Steal this idea: How Chick-fil-A inspired Baystate executives to redesign nurse hiring

Two Massachusetts hospital executives were able to boost staff satisfaction and reduce time-to-fill for certain nursing positions to as little as two hours, thanks to a bit of inspiration from Chick-fil-A.

In 2016, Tejas Gandhi, PhD, COO, and Shannon Levesque, vice president of talent acquisition and workforce planning, faced a challenge at Baystate Medical Center. They needed to streamline their hospital's hiring process to reduce nursing vacancies and improve time-to-fill rates. The solution they adopted came from what might seem like an unlikely place. Sure, Chick-fil-A is known for its chicken sandwich with two pickles on a toasted butter bun. But a lesser-known signature of this fast food company is its culture that breeds consumer and staff satisfaction. The fast-food joint consistently ranks among the top places to work on Glass Door, has a 95 percent corporate retention rate and only hires people with a team mentality. Overall, this culture of satisfaction inspired Baystate to look more closely at Chick-fil-A's hiring practices.

Just two years later, thanks to the innovative idea and steadfast leadership of Dr. Gandhi and Ms. Levesque, the Springfield-based medical center has reduced their time-to-fill in select nursing positions and filled almost 40 vacancies with qualified candidates. This expedited experience has also increased both staff and candidate satisfaction.

Here, Dr. Gandhi and Ms. Levesque discuss the pilot they implemented across the 716-bed Baystate Medical Center that has been wildly successful.

They invite you to steal their idea.

"There are opportunities to learn, and if you can steal an idea or learn from somewhere, I would say steal shamelessly. We need just to be more open to that," Dr. Gandhi said.         

Note: The following responses were edited for length and clarity.

Question: Can you provide an overview of the pioneering idea you implemented in 2016?

Shannon Levesque: One of the challenges the operations team discussed in a meeting in 2016 regarded staffing levels at Baystate Health. We were particularly struggling with nurse vacancies and shortages. After that operations meeting, Dr. Gandhi challenged us to explore alternative ways to differentiate ourselves as an employer of choice for nurses.

Knowing that top nurses have so many options in today's healthcare environment, we had to differentiate ourselves. Outside of just improving compensation and benefits for our nurses, we began exploring ways to improve the candidate experience. One thing we thought would be impactful was streamlining the interview and application process. The idea was to make it as easy as possible for qualified nurses to meet our senior leaders and talent acquisition consultants — and have a fast-tracked or expedited — selection and interview process.

The idea of the Baystate Health Open House Recruitment event stemmed from those conversations. They are weekly, open-invitation recruitment events. Anyone who is interested in exploring a nursing career at Baystate Health can stop in during the designated hours. They are held every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those who walk in are guaranteed an interview with a recruiter. From there, if they are qualified, they are guaranteed an interview with a hiring manager in the unit they are interested in. The interview process itself takes anywhere from one to two hours, including a shadowing event and opportunity to receive a tour. If the candidate is qualified, and a right-fit for the organization, the candidate could leave the facility with a conditional offer in hand. Of course, the offer is conditional as we still need to conduct a background check and contact references, but if those check out, the offer stands.

Dr. Tejas Gandhi: The main aspect of this idea stemmed from asking, "How do we take the hassle factor out of the recruitment and hiring process?" Sometimes simplifying the process and offering convenience is key to solving the challenge. By offering nurses a walk-in interview, instead of requiring them to fill-out the application online, wait for a recruiter to connect with them and then schedule an interview with the hiring manager, we have been able to significantly cut down the time-to-fill timeline.

Q: Is this recruiting event specific to nursing jobs?

SL: While this started as a nursing-specific initiative, word got out about how well-received it was — by both the candidates and the hiring managers. So, we began expanding its reach.

Although our weekly Thursday hours remain focused on nursing, we would never turn away someone from a different job family. In addition, we recently started "Walk-in Wednesdays" for technical and nursing support positions. In addition, we have different events throughout the year called "Night Owl Operations," which help us interview more folks on second shift. Essentially, the success of this program has allowed us to try new, spin-off events to improve the hiring process.

It is important to note that we do not use this event for physician recruitment or hiring executives. However, if a physician or executive candidate walked through the door, we would find a way to get them a contact, but the same-day offer would not be in the cards. Those roles are not included in the scope of this.

Q: What inspired this idea?

