Leading Nurse Teams Through Change

Change management is one of the greatest leadership challenges administrators face today. In the health care industry, where change can be constant, nurse leaders have a responsibility to help their teams and organizations navigate these changes effectively. They not only fill the role of strategically managing, supporting and mitigating any impacts of change, but nurse leaders must also maintain the necessary level of momentum and proper attitudes within their teams for implementing new procedures and tools.

Fostering Change-Tolerant Attitudes

Attitude management is an important element of a comprehensive approach nurse leaders can take to help staff embrace change. Nurse leaders are required to keep staff informed and agile, requiring the need to exhibit a certain amount of tolerance for change. Highly effective nurse leaders can exemplify sincere positivity in response to change by having their caregiving mission front of mind – how it supports patient-centered care, especially as change can present an opportunity for caregivers to develop better relationships with patients or to improve the experience patients have during their time in clinic. Nurse leaders who keep this patient-centered focus at the core of their efforts to develop and communicate a change management strategy to their team can lay a strong foundation for everyone to become invested and engaged with the change. This can help diminish the severity of change and make it more apparent why the changes are needed and how they fit into the broader context of the health care profession.

Engaging Positively with Change to Combat Burnout

In recent years, the entire American health care system has undergone rapid redesign and seen explosive growth in the use of new technologies, ranging from electronic health records to wearables and a wide range of new Internet-connected devices. While nurse leaders must keep sight of how these new technologies can help staff better fulfill their caregiving mission, at the same time, they must be sensitive to the impact such technological changes can have on nursing staff and the stresses brought on by the learning curve for the technology.

Burnout among nurses in recent years has frequently been attributed to the pace of change driven by technology and the amount of learning required to adapt workflows and integrate new systems and devices. While managing this stress factor is partly a matter of influencing attitudes, it is also often a matter of adapting training and education as part of a change management strategy. This can include nurse leaders finding a way to provide learning resources to their teams and adjusting training methods and communication in order to make the value and strategic importance of lessons and technologies clear to every single member of their team.

Being Change Coaches

An important concept in the field of nurse leadership is that of becoming a change coach. Change coaches in the nurse management sector leverage a combination of strategies and leadership skills in order to impact not just the mindsets of their teams, but the capabilities and talents of individuals and the team as a whole. A major component of the change coach’s mandate is advocacy.

Nurse leaders can be advocates for change by emphasizing the positive elements of new technology, procedures, or organizational features, as well as by making it a priority for themselves to learn new skills required by changing technology or policies. In showing a willingness to learn and adapt, they not only set an example for other staff to follow, but they ready themselves to be teachers who are able to coach their staff through the learning curve with respect to change.

While role modeling and providing learning support are key elements of being a change coach, as well as an effective nurse leader, they also serve as a way for nurse leaders to leverage their influence among the organization’s administration and clinical leadership. Nurse leaders who are hands-on with training and communicating with staff can better express the challenges, reservations, as well as successes they witness to administrators and executive leaders. Additionally, nurse leaders acting as change coaches can also provide the foresight and professional expertise to identify change before it becomes policy, and proactively engage leadership across the organization to make pending change happen as organically, constructively, and effectively as possible.

Being a change coach also obliges nurse leaders to engage with staff on behalf of the organization’s leadership, conveying messages and providing insight into the strategy or reasoning behind upcoming changes. Nurse leaders have many opportunities to be on the cutting edge of change and taking the opportunities to act as a coach to their subordinates, as well as their own supervisors or administrative superiors, can maximize the influence, visibility, and adaptability of the entire nursing team.

Change management in health care can be a challenge, but for nurse leaders it is also an opportunity to inspire and empower their nurse teams and to better serve patients. Although change is an unavoidable feature of health care today, nurse leaders can have a massive impact on how hospitals, teams, and even individuals respond to change and advance caregiving. Learning the skills and techniques to succeed as a nurse leader is a continuous process, but earning a Master of Science in Nursing can begin that process.

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Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program helps students hone their knowledge and skills to assume positions in nursing informatics, healthcare systems leadership or nursing education. The program aims to develop students who could take a role in shaping health policy, in educating other nurses and health care professionals, and in providing advanced care to their patients. Norwich’s online nursing program coursework has been developed based on guidelines by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and the program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.


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Advocacy Guide for Nurses: How To Be a Change Agent,

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