populations and people are showing up in new and important ways that are normalizing conversations about mental health.  This universal concern is melting away discrimination about mental health conditions.”

She went on to share examples: “When have we heard governors talk about mental health to their constituents like they are now?” She pointed to Governor Cuomo’s “free online mental health services for all New Yorkers” as a case in point. Leaders across all sectors are taking the time to talk with their constituents about mental health and wellbeing. For her and the team at Call to Mind, a clear opportunity arose to engage audiences in new ways about their own and loved one’s mental health, the gaps in access and coverage, and the need to bring it up to parity with “physical” medicine in our country. She and her team have rapidly incorporated much of what they are learning to create new media including news, stories, shows, podcasts and content and tools at calltomindnow.org.

Actionable Learning to Liberate Healthcare

BOLD leaders like Babette see the COVID crisis accelerating the normal pace of change. They are taking this opportunity to listen empathetically and rapidly learn their way to deliver the transformation healthcare desperately needs and patients deserve. As we continue to stay open in response to this crisis, what we learn will only matter if it fuels the BOLD decisions and actions we make as healthcare liberators and leaders.

A couple questions to consider:

What have you learned about the new needs of your customers? Where are those insights coming from?

How are you listening to your employees and learning how best to support them in this new environment?

For over 20 years, Aveus, a division of Medecision has been committed to making change rewarding for our clients and their customers. We’ve done it in good times and bad, through opportunity and crisis. If you need someone to react to an idea you’re thinking about or help problem-solve a challenge you’re facing, call us at (952)-681-7143 or send an email to Aveus@Medecision.com.

Deborah is a retail and wholesale executive who has spent the last 20 years leading business teams to continuously improve the customer experience.