Collection Policy, Part 4: Four Tips for Communicating your New Culture

There is usually a good reason you want to make a change in your organization – you are seeing moves in the competition, experiencing pricing pressures or seeing a rise in patient AR. Whatever it is, there is usually pressure to move quickly to improve results. Research shows that companies with strong cultures tend to be higher performers.  To help you get started, we’d like to share four tips for communicating your new culture.

I have helped implement culture change in three departments. The most dramatic was when I worked in a large Credit Card Center. The organization started a 24/7 call center to support its new data communication software. The system sent data from the gas pump to service station backroom to our data center. The workflow involved several hardware and software vendors at installations. Once installed, if data communications stopped the station could have a variety of issues such as not being able to pump gas, sell food in the convenience store or submit their daily paperwork.

The experienced CSRs on my team had to troubleshoot to quickly determine the root cause of the problem and dispatch the proper technicians. Since the data communication was critical, the company wanted to empower the team to streamline their workflow, be involved in the hiring process (to make certain any new team members would fit into the new culture) and provide peer feedback for reviews.

Finding a model – Jay Galbraith’s 5 Star Model

Our team used a process similar to Jay Galbraith’s 5 Star Model. We spent time on each “point” – strategy, structure, process, rewards and people.  The points are self-explanatory, but I’d like to comment on a couple of them.

Before I leave this model,  I want to highlight the lines that demonstrate how each of the points impact the other points. This is an important concept you cannot forget when introducing change.

Change can be challenging

Whether you are looking to completely overhaul your processes or want to make some small adjustments, change will impact the dynamics of your team. For me, going through the culture change was not only the most difficult, but the most rewarding job I had with the company. Why? I learned that no matter how much you want introduce change, if your employees don’t want to change, your team won’t change.  So, once you have formalized your team’s culture, collection policy or collection procedures, you may want to consider these four tips for communicating your new culture:

 1. Effectively communicate your culture and collection policy to establish accountability at every level of your organization.

The most common mistake in trying to bring about change is to have the leadership team define it, talk about it once and then check it off the to-do list. Remember, you are providing everyone in the organization with a road map on how they are going to be part of something exciting. Describe how you envision the future. Match your message to your audience—you may need to adjust the tone, pace and style for the different groups. Make sure your communications align with culture. If your organization is formal and structured, your communications should be too. If you are more casual, your tone should reflect that. In our case, we had a different presentation for the leadership team, the CSRs and our HR partners.

You can’t just hand out your new vision and expect your staff to understand what you are trying to accomplish. Your culture team spent time thinking and discussing the changes. Therefore, your staff will need some time to understand why your culture must change and to process the changes you want in your culture. Some consultants recommend that when you are announcing the change, if you set aside an hour, spend only 15-20 minutes on the explanation to allow plenty of time for Q&A.

2. Keep the new culture guidelines top of mind.

Since culture change is important to your company’s success, you should address it often and publicly recognize individuals or teams that exemplify or demonstrate your new culture and what you aspire it to be. You might consider formal training sessions or team meetings. Our leadership team and  staff went through the interpersonal skills training together.  We also held team meetings every other week to discuss what was working and what still needed to change. Change is challenging, so the meetings were a good opportunity to keep employees motivated.

Demonstrate the values you want to emphasis by walking your talk. Since employees will pay more attention to what you do than to what you say, your leadership team should consist of strong cultural fits. They serve as the faces of the company and will show others how to live the corporate culture every day.

3. Prioritize your company’s results.

We recently went through this process at Allegiance Group. After creating a list of goals we wanted to accomplish in 2019, we narrowed the list down to the top 3-5 results. Next, we pick the activities that will have the most impact on those results.

As I mentioned, we invited CSRs to join our culture committee. This follows the recommendation of Connors and Smith, authors of the Oz Principle, to involve your staff to help determine what actions they:

– should stop doing
– need to start taking
– continue doing to reach their results

For example, when reviewing your workflow, you might decide that your employees should:

– Stop telling patients that they don’t need to pay now. You will want to collect payment upfront, and not wait to send an invoice until the insurance is billed.
– Start collecting payment information upfront and discussing the patient pay portion before the service is performed.
– Continue serving as a resource for your customers and doing the research in order to answer any questions.

Consider creating team-based as well as individual results. Team goals will demonstrate the importance of putting the organization’s interest before their own. For example, you might consider using collection recovery percentage or DSO as a company-wide result to help focus your staff’s efforts.

4. Monitor your progress and celebrate short-term wins.

Lastly, monitor your progress to make certain your results are improving. Make sure your results are driving the right activities.

Change is hard and sustaining it can be challenging. Plan for and create short-term wins so you can celebrate those who are excelling. Also, take the time to encourage those who were just short their goals and coach the CSRs who missed their goals.

Another way to monitor progress is to observe how your employees respond when an issue arises. Are they able to resolve it without involving their manager? Do they keep running into roadblocks?

Recognize you may have employees who won’t accept change. Try to turn a negative into a positive. Coach them to make certain they understand why change is necessary or offer a job challenge to help get them motivated. If you ignore them, their behavior will eventually have a negative impact on the whole team and make it harder to incorporate the changes you want to make.

Survey your employees to see if their values and beliefs are aligning with the company’s.

Your goal is to have your staff see how their daily actions help achieve the company’s results.  Each of your employees should be able to explain their contribution. For example, a collector should be able to fill in the blanks:  My job is to collect XX% of our patient pay AR and here’s how I do it:

I collect payment information for each patient upfront and store it in our system.  By doing so, when it’s time to generate the invoice, we can process the payment at the same time. We can collect the balance without additional work. Collecting the balance faster, improves our collection percentage and cash flow.

One last tip…

Find a few “change agents” to help you make forward progress. Every company has respected leaders — both formal and informal — who are ambassadors of your culture. Recognize them for upholding the culture. Encourage them to align their work and management styles so they can keep demonstrating what it looks like to live the culture.  As a leader, make it a point to walk around the office every day and thank people for their contributions.

Remember, changing culture is a process, not a task.  Even successful change efforts can be messy and full of surprises.  Keep nurturing your plan by using these four tips for communicating your new culture. By shaping your culture, you will have one more “unknown” to address.

Sharon Bock, Director of Marketing