Devising new talent strategies for the future of healthcare: A case study

The changes and challenges facing every U.S. healthcare organization today are driving the need for innovative and effective talent strategies, for without a unified workforce and strong cultural alignment, it will be impossible to deliver better care at lower costs.

"Talent is the missing piece of the puzzle in facing the challenges of reforming our healthcare system," Bryan Warren, manager of healthcare solutions at Select International, said during a May 27 webinar sponsored by Select International.

While many senior level leaders recognize the need to improve talent selection and development practices in their hospitals and health systems, conveying the value of the changes necessary for improvement and creating buy-in across every level of an organization is no easy feat.  

Timothy D. Hess, senior vice president of human resources and training at Florence, S.C.-based McLeod Health, discussed McLeod's progress in its redesign of talent strategies.

"Like most healthcare providers, we are facing many challenges, and the rate of change that we're addressing is really unprecedented in healthcare," said Mr. Hess. "ICD-10, automated patient records — the overall need to do more with less, and so on — have created a lot of pressures on our staff and physicians."

While digesting these changes in addition to numerous others, McLeod's business model is evolving from fee-for-service to a value-based system in which quality is becoming increasingly critical. Adjusting to these changes has presented new challenges for its workforce. The human resources department is thus tasked with the responsibility of supporting critical bottom-line, operational and strategic needs by ensuring the organization is hiring the right people and continually developing employees' strengths. The key to doing this successfully is recognizing the role of behaviors in patient safety, the patient experience, organizational cohesion and performance development.

Outlining objectives

The human resources department at McLeod developed four operating objectives to support their goals.

1. Align systems. All work and HR strategies must drive the desired behaviors identified for McLeod Health to be successful.

2. Hire smarter. Selections, promotions and retention help support and drive key organizational goals and objectives while making McLeod an employer of choice.

3. Lead better. Performance, especially in areas of differentiation, is embedded into the way we do our work and supported through rewards and accountability systems.

4. Grow success. Training, development and learning play a critical role in McLeod Health's ability to meet the future demands of healthcare.

According to Laurie Wasko, PhD, healthcare consulting lead at Select International, these four goals are more difficult to accomplish within healthcare organizations than in other industries.

"Healthcare organizations have a higher degree of complexity, as there are various pockets of stakeholders with different needs," she said. "You must be flexible and creative in your approach."

The most significant obstacles to introducing new talent strategies in healthcare organizations are general resistance to change, the desire to preserve professional autonomy and evolving measures of success. In other industries such as manufacturing, it is easy to show how implementing a new approach to hiring and development affects productivity and the ROI, but there are fewer defined metrics in healthcare, as achieving patient satisfaction, high quality of care and successfully supporting the organization's vision is harder to quantify.

Designing a behavioral selection and development system

The individual behavior of employees and the collective behavior of an organization, or its culture, have a direct impact on an organization's business and ability to adapt to change successfully. To ensure the workforce is built and developed in a manner that encourages desired behaviors, it is important to first develop an organization-wide competency model, according to Dr. Wasko.

"It is important to make the effort to define what behavioral competencies are needed for success across the different levels of an organization," said Dr. Wasko. While expectations for these competencies vary between senior leadership and entry-level workers, communicating expectations to all members of an organization is essential.. However, this proved more challenging.

When McLeod initiated its "Raise the Bar" program in 2008 to improve its approach to talent and hiring, the health system knew it needed to "do things differently in HR to steer us where we wanted to go," Mr. Hess explained. McLeod began taking steps to prepare its HR professionals to identify candidates who would embrace the culture and align with the system's core values. McLeod would no longer hire solely for technical expertise, but for behavior, too. The specific behaviors the system found influence culture and ultimately, performance, including accountability, adaptability, collaboration, emotional intelligence, decision-making, dependability, patient focus and quality focus.

After identifying these basic behavioral competencies, McLeod retained the services of Select International to narrow in on a deliberate approach to create its new talent strategies. Together, McLeod and Select International developed a "straw model," or a figure that embodied all of the core behavioral competencies and could serve as a role model for other McLeod staff. The various elements of the straw model were informed by a wide range of McLeod employees throughout 30 focus group meetings, in which employees identified as the "best in class" were brought in to discuss what makes them and their peers successful in their jobs. Additionally, by including the input of senior and mid-level managers in socialization meetings, McLeod was able to garner buy-in from leaders across the system.

Creating a competency dictionary to serve as a guide

Following the focus groups and socialization meetings, McLeod produced a behavioral dictionary that is more than 90 pages long. In addition to defining key behavioral competencies, the dictionary serves as a comprehensive guide to HR and other McLeod professionals by carefully detailing the contributors and detractors of success.

According to Mr. Hess, this dictionary became the foundation and starting point for hiring, as behavioral assessments were incorporated into the application process to help stratify potentially strong candidates and weed out candidates who do not possess the minimum competencies. Additionally, the dictionary is used to inform performance management, as well as future development work to promote success in the future.

Today McLeod "hires smarter" and "leads better" because its extensive list of behavioral competencies serve as a backbone behind its talent strategy.

To view the webinar on YouTube, click here.

To download the webinar as a PDF, click here.

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