A few weeks ago, the Chicago Bears got their heads handed to them by the New Orleans Saints in a 36-25 loss. The score doesn’t express how poorly the Bears played. The Bears’ offensive ran the ball only seven times for a meager 17 total yards and turned the ball over with unforced fumbles. The defense gave up 24 consecutive points in the second half against a Saints team that was without its starting quarterback and a star running back.

What fascinated me about this game was not so much the loss itself as what happened during the press conference after the loss. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Morrissey captured the situation brilliantly in a piece I recommend all of you read titled “The Bears’ Problem Isn’t the Scourge of Negativity; It’s the Plague of a Bad Offense.”

“You would have thought that [Bears coach] Matt Nagy’s biggest concern after the Bears’ embarrassing performance Sunday was his offense’s ghastliness, with his defense’s surprising nosedive a distant second. But, no. The coach was preoccupied at his postgame press conference with letting everyone know that his team was united, that there would be no civil war, and that the media, a movable dark and stormy night, would not infiltrate Halas Hall with its negativity.”

The behavior that Morrissey is describing is similar to the reaction that many organizations have in the modern era to major business change.

Clay Christensen has richly documented the phenomenon. The instinct of legacy organizations, confronted with a new business model, is to close ranks. In many cases, this means first trying to save the existing culture, rather than accepting accountability for the need to change performance.

This tendency is surprising, but not surprising. Challenging the existing business model can be disruptive for legacy organizations. Questioning day-to-day execution and performance can cause hard feelings up and down the organization. Yet a hard look at current performance is inherent in a clear-eyed self-examination of what needs to happen for an organization to succeed as the business environment changes, or even as performance deteriorates.

In healthcare, legacy organizations are hammered by shrinking reimbursement rates, pressured to control expenses more aggressively, threatened by new competitors looking to scoop up hospitals’ most profitable services, and challenged to develop expertise in novel, retail-oriented ways of delivering care and services.

Meeting these challenges requires uncommon leadership. Such leaders recognize that the job of the organization is results. These leaders are not afraid to face the need for major change and new competencies. They establish accountability for top-notch execution. They take pains to rally stakeholders around a vision of change.

Equally important, however, they are willing to weather discomfort and even pain within the organization in pursuit of the results required to excel in an unprecedented competitive environment.

As Rick Morrissey suggests, the job of the Chicago Bears is to win games, make the playoffs, and contend for championships. To do that, performance is paramount. In his reaction to the embarrassing loss to the Saints, Coach Nagy seemed to say that any kind of adequate performance was not possible if the culture was coming apart. At best, this attitude seems to put coherence ahead of organizational performance. At worst, this attitude seems to say that poor performance is “sort of” an acceptable outcome if challenging current performance would upset the team’s equanimity.

All signs indicate that the Bears have a strong culture. The team has esprit de corps. There is no finger-pointing. This culture doesn’t need protecting. It seems plenty solid enough to withstand—even to welcome—a harder drive toward accountability.

The same is true for most healthcare organizations. The people who deliver and administer healthcare every day are focused, resilient, and dedicated to excellence. I suspect that rather than protection, they would welcome the challenge to advance their performance and capabilities for the changing environment.

To paraphrase Rick Morrissey... 
The worst thing that can happen to an organization isn’t discomfort, it’s not achieving the results needed to survive and thrive.

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Kenneth Kaufman

Managing Director, Chair
Kenneth Kaufman offers deep insights on the economic, technological, and competitive forces undermining healthcare’s traditional business model.
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