The question Boston Children's CHRO Lisa Abbott asks every Uber driver

Lisa Abbott became chief human resources officer of Boston Children's Hospital in January 2023, and she brought with her a wealth of HR experience. 

Prior to joining Boston Children's, she served as senior vice president of human resources and community affairs for Providence, R.I.-based Lifespan. She also previously served as human resources chief for Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center.

Ms. Abbott told Becker's that during her time at Boston Children's, she has been focused on enhancing the investment in the organization's workforce. She also said she is focused on providing flexibility for workers, even discussing the topic with Uber drivers. Ms. Abbott shared her top priorities for her first year on the job, discussed a few of the top challenges facing hospital CHROs and offered some advice for her peers.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What has you most excited about your new role as CHRO of Boston Children's?

Lisa Abbott: It's been a great five months. I was hired to do what I love to do, which is transforming human resources. Sometimes we wait to invest in our HR function and, by proxy, sometimes our people. So it's being able to do that in such an amazing organization with an amazing mission. It feels like a privilege, and it has been a lot of fun so far.

Q: What are a few of your top priorities for your first year at Boston Children's?

LA: Getting the HR structure aligned in a way that is more consistent with best-in-class HR organizations whether in academic medicine or in general, and then working to deliver a more consistent and higher-level service to the organization. I think that HR has been underinvested in for quite some time, and there's been some significant leadership turnover in this role. And so I think people have done the very best they can with what they've had. But we're very transaction-focused and compliance-focused and not consultative and proactive and able to give good business advice as it relates to human capital. It's really getting a structure in place that facilitates the ability to deliver better service to our constituents.

Q: What is the greatest challenge facing hospital CHROs today? 

LA: The staffing crisis and specifically the lack of passion that seems to exist around being a healthcare professional of any kind, whether you're a doctor or a nurse or a housekeeper or an accountant. I like to believe that we have a real opportunity in front of us to remind people of the nobility of a career in healthcare. There used to be Bring Your Child to Work Day, and kids love seeing people with stethoscopes or being pushed around on a gurney or in a wheelchair, and it stimulated their desire to be part of that kind of an organization. I think they have to get back to that.

The other big thing that's top of mind for me is, "How do you do that?" And, "How do we reimagine the workforce and the workplace of the future?" Not pre-pandemic, but in 2025, what does that look like? And how do we recognize that the things that perhaps interested people of different generations some time ago are what's interesting to people emerging in the workforce now? So it's this combination of reimagining the workforce in the workplace and inspiring people to want to be a part of what it means to have a healthcare career. Children are always upbeat and positive, and it's inspiring because this is a scary place for them to be and for their parents to be. 

Q: What is your top strategy to recruit and retain top talent? 

LA: Investing in our managers so they're managing people and not tasks. Helping them figure out how to engage their people in a meaningful way and figure out how to meet those people where they are. I tell the story often that before I was here at Boston Children's, when COVID first happened, the clinical staff at my employer ran on adrenaline, trying to figure things out. Then during the second wave, third wave they ran on fumes, and after that, they just ran away. And so for me, you can throw as much money as you want at workers. But if people are burned out, they don't want money. They want time. They want work-life integration and harmony. They want to be able to use their vacation time. So how do we enable and empower our managers to really be managing the people, not the tasks associated with the people? And that's a top priority now. Whether it's working yet or not, I think it's too soon to tell here. But that is the top priority for me in the next year to try to make a real difference. 

I talk to every Uber driver when I'm taking a ride, and I ask, "Why do you do this?" And they say, "Because I have flexibility. I've got this side hustle and this side hustle." So the other thing that I look forward to doing is creating a gig economy inside of healthcare where people can have a couple of different things that they do, and that we create job enrichment opportunities so people aren't bored. They don't feel like they're doing the same thing every day. So you create gig work inside of healthcare. I don't know what that's going to look like yet, but that's on our list of things to do.

Q: If you could pass along a piece of advice to other hospital CHROs, what would it be?

LA: Focus forward. What's in the past is in the past. We all need to share creative ideas. Ask the emerging workers, "What's important to you?" And figure out how to move beyond the traditionally rigid operating models that healthcare has been. And in academic medicine, healthcare and higher education, because higher ed is, I think, steeped in tradition and history and things that aren't necessarily flexible and agile. And so I would say we all need to focus forward and really imagine the workforce and the workplace of the future and try to do that together.

Q: What will solve the workforce shortage?

LA: The combination of time and our creativity reimagining what work can look like for people. So they're intrigued. So they're inspired. So they're curious. And looking at technology needs to be an enabler. We need to up the game when it comes to technology use whether it's artificial intelligence or even just automation..

Copyright © 2023 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars