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Critical Competencies for ACO Leaders

Under the best of circumstances developing an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) is a risky, costly and time-consuming undertaking.

While many factors influence success (or failure), experienced participants and thoughtful observers report three factors are key for success. They are:

  • committed executive leadership and governance
  • a strong provider – payer relationship
  • experience with performance-based payments

Recognizing these key factors, it is essential that individuals selected to lead the development of an accountable care organization possess a number of critical leadership competencies if the venture is to have any chance of success.

Through research on the causes of ACO success and failure and personal interviews with successful ACO leaders, UTD Jindal School of Management professor Dr. Mike Deegan has identified ten key competencies that should be broadly distributed among a nascent ACO’s leadership cadre. They are:

  • Integrity – the quality of being fair and honest
  • Courage – the willingness to undertake something difficult or dangerous
  • Emotional Self-Awareness – awareness of one’s own emotions and their impact on others
  • Strategic Perspective – understanding of the ‘big picture’ and key related factors
  • Change Catalyst – the ability to initiate, manage and sustain change
  • Adaptability – flexibility and the ability to work effectively under changing conditions
  • Relationship Builder – ability to develop and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with key stakeholders
  • Teamwork & Collaboration – ability to work harmoniously with others in pursuit of a shared goal
  • resilience – ability to recover from or adjust to change or misfortune
  • Reflective Practice – ability to dispassionately weigh or consider intentions, events or outcomes

In studying several successful ACO startup efforts, Deegan identified five topics where these competencies are particularly useful. They are:

  • designing an organizational structure
  • developing an effective payer – provider relationship
  • gaining experience with performance-based payment models
  • negotiating a payer – provider agreement and
  • achieving mutually beneficial outcomes

Analyzing these five critical elements for success, Deegan found that ACO leadership team members who evidenced a strategic perspective, were flexible or adaptable, and able to build durable relationships with physicians and commercial payers were more likely to achieve their objective.

The likelihood of a successful outcome was enhanced if the individual leaders were courageous, calculated risk-takers and resilient change agents who were able to overcome setbacks, learn from failure, and adapt their strategy and tactics accordingly.

You can learn more about these and related topics through a new Jindal School of Management asynchronous online course titled “Essential Elements of Accountable Care Organizations” developed in collaboration with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas.

To learn more review the attached flyer or visit the course description on the Jindal School of Management web site.