How to approach change management in your pharmacy
Change is a must. Change is the future, however small, for pharmacy. It’s been a while since I have written an article and it took me some time to think about a topic that is relevant yet important. Then I thought, there is nothing else more relevant to talk about than change.
By Jane Xia (Principal Consultant at Cedar health Consulting | Lecturer at the UBC Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences)
Change is a must. Change is the future, however small, for pharmacy.
It’s been a while since I have written an article and it took me some time to think about a topic that is relevant yet important. Then I thought, there is nothing else more relevant to talk about than change.
Change management has always been tough. Let’s admit it, most of us are creatures of habit. I know I am. Stability, predictable outcomes, and status quo are all things we crave as they point in the direction of safety. It is a great feeling for us as pharmacists. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, we were all experiencing various degrees of fear. Questions flooded the Google engine during the pandemic despite very little evidence and information being available. Even today, we are still in a world filled with events we cannot comprehend and a future we cannot predict. What will the next wave of the pandemic look like? How severe will this next variant be? What will this mean to our children’s generation?
What is interesting is that we have accepted the new changes. That masks are required in certain places, antigen or PCR testing is a must before we enter certain countries, and social distancing is needed when there is a COVID-19 variant outbreak. The pandemic isn’t truly over around the world; however, we are living with it. We are making the best with what we have got. As humans, we all have the ability to adapt. Whether we like change or not, we are capable of changing.
When it comes to change, we choose to see the obstacles more than the benefits. We prefer the status quo as predictability soothes our soul with comfort and familiarity. Yet when a youthful new pharmacy grad brings ideas of change to our practice, we are, for the most part, resistant to their fresh perspective; because deep down, we are thinking, what’s the point of fixing something that works?
The one quote that resonated the best with me is: “Change is the only constant in life. One's ability to adapt to those changes, will determine your success in life” by Benjamin Franklin (1). Let’s face it, Amazon Pharmacy is coming. Sooner or later, online shopping for pharmacy items or prescriptions will be a way of the future whether we like it or not. To thrive in this profession of pharmacy is to innovate and make changes for the better. Change management is more important than ever if you want to carve your piece of the pie in the pharmacy business market space.
From clinical services to leadership blogs that I have written previously, I briefly mentioned some ways to convey your staff to embrace change. How to go about it well is ultimately up to you and your pharmacy staff. Here are some potential steps to approach change management within your pharmacy:
Prepare your pharmacy staff for change
Often, I see upper managers just implement change without conveying the purpose of change to the staff in advance. What happens is that the staff do not embrace the change because they do not understand why it is so important. Many staff often complain that it is another set of hurdles they have to get through rather than seeing the long-term benefits (e.g. more prescriptions, better patient interactions, better job satisfaction and more talent acquisition).
It is essential to prepare your staff mentally prior to initiating any changes. Also, understanding the current day-to-day pharmacy operational challenges, logistic, and culture prior to implementing change will give you a better idea of how to go about approaching change management that works best for you and your pharmacy.
The employees must recognize and understand the need for change. What are the benefits and challenges, what is the current business environment that forces this change, what is the downside to status quo in the future. Obtaining your pharmacy staff’s initial buy-in is important and will help with the implementation down the road to avoid unnecessary resistance.
Create a plan for that change
I often see that upper managers do not ask staff any questions or survey the current working conditions (i.e. burnout, lack of support, inefficiencies). They often create a plan and expect the staff to follow the new set of plans with ease. Unfortunately, this often backfires because there are various aspects of the workflow that the upper managers did not consider. This can only be resolved through conversing with your front-line staff. We are a team for a reason, even the best managers will not know all the issues and perspectives of the staff without having an open and honest conversation.
So, before you craft your plan, consult your staff, but take this consultation with a grain of salt as some things may not be relevant to change management and more to do with internal staff politics, which you will need to address separately.
Some questions you want to consider prior to drafting your plan are: What are your goals? What key metrics will define success? What steps and actions will this change include? What are some anticipated challenges of the implementation process?
Implement change one small step at a time – not all at once
We often bite off more than we can chew. The ambitious and eager-to-please managers often implement too many changes at once. This overwhelms not only the managers but also the staff. It is also tough to track the impact/results when you have too many changes made.
It is actually way more productive to implement smaller changes at the beginning and to have your staff witness some small wins. This will not only encourage the staff to follow your lead but also give them faith in embracing change.
Incorporate change as part of your pharmacy culture and regular practice
I will agree with you, change is not part of the traditional pharmacy culture. Again, we love predictability and we love status quo. That said, the pharmacy practice and the profession of pharmacy have evolved tremendously in the past decade. Change is a good thing. Change is inevitable. This is something that needs to be emphasized but also embraced by everyone in the pharmacy for you to continue to evolve and lead. It is also important that everyone understands change does not mean 100% success right from the get go. There will be times when you try something new and it will not work. Go ahead, get your staff’s feedback and adjust accordingly. Always include your staff! They are part of the process and solution to the change you will want to see!
The most important step is to review and analyze results and performance
We often avoid evaluating ourselves. Either we forget or we are afraid of seeing the negative results of our labor. In the end, we have to review the performance. Did we hit our key success factors? Did we perform? Did the change make any difference that warrants a long-term strategic plan? We have to face the music. Even if it isn’t the ideal results we were hoping for. It isn’t a bad thing, perhaps a few tweaks will make it better. It is an experiment but the goal is to be better. For your patients, your pharmacy, and you business.
If you are interested in reading more about change management, The Hard Side of Change Managementis a great article that talks about a framework of change management, published by the Harvard Business Review online. Happy reading!