by Lisa Kersey
I am a recreational golfer, and since it has been unusally hot this year, I would have to characterize myself more as a spectator golfer this season – usually on the couch, watching the 2012 majors.
Recently, I noticed a movie called The Greatest Game Ever Played. It wasn’t the fact that it was a movie about golf that made me pause, but the fact that it was based on a true story. The story line follows the life of a young boy from the wrong side of the tracks who has a passion –and talent – for the game and overcomes the odds to ultimately find himself competing against some of the giants of his day in the 1913 US Open.
As a public relations professional who works with clients in the healthcare industry, I couldn’t help but notice a few applications for health systems that are also passionate, talented and perhaps feeling like the underdog, as they navigate an unprecedented era of consolidation. With mergers, acquisitions and innovative partnerships are occurring on a weekly basis, there are a few things they can learn from the greatest game ever played.
1. Read it, roll it, hole it.
This was one of the two endearing quotes made famous by young Francis Oumet’s caddy, Eddie Lowery. In healthcare, it is the reading of the green that has triggered such a flurry of activity around mergers, acquisitions and partnerships. Radical changes in reimbursement models and payor contracts, coupled with the need for access to capital, and the duh-mandate (my term) to create new models of care that reward coordination of care and wellness are the sandtraps and lakes on the healthcare golf course. So everyone is starting to roll the ball. Whether that comes in the form of issuing an RFP to solicit potential partners, or whether it is the result of C-suite to C-suite discussions, or a third-party player like a venture capitalist, balls are rolling all across the country. The question is whether or not potential partners can, as Eddie would say, “hole it?”
While there are certainly a number of variables, there are two critical success factors –timing and communication. A hole-in-one is rare. And sometimes landing in the rough can have a surprising finish. The key is to be sensitive to the right timing for the partnership you are pursuing. Be sure to identify all of your stakeholders and develop a robust plan to communicate with them, and do not feel compelled to accept every request for an interview or respond to every comment made through social media.
Take the time to anticipate everything that might go wrong. No company has ever been sorry that they were too prepared.
2. Finding yourself in the rough is just part of the game.
There will be drives into the woods and balls that land in the lake. As the old saying goes, a bad day on the golf course is better than a good day at the office. And that’s true for healthcare M&A as well. The fact that you’re on the course identifying a partner (or partners) to tackle the challenges of health reform and position yourself to be on the leaderboard is what matters.
And remember, there are challenges bringing any two organizations together, and it is no different in healthcare, except that we are used to being in silos. Sometimes cultural, philosophical, financial, structural, and even religious issues can be resolved, and sometimes they can’t. From a communications perspective, that means a well thought out exit strategy and associated messaging. It will be important for stakeholders—particularly internal ones—to know that the ending of discussions with one partner is simply part of the process. Be sure to articulate and re-articulate the vision of your organization. And be sure to answer the three burning questions they have –what happened and why; what does it mean for me personally; and, what’s next for the organization.
From an external perspective, issue a simple, joint statement to the press and move forward. The key is to shift the conversation back to your vision for the future and prepare for the next hole.
3. Make sure you have a good caddy.
As the golfer – particularly the youngest on the course – Francis would get rattled. He would find himself distracted by the other players, the other caddies, the crowd and the weather. Easy to do when you’re the one playing the game. That’s why it’s important to have a good caddy –someone to advocate for you, encourage you and give you good counsel when everything within you just wants to scream or give up.
Healthcare organizations in partnership discussions need a good caddy – someone who can be objective and provide sound counsel to continue playing the game. There is no question that M&A activity in health care involves both complex and emotionally-charged issues. Outside counsel can help you cut through that.
Change isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. There are a number of success stories –including some unexpected wins. Despite a few challenging shots from the rough and a short putt or two, more hospitals and health systems are finding innovative ways to partner in mutually beneficial ways to improve care coordination and outcomes and reduce costs related to duplication and waste.