The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (the Royal College) operates in an area that has faced a tremendous amount of change.
The Royal College is a non-profit organization that sets the standards for Canada’s medical specialists, including “67 disciplines of medicine and surgery and 34 areas of focused competence.” In layman’s terms, they make sure the physicians who provide specialized medical and surgical care in the country are well trained and up-to-date, so patients get the best care.
Soon after CEO Dr. Susan Moffatt-Bruce came on board in January 2020, the pandemic hit. Like everyone else, the Royal College had to update its IT ecosystem faster than expected during a time of upheaval and uncertainty.
By February 2021, the process was underway with the help of Stratford Group, a management consulting firm that helps organizations and their leaders grow, improve, and transform.
How to manage change, when everything is changing
Tim Julien is executive director, CFO and COO of the Royal College. He and other senior leaders knew the Royal College needed an IT ecosystem that could meet the increased demand for collaboration across the country while also improving their members’ experience.
That’s where AJ Harris, vice president, digital strategy & delivery at Stratford came in. Over the course of 2021 his team conducted an IT operational assessment that follows three basic steps: discovery, assessment, and recommendations.
“You map the current IT ‘ecosystem’. It’s a fuzzy term that means the people, the processes, the systems, technologies and culture that live around the IT components and how they work together,” said Harris. “We look at how they support the business operations, which includes their strengths and weaknesses, and how they’re managed and maintained.”
The roadmap Stratford provided included 29 recommendations. Ten addressed people, nine addressed processes and ten addressed their systems and technology.
“We had been using the same IT system for over 15 years,” said Julien, noting that one of the significant changes was moving the Royal College’s electronic files to the cloud. People across the country could now collaborate and edit the same document rather than keep track of the latest version in their inbox.
The Royal College helped everyone learn the new cloud-based system by implementing real-time tutorials that were also recorded, so staff could choose the tool that worked best for them. They ensured staff had access to online training and created a group of “super-users” that provide one-on-one help to anyone tackling a specific problem.
“We wanted to show that the senior leadership was committed to learning,” said Julien. “And that everybody can find a way to learn at their own pace.”
So far, the Royal College has implemented 60-70 per cent of the 29 recommendations from the roadmap Stratford provided. “We wouldn’t undertake something of this magnitude to just shelve the review and carry on,” said Julien. “It’s an organic and living document we’ll consult until we’ve addressed everything that’s in that report. It’s a marathon, not a race.”
Why change can’t happen without change management
On the ground, change management looks different for every organization.
That’s why Stratford calls the report a roadmap. They prioritize their recommendations, explaining which has to happen first in order to move to the next. One of the first recommendations for the Royal College was strengthening the IT team. “They helped us identify key roles needed to enhance the department, and when it came time to recruit an IT director, they developed a leadership profile we used for the recruiting campaign,” said Julien. “We were able to secure the services of a new director of IT earlier this year.”
All of this may sound complicated, but the fact is change is never simple. That’s why Harris says the time you invest in change management should be equal to the amount of effort you invest in configuring a new system. “You’re not trying to prevent resistance, you’re putting in tools to deal with it,” he said.
The Royal College got this immediately. “Some of our staff are nurses and physicians, and they’ve gone through this in their hospitals,” said Julien. “When they got a new IT system they were told to ‘take this and run with it.’” It took some of them years to learn the new system.
There’s a phase in the process Harris calls “the valley of despair” when staff are going through the challenges of adapting to a new system but have not yet seen many of the benefits associated with the change. Understandably, they become overwhelmed. Much of the focus on change management is preparing the organization for that stage so they can navigate it successfully.
To solve this, Harris recommends tying the operational review to strategic planning and ensuring key business stakeholders understand their role in helping the organization’s information management and information technology capabilities evolve. When staff work together toward a common goal, they create a culture change that permeates the whole organization.
So far, the response to the changes has been enthusiastic. “The IT team and staff are looking forward to delivering a state-of-the-art digital experience to physician members, and excited about the new possibilities that lie ahead,” said Julien. “With a renewed emphasis on change management and training, people feel supported as we continue to roll out the roadmap.”
“It’s not about targeting the IT team,” said Harris. “If you want it to work, there must be changes throughout the organization. It’s also critical that the implemented changes are adopted and sustainable. Stratford’s approach makes knowledge transfer pervasive so when we leave, the changes and benefits live on.”
In a world defined by constant change, having a Stratford roadmap to help navigate some of the choppy waters sounds like the right idea.