Change, Mergers, and Leadership

just married

We’ve merged. Two large organizations, full of some of East Tennessee’s most talented, compassionate healthcare teams, tied the knot and have become one. For better or worse.  Some may think of it as a “happily ever after” story and others might be thinking more in terms of a shotgun wedding or a tragic drama. Being a constructivist narrative guy, I happen to believe that the genre is, and will continue to be, up to us, the storytellers.

I was not in the meetings when decisions were made about Ballad Health’s organizational structure. I did not participate in the business plan, marketing strategy, or legal process. I am not an executive spokesperson, so I cannot speak to such things with any authority. And I don’t specialize in business or finance, so I can’t say much about the economic ramifications of this union either.

What I do specialize in is people. My world is the human experience of interconnected systems and the behaviors that these relationships produce. My function is to place my finger on the heartbeat of our organization, analyze our spiritual and emotional health, and offer interventions that improve our ability to deliver compassionate services to the families of our region. This is what I can speak to.

I began with the metaphor of marriage because, as a Minister and a Counselor, this is also my world. Based on the work of Edwin Friedman et al., I understand teams in the same way I do families- systems that are more than the sum of individual parts. As we become this new, complex organism, there will be a lot of growing pains. Much like when two partners leave one way of being (single) and become something entirely different (married). It is exciting, confusing, scary, frustrating, joyful, and a whole gamut of other feelings all at once.

Our merger is similar to getting married in a lot of ways. We face learning new ways of doing certain things. We will learn a new language and develop a whole new culture. We will have a period of negotiating space and time. Unlike a marriage though, we are more contractual and less covenantal. This is business, after all. But, it is not just business. These are real life people with real life callings who are being negotiated! So now, more than ever, it is important that we keep our wits about us and take special care to honor one another in thought and deed.

Here are a few simple tips I’ve been sharing with Team Members to help ensure that our transition is ethical, respectful, and as healthy as possible:

1. Recognize and lean into your grief. Loss is loss and the best way to honor it is to talk about it. Some transitions will mean wonderful people shift out of important roles. This is painful and it is ok to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling and to seek guidance. It is not ok to sabotage or disrespect others.

2. Step up. Don’t confuse authority with leadership. Authority has to do with your role, but leadership is influence and everyone has a circle of influence.

3. Go with the flow. The current cares not which direction you swim, but you’ll get a lot further if you decide to travel downstream.

4. Pay attention. Consider where things were and monitor where they are going. You may just find new opportunities!

5. Celebrate and choose joy. Any lazy thinker can criticize. It takes courage and effort to find what’s going well and express gratitude.

6. Offer solutions. The world doesn’t need any more problem finders, we want solution makers.

7. Remember your why. I always encourage folks to do this. This is your calling- it is what will get you out of bed in the morning.

8. Pray for the decision makers. Lord, give our administration, our boards, and our managers wisdom and peace as they make difficult decisions. May these choices strengthen our communities and bring healing to our region. Provide us with just and fair solutions for complex problems and guide us to deliver health to all.