by Neil Horton, MS, RN
Consulting Director, Clinical Advisory Solutions

“Lose the ties,” was the first thing the VP (let’s call him Dave) said as he warmly greeted our team. It was not yet 6 in the morning and we had just run (literally) into the lobby after receiving a 5 a.m. text message saying that the presentation would start a full hour earlier. “Around here we don’t care for ties, they make people nervous, so feel free to leave them at home.” It was day one of our time on site at this large, complex medical center and I knew then and there that I was going to like Dave.

After introductions, Dave briefed us on the audience to whom we were about to present. In addition to names and titles, he shared some background on recent changes in hospital administration and tensions in the supply chain department. There was a lack of clarity around some role and responsibilities, and the director had just tendered his resignation the week prior.

Still fairly new in his role, Dave was consistently positive in his approach to people and challenges. And he was firm in his request that we match the tone he was setting: “We’re not bringing you in because things aren’t going well, we’re bringing you in because we want to see if they can be even better.” His approach and management of this project kick-off were pivotal to the success of the engagement.

A business engagement is a time-limited relationship that both client and consultants want to go well. Here are four ways how, in a very short period of time, both parties can develop a trusting relationship and make it possible to work effectively together to overcome obstacles and achieve success.   

1. Spend time preparing your staff for a consulting engagement. Bringing in consultants can create anxiety among staff. The sooner they feel relaxed and free to share, the sooner real progress can begin. In our initial presentations, Dave introduced us by name and framed the engagement as an opportunity for the department to develop more efficient ways of working and become best in class. He stood side by side with us before his employees, helped answer questions and urged honesty, openness and genuine participation. He let them know that their support and partnership was vital to the success of the engagement.

2. Make sure your consultants have the resources they need. To work effectively and ensure their time on site is well spent, consultants will most likely need work space, as well as access to people and data. That first day, we were provided dedicated workspace and access to several administrative resources who had been tasked for our support. With this, we were able to begin the work of creating relationships and partnering with the client to implement change.

3. Schedule frequent update meetings to keep abreast of progress and challenges. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions or get into the details. Responding to issues in a timely manner will help mitigate risk to the timeline. Dave requested weekly, hour-long update meetings and worked with us to fine tune the format, agenda and level of detail. He was an active participant in these updates, asked insightful questions and routinely impressed us with his ability to remember details from previous meetings. His level of involvement included providing feedback on our process and input on our sequence of activities, as well as making recommendations on which stakeholders to include in key decisions. In this way he stayed close to the engagement and helped us course-correct when necessary.

4. Look for the opportunity in surprises. Remain positive and assess the situation with an open mind. While it’s not something that can be controlled, the unexpected inevitably plays a role in every engagement and attitude can make all the difference. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, surprises can hide an unexpected opportunity. In what was at first seen as bad luck, a key director announced his departure the week before the engagement started. While this felt like a setback (and radiated an ominous signal throughout the organization), when the client asked us to provide an interim consultant to fill the role, we were able to onboard a seasoned professional who was able to help the team implement change and bring even more value to the client. 

Another surprise was learning about a newly created supply chain steering committee. The roster included hospital leadership, and they had yet to define scope and mission. This committee was an ideal governance solution for the supply chain transformation we were there to deliver, and the timing presented an opportunity for us to help ensure the kind of executive engagement that is critical to supply chain success.

When you’ve engaged consultants who are a good fit for your needs and follow the steps above, the outcome can be a positive environment where trust can take root and grow into successful relationships. The quality of those relationships will largely determine the success of the engagement and hopefully, you’ll find that “things can be even better.”

About the author. Neil Horton brings more than 30 years of experience in value analysis, perioperative nursing, surgical services, account management, contract negotiation and functional assessment to his role at Vizient. His background in various clinical areas, combined with Lean Six Sigma certification and training in value analysis, project management, change management and team facilitation has provided him with a keen understanding of how to implement a robust, evidence-based, transparent process to drive growth and help achieve occupational objectives. He is a member of the American Nurses Association, the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses, the Association of Healthcare Value Analysis Professionals and the Association for Healthcare Resource and Materials Management.