Leading During Transformational Change

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Trepanier HSBy Sylvain “Syl” Trepanier, DNP, RN, CENP, vice president & system chief nursing officer

Transformational change is defined as a shift in the culture of an organization that will result in a change of strategy and processes. Furthermore, it affects the entire organization over an extended period of time (Business Dictionary, 2016). To say that Premier Health is undergoing transformational changes is perhaps somewhat of an understatement for some of you. It is important to understand what are the driving forces (the why) requiring us to undergo such changes today. First and foremost, all of us need to understand that Premier Health is not alone. In fact, the entire industry is undergoing major changes. The most important influential factor is related to how we are reimbursed. In addition, to ensure the viability of our organization, we have to offer quality services at the lowest possible cost. 

So now that we understand why we have to reinvent ourselves, what does that mean for each of us? How can I best prepare myself to navigate the rough waters created by transformational changes? How can I best support my colleagues in this journey? As a starting point, I would offer that you should:

  • Demonstrate relentless optimism
  • Keep calm and lead on: chaos is normal
  • Ensure that your pilot light is on

I believe the most important ingredient is relentless optimism. Optimism is defined as a tendency to look on the more favorable side of things and to expect a favorable outcome (Dictionary.com, 2016). In other words, seeing the glass half full as opposed to half empty.  Relentless is defined as showing no abatement of severity, intensity, strength or pace (Merriam-Webster, 2016). This means that, in order to be effective during transformational changes, you need to always have a clear vision of what the positive future will look like. When you are clear about that vision, you need to remember it no matter what. Will there be challenges along the way that will make it hard for you to visualize that bright future? Of course it will happen. In fact, I can almost predict that something will come along. This is when the relentless part becomes so important. 

The other key aspect of navigating during transformational changes is to remember that chaos is normal. Keep calm and lead on. Although chaos is normal, we can do things to mitigate its impact on everyone. First, recognize that it’s normal.  Do you control any aspect of the work? If so, have you engaged with others in formalizing solutions? Although the water-cooler conversations help us understand we are not alone in thinking what we are thinking, they typically won’t help our cause if we don’t take it where it makes a difference. For example, when you have an idea on how to address any issues that may affect your practice, you should engage your local unit council, coordinating council, and any of our system shared governance councils. The best way to manage yourself and others around chaos is to offer reassurance, to fight the urge to go backward, and to be very careful not to add to the chaos.

Lastly, you have to ensure that your pilot light is on. Having your pilot light on is necessary to demonstrate ongoing commitment to any changes. The best way to keep your pilot light on is to remain engaged. I would argue that in order to do so you have to take ownership of your engagement. First, seek to understand why the change in practice is necessary. Once you understand the change, be sure to find meaning in the change. If you don’t embrace the change, identify the price to pay for not changing. Lastly, be sincere in the process. Do not pretend; be genuine about it. 

We practice in a constant state of change. Transformational change can be chaotic and therefore brings a lot of uncertainty. To gracefully embrace required transformational changes, you should demonstrate relentless optimism and ensure that your pilot light is always on. We are very fortunate to be able to transform health care and I hope that you will join us in making history. Keep calm and lead on.


Business Dictionary (2016). Transformational Change: Definition. Retrieved on December 4th, 2016 from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/transformational-change.html

Dictionary.com (2016). Optimism: Definition. Retrieved on December 4th, 2016 from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/optimism

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