Alberta Health Services has an image problem. Again. (Still?)

By DJ Kelly September 17, 2009

I don’t know much about the current state of Alberta healthcare. There are people who are much more knowledgeable in this area than I. All I really know is what has been reported in the press. As a result I don’t feel I can comment one way or another on these two recent stories coming out of Alberta Health Services (AHS). I do however know a little something about marketing and branding. And this is not good for them or patients.

Yesterday the Calgary Herald ran the main article on the front page with this headline:

Alberta health board to close 350 beds

On the exact same morning Metro Calgary ran the main article on their front page with this headline:

AHS under fire over CEO bonus

Do you see the problem here?

On the exact same day, two publications in the same city are running their main article about you. In addition both articles are negative. AND they’re not even the same story! With this as evidence I think it is fair to say that clearly there are some major problems afoot in AHS.

I don’t think you need to be an expert marketer to read between the lines on this one and come up with what the problem is here. Or at least what the perceived problem might be.

What makes for good marketing is the same thing that makes for good business: consistency. Or, synchronicity. (As a matter of fact, good marketing is nothing more than effective communications about good product.) This is where AHS is having a breakdown. The board is handing out bonus packages while cutting back services. These two items are not in sync. They are not consistent.

And people are going to get angry because of it.

So what do I recommend?

First off I recommend asking someone other than me for the answer to our health woes. But secondly I recommend when following through on whatever great advice the first person gave you, you apply that approach to ALL areas of the organization.

AHS has tried all kinds of reorganization; obviously that is not the problem. The issue is far deeper than that. It’s more fundamental. It’s time to get deeper into the organization and start your rebrand from the inside out.

  • Step one: Set some basic goals using triple bottom line expectations.
  • Step two: Work with the ground level service providers to find ways for them to achieve those goals. (This approach always works better than a top down system because the ground level people will always know more detail regarding the barriers they face than the top level people.)
  • Step three: Don’t be afraid to change EVERYTHING, especially the most precious and basic assumptions or institutions.
  • Step four: Repeat until reporters can’t find anything bad to write about you.

Do this instead of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and AHS could be the most efficient health system in the world. The only thing stopping them, is themselves.