Leadership lessons from UK healthcare

15/03/2017
Professor Michael Fischer is the Program Director of Melbourne Business School’s Leadership and Change in Healthcare program – an innovative experience where participants tackle their organisational challenge and create viable solutions alongside their industry peers.
 
During his 30-year career in clinical practice, healthcare management and research, Professor Fischer has worked for leading hospitals in the UK National Health Service and been an expert adviser to the Professional Standards Authority, the Commission for Healthcare Audit & Inspection, the New Zealand Ministry of Health and other international agencies.
 
In this opinion piece, Professor Fischer shares his insights into what Australia can learn from the UK when it comes to healthcare.

 
It’s no secret that Australia’s health system is fragmented and faces major challenges as healthcare costs continue to rise alongside chronic diseases and an ageing population.

Healthcare leadership talk
 
However, as many healthcare professionals and managers can attest, achieving effective service transformation can be highly complex.
 
Applying business school ideas to healthcare can be a powerful driver of change in the sector. Like many organisations, silo mentalities and traditional boundaries between groups often get in the way of a good idea. In healthcare, this means many organisation miss major opportunities to solve some of their most pressing challenges and opportunities to innovate.
 
To understand how the most effective leaders tackle this issue, I investigated how clinical and non-clinical managers used business school ideas to lead organisational change across six of the UK’s leading healthcare organisations, including acute hospitals and private healthcare, community and primary care services.
 
After interviewing and studying the work of 137 leaders in depth, my team found that the most effective leaders skilfully ‘activate’ and mobilise research as local cheerleaders. They stimulate emotional engagement and buy-in to bring research-based ideas to life. 
 
As one medical director said:
 
“I really want to get a transformative way of working. In a sense, you’re making problems for people – you just have to wait for them to calm down.”
 
Some of the most effective styles of knowledge leadership actively use and ‘sell’ research-based management ideas to stimulate internal momentum for organisational change.
We found three different types of knowledge leadership to be most effective.
 
  • Carriers – those who personally bring business school ideas inside their organisation and enact them to create organisational change.
  • Magpies – those who selectively combine a variety of different research ideas and craft them together to create a compelling story.
  • Challengers – those who engage critically with established ideas to stimulate new ways of thinking that drive experimentation and innovation. 

Healthcare leaders often have ‘hybrid’ identities, combining clinical expertise with management know-how. They are highly skilled at navigating their organisational silos, often linking up with very different professional groups and interests.
 
As one senior manager put it:
 
“I steal something from everyone I work with – I nick good ideas.”
 
If more senior leaders share ideas and expertise to learn from other healthcare organisations, Australia will be in a better position to develop sustainable healthcare of the highest quality.
 
Applications are closing soon for the Leadership and Change in Healthcare program starting May 24. Find out more by visiting the program page.