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Thursday Complexity PostSeptember 19, 2013

Leading, Learning and Transformational Change  


Eight years after Novant Health formed through the merger of two large regional hospitals in North Carolina, some executives realized, the organization still had multiple cultures, a wide variety of policies, strategic plans and information systems, and leadership development suffered as a result.


Presbyterian Healthcare in Charlotte and Carolina Medicorp in Winston-Salem merged in 1997, creating a system that now has 14 medical centers, 360 physician clinics, 158 outpatient clinics and 25,000 employees. In 2005, two of Novant's key leaders decided to begin a leadership program that would develop a pool of internal talent to fill the many new leadership roles they knew would be needed as the organization grew, and address cultural issues that could potentially undermine that anticipated growth.


Vic Cocowitch, a leadership and organizational consultant in healthcare, Stephen Orton PhD, who works for the North Carolina Institute for Public Health at the University of North Carolina, and the two Novant executives, Jacque Daniels, Chief Administrative Officer and Debbie Kiser, Vice President of Leaning and Development, describe their seven year program in a story in the OD Practitioner, the journal of the Organizational Development Network. Their article, "Reframing Leadership Development in Healthcare," explains that Leadership Novant was based on the beliefs that leadership is continuous learning, that the work environment in a healthcare system can be used as a great learning laboratory, and that managers and leaders need to learn through their own experiences.


Novant relies on interdisciplinary teams collaborating to improve patient safety, quality of care, and solve problems, the authors write, so Leadership Novant stressed teamwork throughout its curriculum in readings, assessments, simulations and social activities. A cohort program, of five three day sessions held at an off-site facility, included activities that helped participants deepen personal relationships and networks and think and act outside of their usual comfort zone. It emphasized three themes, which the article describes as follows:


The Use of Self is based on the idea that effective leadership depends on deep self-awareness and "an ability to intentionally manage and deploy self for desired organizational impact."


Team Leadership, which requires interdisciplinary collaboration, included such action learning projects as development of a health literacy program, analyzing post-acute care facilities and strategies, and developing a "cultural due diligence process" for potential mergers and acquisitions.


Systems Thinking and Change Leadership, which were reinforced throughout the program, were emphasized through learning content aligned with organizational needs. Case studies showed system wide change as it took place. As one example, leaders presented early plans for the inception of new health information technology in inpatient facilities and physician practices.


The authors write that a successful leadership program needs to be fully supported by the organization's CEO and entire executive team, and it needs to evolve continually so that critical and unexpected events are used as learning opportunities. An earlier article by Cocowitch and Orton about an organizational development approach to healthcare leadership and the program at Novant is available here


Remember PlexusCalls! 



Friday, September 27, 1-2 PM ET

Storytelling for Leaders, Organization and Communities  

Guests: Thaler Pekar, Bruce Waltuck, and Barbara Ganley




Stories and narratives are powerful ways to foster implementation of new programs, problem solving, advocacy, communication of ideas, and insights into the values and purposes we hold most important. Three guests experienced with the meaning and impact of stories and storytelling share their insights and they welcome your comments, questions and stories.


Thaler Pekar is the CEO of Thaler Pekar & Partners, and an internationally recognized pioneer in narrative and communication. Thaler's Heart, Head & Hand™ framework for persuasive communication is helping smart leaders throughout the world engage audiences and achieve goals. She is a tri-sector athlete, engaging across the private, public, and social sectors and directing smart leaders in breaking through crowded marketplaces, increasing sales and income, and heightening visibility and influence. Thaler facilitated the opening plenary of the most recent Smithsonian Institution Conference on Organizational Storytelling. She is a visiting professor at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, teaching an executive masters courser in storytelling and narrative persuasion; a frequent guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate Program in Strategic Communications; and a contributor to the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Thaler is a long-time resident of Hoboken, NJ, and a more recent resident of Unadilla, NY. She always crosses the street to walk on the sunny side, and she has a cat named Truthiness. You can reach Thaler at, or @thaler.


Bruce Waltuck is an award-winning change leader, author, and consultant. He co-designed and led the U.S. Department of Labor's Employee Involvement and Quality Improvement system, and he created a public-private partnership model that won a Silver Medal from the Government Innovation awards program. Bruce has presented and taught in the U.S., Canada, Singapore, and Brazil and written journal articles, book chapters, and a primer on complexity and quality. He has been advisor to the administrator of a $3 billion a year grant-making agency in Health and Human Services and consulted with public and private organizations as president of his own firm, Freethinc. . . For A Change. He holds a Masters in Complexity, Chaos, and Creativity from the University of Western Sydney. He has developed a framework for gathering and exploring stories of organizational change. Bruce and Denise Easton are co-writing the book FLUXed: Survive and Thrive in a Worldof Disruption and Uncertainty. See Bruce is @complexified on Twitter, blogs at and you can reach him at  


Barbara Ganley founded Community Expressions, LLC in 2008 to bring storytelling to civic engagement and community change efforts. Before that at Middlebury College she pioneered the integration of digital storytelling and blogging in the liberal arts and use of social media in service learning. Her experience with social media, community mapping, dialogue, facilitation and storytelling to engage citizens and to effect change led her to work with towns across the Northeast and the Rocky Mountain West as well as community foundations, academic institutions and nonprofits on local, national and international levels. Barbara writes widely about storytelling and communities, including the foreword to the 2012 edition of Joe Lambert's Digital Storytelling, Capturing Lives, Creating Community and the Orton Family Foundation-published essay, Re-Weaving Community, Creating the Future Storytelling at the Heart and Soul of Healthy Communities. She sits on the Children's Radio Foundation's Advisory Board and University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana's Ethnography of the University Initiative External Advisory Board and with The YoungWriters Project as Creative and Strategic Advisor. You'll find her at, as @bgblogging on Twitter and

Audio from all PlexusCall series are available by searching the iTunes store for plexuscalls. Or, visit under Resources/Call Series. 


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