Today's economy is giving the thesaurus a workout.
It's hard for reporters and politicians to find more dramatic words to describe the extraordinary events on Wall Street and its threat to Main Street. Here's a sampling from the last 24 hours: Disastrous. Crisis. Damaging. Shattering. Dangerous. Helter-skelter. Chaos. Dire. Scary. Uncertain. Recession. Foreclosure. Depression. Panic. Failure.
You hear these words as a health leader. You may ask yourself: Do we move forward with that medical office building expansion? Should we buy that physician group now? Can our investments still cover our indigent care losses?
But now imagine that you hear these words as a medical/surgical nurse, or a lab tech, or a radiology manager. Now you may ask: Am I ok? Will I have a job tomorrow? Can I keep my house? Does the CEO here have a clue? Am I safe?
The most recent comments by health finance experts are that our industry will be relatively unharmed by this financial mess. (So far, at least.) But these experts are talking about the math of "access to capital" and "triple A ratings." They are not talking about the culture of your organization or the psyche of your employees.
Your nurses and techs and housekeeping staff—the backbone of your organization—are being battered by a Katrina-sized storm of news reports swollen with the most catastrophic language reporters can Google. They are vulnerable. They need an umbrella.
That's your job.
This is your rare opportunity to strengthen relationships inside your organization. Conversely, it's a time you ignore at your peril.
Here's what we know:
Today, the mistake is to wait it out—to wait for the answers to become clear and for all the Wall Street fallout to be known—before you engage with your people. They do not expect you to have all the answers or to promise them that everything is going to be alright.
But what do you say when you don't have all the answers? There are sure to be many details, but the overall theme should be simple and strong. Tell them that:
It may take weeks and months before we can begin to know the impact of today's economic crisis on the healthcare industry. You may not feel it—if you ever do—until your next fiscal year.
But the impact on your people is happening right now. It's as current as CNN. Break out your own thesaurus, if need be, and begin your own conversation with your team today.