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How to start a healthcare call center: Co-Create a Vision

People support what they help to create.

Undertaking any enterprise project is an effort in mountain moving combined with a necessary bit of magic and the appropriately timed stroke of luck. So it’s no wonder that traditional project how-to guides recommend gaining buy-in for your healthcare contact center project once you’ve created a plan.

Buy-in is the process (tip-toeing at the edge of responsibilities, navigating internal politics, budget allocation advocacy, general begging, etc.) of convincing stakeholders to support the project you’re intending to implement. It’s hard work, frustrating, anxiety provoking, and often just a bummer of high-intensity effort producing a questionable payoff.

So why even do it?

The problem with the idea of generating buy-in, we’ve found, is that because it follows most of the project’s decision making, the effort turns into an internal sales job. And selling, without understanding your customer’s needs, turns out to be very difficult.

There’s a better way.

The best approach to creating buy-in for any project is to avoid buy-in to begin with and just go ahead and involve anyone that needs (desires?) to be involved from the beginning-ish of the project by asking for their input as a purposely inclusive measure.

It’s the old management standby: People support what they help to create. Instead of selling an already-conceived-ready-to-implement project, co-create a vision for a prospective project with the group of stakeholders (customers, in a sense…) (especially in a corporate environment) that hold an interest in its ultimate success.

A co-created vision is the answer to the question: what do we want to create?

The “we” is imperative to co-creation. And the “we” are the project’s stakeholders.

A stakeholder is anyone without whose support the project will fail including executives, colleagues, subject matter experts, employees, users, and support departments.

So make a list of stakeholders and make a list of questions and then get to inquiring.

Things to inquire about include business requirements, success metrics, project outcomes, collaboration opportunities, political hurdles, stories pertinent to the project, priority setting, workflow considerations, past attempts at implementation, IT/HR/project management barriers, and anything else relevant to the project actually being implemented.

The mechanics of stakeholder interviews are up to you: individual interviews are usually best; if group gatherings are more appropriate because of busy schedules or a compact timeline, that’s fine, too. An emailed list of questions may work as well. The point is to include who you need to include and record what they say. Be sure to consider organizational dynamics: in some organizations the culture will dictate that an executive only interview an executive, etc.

(Also: I highly recommend the book Just Enough Research by Erica Hall as a primer if you’d like a more comprehensive treatment on the topic of stakeholder interviews and research in general.)

Combine your project team’s dreams with the ideas gathered from the stakeholder interviews into categories of project elements (e.g., referrals to our employed physicians, expand call center hours to 24/7/365, nurse triage services for specific populations, clinic after-hours call services, white-glove customer service, etc.)

It’s worth prioritizing these elements and organizing them by function because we think you should draw a metaphorical line so anything above the line will be included in the project (now) and anything below the line will be included in a later phase (next). The now/next distinction, we’ve found, is critical to getting the project off the ground.

We generally recommend creating just enough functionality to make the project a success—how that’s defined is up to you, the project team, and your stakeholders.

A rule of thumb: including more than what’s necessary to getting the project operational often results in delayed projects. It’s easy to think something must be included (integrations are a prime example) but you may find (as we often do) that waiting on an element for a second phase increases the likelihood the project goes live at the planned time. Plus, once the (now) project has been implemented, the project team will have learned considerably from real-world experience and you’re likely to find the next phase will include different project elements than expected.

To button the process up: communicate the co-created vision with your stakeholders.

Again, the mechanics of communicating the co-created vision are dependent upon the context with which the project is being implemented. If an email will suffice: great! If a project element that someone advocated for ended up below the metaphorical line, perhaps an in-person discussion is best.

Share with your stakeholders that a co-created vision serves multiple purposes: it becomes a guide for creating a project plan, it tells the story of what the project team is up to, and it serves as reference point for decisions made (and disagreements) during implementation.

One more thing from our experience: projects (and as a result co-created visions) often change. Be sure to communicate the details of any changes with your stakeholder group. The effort will pay off.

Most importantly: co-creating a vision begins the march toward implementation.

Make it a parade of inclusion and collaboration and you can be sure the procession won’t come to a halt at a most inopportune time.

Next: Healthcare Contact Center Resource: Produce a Plan

Previous: What are the first steps in developing a healthcare contact center? Create a list of dreams.

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