The Benefits of Interim Leadership in Perioperative Departments

When it comes to leadership, many organizations hold preconceived notions about interim hires — they may perceive that a temporary assignment isn’t enough to meet their organizational goals or that the interim leader’s impermanence demotivates them from learning the job correctly. But the fact is that interim leadership does wonders for healthcare organizations, particularly in highly-skilled or niche specialties such as perioperative care.

This article will outline some of the challenges that healthcare and perioperative departments face and how an interim leader can resolve the issues and keep the organization moving forward.

Larger Challenges That Healthcare Faces

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the challenges that healthcare organizations were already facing:

  • Change and upheaval of norms: Whether it’s increased reliance on technology or optimizing supply chain issues, one thing is certain — the industry has seen tremendous change in day-to-day operations. In a perioperative setting, setbacks can be quite costly; even one minute of downtime can cost over $100.
  • Organizational charts are changing: One of the more significant leadership changes that Sullivan Healthcare Consulting has observed is the drastic restructuring of responsibilities from the top down. Leadership teams are becoming flatter, thus reducing multi-layered executive teams. This is in part due to technological advances as well as a shortage of talent.
  • High turnover: Turning on the news, it’s hard to avoid hearing about increasing turnover rates of healthcare workers. However, seldom discussed is the high rate of healthcare leadership turnover. In fact, Becker’s reports that 2022 is setting records for CEO resignations.
  • Consolidation: As turnover increases and drastic changes are made, organizations are more frequently looking to merge or be acquired to stay afloat.  Deloitte has observed increased M&A activity in the healthcare sector for the last decade.  
  • Competitive market: Recruiting top talent has become quite the drain on many organizations, particularly for leadership. The talent pool is continually shrinking, which can leave executive roles empty for months or even years on end while prolonging the hiring process and ultimately affecting financial and clinical outcomes.

How Interim Leadership Can Reduce Perioperative Challenges

With such challenges, many healthcare facilities have implemented innovative programs, such as mentorships and sponsorships that train promising employees for future leadership roles. While this strategy has proven effective in the long run, it doesn’t address current leadership needs quite like an interim does.

Interim leaders, particularly outside hires, not only help organizations stay afloat during times of transition, they offer myriad other benefits:

1. An Organizational Bird’s Eye View

The right external interim executives are hired consultants that bring invaluable insights into whether a role is able to succeed in the first place. Perhaps you will find that a newly vacant role isn’t 100% necessary to fill at all and that the responsibilities can be easily redistributed after restructuring the leadership team. 

Regardless, as seasoned executives, typically with decades of experience, interim leaders are eager to learn and share the deep knowledge and insights with their new organization. They may recommend changes to a role such as span of control.  During a leadership change, hiring a one-to-one replacement straightaway isn’t always the right thing to do. You may find that the role needs refining in terms of its exact responsibilities and reporting relationships, especially within a larger system.

2. Alleviate Pressure On Current Executives

“Turnover contagion” happens when one staff member resigns and, as a result of other team members taking on their responsibilities, others follow suit. This causes a vicious cycle in which more and more responsibility is taken on by fewer and fewer staff, thus resulting in even more turnover.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to general staff; it can also happen in leadership positions. Too often, a leadership vacancy creates a bandwidth issue for the rest of the executive team. If a COO leaves, for instance, it will likely result in an “all hands on deck” situation as other executives run operations. Unless an obvious successor to a role is waiting in the wings, it is more pragmatic to hire an interim executive to pick up the slack left by a departing executive. 

3. Interim Executives Buy Time

If time is money, then it is your organizational imperative to have a lot of it. 

When an executive position opens up, time is needed to recruit the right replacement and to assess and rethink the vacant position.  The wrong recruit can do irreparable damage to a surgical program for many years. Immediately starting the recruitment process following a vacancy without understanding the needs and complexities of a program can be premature and potentially misguided if it is determined that a one-to-one replacement isn’t necessary. 

The organization needs time to take stock, evaluate current challenges, and execute on them efficiently. This is particularly pertinent during a merger or acquisition. Sullivan Healthcare Consulting has observed many hospitals and health systems struggling to recruit for vacant executive positions if a merger or other partnership is pending. After all, how do you convince an executive to sign on amid such uncertainty? An interim leader can give six months or a year to let a merger play out and there is a better context for recruiting permanent executives.

Sullivan Healthcare Consulting Is Here to Help You

Sullivan’s interim management services have helped organizations around the U.S. just like yours find the right interim leadership in times of transition. We are here to help you effectively identify organizational pain points and reprioritize the leadership responsibilities in your perioperative program. Whether you need assistance in SPD, ASC, or OR management, our team of seasoned perioperative experts will help you achieve higher margins by optimizing surgical services.
Learn more about how our team of experts can help your organization today!

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