TG: Before Baystate Health, I was in Macon, Ga., which is about 80 miles from Atlanta, which is Chick-fil-A's headquarters. One of the things I kept hearing about was how great Chick-fil-A was in terms of customer service, employee satisfaction, and job candidate satisfaction and selection. One thing Chick-fil-A offered was open house recruitment sessions. In passing, while challenging my team to think differently about how we could recruit talent, I said "Hey, listen. If Chick-fil-A can do it, maybe we should try it too." So, the idea itself came from the open recruitment sessions that occur at the fast-food joint, but it took a lot of creativity and drive by Shannon and her team to execute this in a healthcare environment.

In a Chick-fil-A store, you have a crew of six to eight people at any given time and a manager on duty. So, the logistics are a lot easier when you have one manager who can leave the six-to eight-person crew to interview someone at any given time. In healthcare, however, there is much more intensity surrounding who you hire — the credentials are key, and the employee must be a fit for the health system.

SL: One of the main takeaways from the operations team meeting was the discussion about consumerism in healthcare and consumerism in the talent acquisition space. After those discussions, we focused on trying to offer a better recruitment event. It needed to be something different from the traditional job fair, or a specific one-time recruiting event.

Instead we wanted an interview process that was more convenient and embedded into our cultural norms. That was our goal when we piloted this — working to make these events feel different than a job fair or a one-time career event. We wanted to assimilate it to the cultural norm, so it became something we are known for. We wanted to move it from the idea stage to a more practical application every single week without fail, so that we can better serve the community, the candidate marketplace and our talent acquisition team and hiring managers.

Q: How have walk-in interview events impacted your organization?

SL: Since we implemented them, we have interviewed more than 160 people throughout the weekly event and made about 40 hires. When we followed the traditional recruitment process for nursing, the average time-to-fill was anywhere from 45 to 50 days. We were able to cut the interview portion of that metric down to two hours when typically it can be as long as 3 weeks depending on schedules and availability of the candidate and the hiring teams.

To be able to offer a different reality to both our candidates and our nursing leadership team, and cutting down the time-intensive interview process, has been great for our health system. From my perspective, it also helped address the perception that many job seekers have when they submit a traditional application online. You hear a lot of candidates talk about how their resume seems to be lost in a massive database and no one reaches out. These walk-in hours prevent that and automatically give the candidate a name, face and touchpoint right away.

TG: I would also add that as a recruiter, it is a lot more gratifying because you are able to speak to a larger number of candidates and you are able to bring closure to that candidate quickly. In the traditional process, the recruiter gets caught in the logistics of scheduling and trying to coordinate calendars with the candidate and the hiring manager. That said, the process has led to increased satisfaction among recruiters and hiring managers.

Q: What were some of the challenges to implementing these events?

SL: The initial challenge was the space design of our lobby and parking capacity constraints. We needed more space in our lobby to hold the potential candidates. In addition, we needed more parking to ensure that the candidates — and patients — still had somewhere to park.

When starting these events, you can't predict how many people will show up. That was one challenge. A second was identifying and making a calendar of on-call hiring managers. We needed to ensure there was a hiring manager available from each nursing unit to talk to a potential candidate during the Thursday hours. For this, we had to create a rolling calendar, so it is not always one person managing it weekly. We also had to have a back-up or escalation plan in case a hiring manager was called into some emergency. We didn't want to lose a qualified candidate because of a scheduling mishap. So, mapping and ironing out the schedule in the first several months of the pilot was probably one of our more significant challenges.

Q: What advice would you offer to others looking to implement walk-in recruiting?

SL: Just start. It doesn't have to be perfect on day one. Just get out there, start the process and you can refine and optimize as you go. I would also say meet your candidates where they are, keeping it convenient, easy and simple. A lot of times people say, "This isn't how we do things in healthcare," or "We aren't leveraging the technology we have these days with online applications," but healthcare needs to change. The talent acquisition process can be simplified, and time-to-fill can go down. The whole spirit of a program like this is to reduce the hassle factor for everyone involved. Don't make it more complicated than it needs to be.

TG: I agree with Shannon: Don't let perfection be the enemy of good. A lot of times we fall into that trap. We don't allow the process to evolve. Where we start is not where we need to end. I think our healthcare system is a little risk-adverse toward some of this innovation. There are opportunities to learn, and if you can steal an idea or learn from somewhere, I would say steal shamelessly. We need to be more open to that, nimbler. We need to allow ourselves to evolve. 

Another piece of advice would be, it's okay to be vulnerable. It's okay to fail, but fail fast and often, and move on to the next thing. It's better to fail instead of not giving an innovative idea a chance. That is very important from a leadership perspective. It's okay to be vulnerable and it's okay to fail, because there's always something you learn from it, and you will always get better from it.

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