Three critical steps to successfully onboard interim healthcare leaders

Compass Clinical Consulting surveyed several experienced interim healthcare executives, directors, and managers for their perspectives on interim work.

This is another article in "The Healthcare Executive's Guide to Effective Interim Healthcare Leadership" series. Read the previous articles;
Part 1: How to handle your healthcare staffing crises and challenges?
Part 2: Why use interim healthcare leaders?
Part 3: Is an interim healthcare leader right for your organization?
Part 4: Interim healthcare leaders: More than a placeholder

Their responses confirmed what we, as employers of interims, have learned—that preparation is the key to getting the most out of interim engagements. To properly prepare for an interim's arrival and maximize return on investment, healthcare executives should focus on three key elements of onboarding: on-site orientation and introductions, technological preparation, and advance communication with the principal stakeholders.

1. On-site Orientation and Introductions
When an interim arrives on a hospital's campus, he or she must quickly assimilate into the organization. Perhaps the most important aspect of this integration is the adoption of the organization's culture and values.

At one of our client medical centers, interims are provided with an orientation to the hospital's vision—to be the best place to give and receive safe, quality, and compassionate care—and the circle of care that surrounds it. This orientation ensures that the interim's goals are aligned with the hospital's values so that the interim carry those forth in the management of the department. When interims and staff are moving in the same direction, the likelihood of achieving specific goals increases.

Hospital executives must also familiarize interims with the organization's physical layout and key personnel. As a first step to establishing this knowledge base, the interim should be given an accelerated orientation to the hospital's facilities, including a tour. Tours allow interims to not only get the lay of the land but also to establish visibility with hospital staff, building their identity and credibility within the organization.

Introductory meetings between the incoming interim leader and key managers, physicians, direct reports, and other employees within the interim's assigned department are also essential. Our experience has shown that interims that are exposed to the values and culture of the organization will be most successful and start contributing more quickly.

2. Technological Preparation
Introduction to the systems that the hospital uses to manage departments and deliver care is also essential. Qualified interims will have knowledge of these types of information systems, but every hospital has its own unique configurations. In most executive and director positions, some familiarity with the information technology used to monitor productivity, the revenue cycle, finances, or quality will be required.

This type of preparation is even more crucial as most hospitals use some form of electronic medical records (EMRs) in order to provide services and information to physicians and patients. Familiarity with the hospital's particular system is paramount. EMRs introduce a new element of care, one which requires a different type of technical ability from that needed before electronic records implementation.

So as hospitals bring on interim leaders, they must ensure the interims have a general supervisory knowledge of EMRs and other information technology used in operational decision-making.

3. Advance Communication
To position an incoming interim for success, members of the organization's executive team should communicate with their hospitals' staffs to explain the rationale for using an interim leader, set expectations for the engagement, and clarify the interim's critical role in and value to the organization.

Though there are many legitimate reasons to engage an interim—for example, as a catalyst to start necessary improvements or to keep operations running smoothly while the organization searches for the right permanent candidate—staff members often have questions:

• Why is it necessary to bring someone in from outside of the organization?

• How will the interim function in the organization?

Hospital executives can anticipate and even eliminate these questions in a number of ways.

First, executives will want to keep their executive committees informed throughout the hiring process, regardless of whether an interim is being considered to fill a C-suite or departmental leader vacancy. This communication allows the committee to plan for the interim's arrival as a group and control the message that managers and other staff members receive.

Second, the interim's exact role within the hospital structure and level of authority to effect change should be explained. Is the interim a placeholder in an already high-functioning operation? Alternatively, is the interim expected to make changes to improve operations and prepare the organization for the new hire?

Healthcare executives can use memos and meetings with staff to clarify the interim's position and how he or she will work with relevant managers, staff, and physicians. Taking such measures will ultimately result in greater effectiveness and better working relationships.

Preparation Makes All the Difference
Though the rationale behind hiring an interim leader is different for every organization, the ultimate goal is usually the same—to provide the continuity of the highest quality, most efficient patient care possible.

Technological preparation and communication with staff have maximized the positive impact of strategic interim engagements. These measures may not require extraordinary effort, but they go a long way toward ensuring success.


Read previous articles in "The Healthcare Executives Guide to Effective Interim Leadership" series:

Part 1: How to handle your healthcare staffing crises and challenges?
Part 2: Why use interim healthcare leaders?
Part 3: Is an interim healthcare leader right for your organization?
Part 4: Interim healthcare leaders: More than a placeholder

"Three Critical Steps to Successfully Onboard Interim Healthcare Leaders," is an excerpt from "The Healthcare Executive's Guide to Effective Interim Leadership," by Hugo A. Aguas, MPA, and Kate M. Fenner, PhD, RN.

About the authors
Hugo Aguas, MPA
Hugo Aguas has more than 35 years of experience in human resources management in large health systems, teaching and research hospitals, and community hospitals, as well as experience managing hospital operations in several clinical and support services departments. As the Director of Interim Services at Compass Clinical Consulting, Hugo develops strategic partnerships with hospital and health system clients, identifying and placing skilled interim healthcare executives, clinical directors, and managers to help clients meet both short- and long-range objectives. Before joining Compass, Hugo spent more than ten years as Assistant Vice President, Human Resources at Inova Alexandria Hospital and Inova Fairfax Medical Center, where he managed all facets of the Human Resources function and had operational oversight of several clinical and support departments.

Hugo earned his Master of Public Administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco and his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Loyola University in Los Angeles. He is a member of the American Society of Healthcare Human Resource Administration and the Society of Human Resource Management.

Kate M. Fenner, PhD, RN
Kate Fenner understands hospital leadership. First as a nurse and later as an education leader and consultant, Kate has immersed herself in the regulatory and operational issues that face today's healthcare organizations.

As Managing Director and CEO of Compass, Kate has led and participated in dozens of mock surveys to help healthcare organizations meet the standards and expectations of regulatory bodies such as the Joint Commission, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and State Departments of Health, and guides hospitals and health systems through accreditation and regulatory compliance response and recovery efforts.

A regular keynote speaker throughout the country, she authored a leading college text on law and ethics in healthcare, co-authored other texts on a variety of healthcare issues, and currently, serves on the editorial board of the Journal for Nursing in the 21st Century.

Twitter: @Compasscc

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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