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From HealthLeaders Media '09: Five Ways to Build the Talent of the Future

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Media, October 16, 2009

It has been a challenging year for hospital leaders when it comes to managing talent. The economy has forced many to freeze hiring or lay off segments of the workforce, and the general pressures of a changing industry and strained budgets have tested the morale of many staffs.

Yet building the successful hospital of the future requires attracting the best physicians, nurses, and support staff, and creating a patient care environment that keeps them around. Hospital leaders face the divergent challenges of managing the workforce in today's economy while building the workforce to succeed in tomorrow's healthcare system.

Panelists at HealthLeaders Media '09: The Hospital of the Future Now conference in Chicago tackled this topic on Thursday, and offered five strategies for attracting the talent of the future:

1. Define your values. Healthcare leaders play a key role in defining the values that make their organization unique, but organizational values only take hold if they are internalized throughout the workforce. "Values are the foundation of everything else," said Joe Tye, CEO of Values Coach, which provides training and coaching on values-based leadership and cultural transformation for hospitals.

Even if an organization has a clear mission and list of priorities, defining values requires translating words into culture and action. That starts with hiring, panelists said. Debra A. Canales, executive vice president and chief human resource officer at Trinity Health, recently invited a potential CFO recruit to a three-hour dinner during the hiring process, in part to pick up clues about whether the candidate would be able to live the organization's values. "I expect [interviewees] to have technical expertise, but more importantly, I want to know how they will live our mission," she said.

2. Weld training to mission. Defining values doesn't end after the hiring process. Many people assume that certain personal values or qualities are inherent, but "values are skills, and attitudes are habits," said Tye. Like anything, they can be learned.

3. Bind recruiting and retention. Hospitals don't have to surrender to the mobility of today's workforce, panelists said. It is still possible to "recruit for life," but it takes some flexibility. Trinity Health encourages employees to be mobile within the organization, Canales said. If employees aren't entirely happy in their current position, they're encouraged to speak with leaders about different career paths and take new jobs, while staying within the health system.

4. Find true leaders. Chris Van Gorder, FACHE, president and CEO of Scripps Health, meets with top departmental managers at least once a month to talk about some of the decisions that take place behind the scenes in the system. He begins by talking about the patient experience before every management meeting, and said it has dramatically changed the culture of the organization and reminded managers about the importance of their jobs and developing skills they might need as future leaders.

5. Walk the talk. It's easy to lead during easy times; the true test comes when the going gets tough, the panelists agreed. Trust is a key part of the follow-through. Burns and McDonnell, an engineering firm that represented an outside-the-industry voice on the panel, doesn't use internal operating budgets, said Melissa Wood, vice president of human resources for the firm. Employees are owners of the company, and managers trust them to make the right financial decisions, even in a bad economy.


Elyas Bakhtiari is a freelance editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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