5 Best Practices to Retain Top Hospital Leaders

A precarious economy coupled with a culture of decreased employee loyalty is making it more important than ever that hospitals understand how to retain their top leaders. Today, that often means working harder to keep leadership from seeking other opportunities. Here are five best practices to help your hospital retain its top leaders.

1. Include a non-compete agreement or similar disincentive for leaving in contracts. In most states, hospitals have the option of offering a non-compete agreement, which prohibits employees from going to another job that is within a certain number of miles of the hospital for a designated period of time. "By implementing a valid non-compete agreement, a hospital can protect itself from losing someone who might want to walk across the street to a competitor," says Ron Chapman, Jr., an attorney with Ogletree Deakins, who specializes in labor and employment law. To reduce the tension a non-compete agreement may cause, Mr. Chapman suggests providing a rationale for the non-compete that includes the benefits to the employee. "If hospitals put the agreement in the context of 'hey we're investing in you so we expect a commitment from you in return', there's a lot less tension involved in getting the person to sign it."

2. Give the employee incentives for staying long-term. In the past, college graduates commonly would accept a job and stay with that employer for their entire career. However, life-time employment is no longer the norm today. Opportunity now presents itself outside the organization, and hospitals must provide equivalent opportunities from within if they want to retain their leaders. Jeff Saltzman, CEO of management consulting firm OrgVitality, suggests offering better training, better education and other such incentives to help retain top leadership. "By staying here and having [opportunistic] experiences here, [top employees] don't feel the need to leave."

Paul Draper, a cultural anthropologist and former faculty member of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, agrees that continuing education and training is key in not only retaining top leaders but teaching them how to be great leaders. Continuing education for leaders in the hospital can include opportunities for improving diversity and communication, and may be particularly enticing for physician leaders. "They may have been a fantastic doctor but that doesn't mean they are fantastic public speaker or know how to help people through change," he says.

3. Agree on expectations together. Mr. Chapman encourages clients to sit down and talk with their top employees about what is most important to them, whether it be compensation, long-term ownership interests, work flexibility or anything else. "Instead of trying to guess what the employee values, why not sit and have that conversation with them one-on-one?" he says. Mr. Saltzman adds that setting up false expectations and making false promises builds up unnecessary frustration.

One problem Mr. Draper often sees is a disconnect between authority and responsibility. "There are some individuals that have a lot of responsibility but have no authority to get things done, or those individuals have a lot of authority but not a lot of responsibility [and so don't see the problems in the system]," he says. As a result, hospitals need to align authority and expectations in order preserve employee morale and satisfaction.

4. Create a work environment that makes top employees want to stay. Just like any other work environment employees at every level want job satisfaction. Treating others with respect and making employees feel like they're a part of a vision may seem obvious, but oftentimes it doesn't happen enough, which leads employees to leave. "Frankly, [employers in the hospital industry] do a very good job with fair compensation, so when people leave, yes sometimes it's for money, but it's usually because of workplace dissatisfaction," Mr. Chapman says. "Particularly with executives, if they feel like they're a part of something that's meaningful, they're much more likely to stick around."

Mr. Draper concurs that hospitals are not going to be able to retain top leaders just with pay, to which hospitals increasingly have less access. Additionally, hospitals can no longer rely on internal upward momentum to keep leaders around as the advent of the Internet has made finding opportunities outside the organization even easier. "What entices them to stay is the culture, the community and the meaning," he says.

5. Offer congratulations or recognition where it is deserved. If a management official or top physician is given a prestigious award, laud in any shape or form is always appreciated. "People are people, regardless of the industry," says Mr. Saltzman. "[People] all want credit that is commensurate of the work they did for the organization."

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