The Business Case for Employee Investment: Lessons from ASHHRA and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh

By: Carolyn Hardy, Regional Manager, Catalyst Learning

What’s the point? That’s what you’re wondering if you’re anything like me – a skimmer. Well, I’ll give you the gist; this is not about a quick fix to turn around your engagement scores or a miracle new process that promises to be the magic bullet for retention or patient satisfaction. This post is about a multi-year journey with an organization that placed a premium on culture and used accountability to take their place as employer of choice in the community. This is about the hard work and the metrics that prove the link between employee retention, investment and operational efficiency.

Rhonda is already talking as I enter the room, on this last day at the ASHHRA 2013 Conference. I begin to tune in to Rhonda’s clear, strong voice.

“The focus is here: to make every employee feel that they are part of what we do, no matter if they are a nurse, a doctor, a housekeeper, a parking valet. Connecting is what we need to do, regardless of our industry.”

We’re listening to Rhonda Larimore, Vice President of Human Resources and Support Services at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh (UPMC). She’s an excellent speaker and we’re all here to see what we can learn about “The Business Case for Employee Investment”. Much of Rhonda’s message can be summed up by what must be an easily recognizable state to us all; regarding the role of HR, she says, “There’s two kinds of HR departments – ones that do the paperwork and ones that do the vision work.”

Listeners are introduced to a series of areas that Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh identified for improvement in 2006 when Rhonda came on board. From annual turnover to patient satisfaction, from a lack of vision in learning and OD to a need to focus on values in daily practice, we got a pretty clear picture – Rhonda wanted to take it back to the drawing board.

This graph represents the rates for each measure in 2006 compared to 2013 at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, under Rhonda’s leadership, and the clear impact the improvements had on the operating margin:

Performance Comparison Graph
2006 to 2013<

Time to fill is measured in days, all other measures should be read in percentage.

So how did they do it? She shared CHP’s strategic plan:

  1. Recruitment and Selection Improvement
  2. On-boarding Improvements
  3. Performance and Talent Management Improvements
  4. Define acceptable service standards and hold accountable
  5. Improve patient satisfaction results
  6. Proactively seek feedback from patients, families, visitors, physicians, etc.

Of this plan Rhonda tells us, “It’s about packaging it so that people see not just the ones-ies and twos-ies of what we do but the whole picture.” She is speaking of the leadership in the organization as well as the employees who report to them. Getting an organization of that size on board with this kind of change can’t have been easy and she relied on support from other leadership and a values-based approach on which everyone could agree.

As this story winds up, I’ll highlight a couple of stories from items 1 and 3 in the strategic plan.

CHP wanted to hire talent whose values closely matched that of the organization. Enter Ted Kinney, Ph.D. and Director of Research and Development for Select International. These two formed a partnership and implemented a standardized hiring process and assessment. Hands flew up as Rhonda spoke of their success, their measures and their processes. In the end, everyone was quiet and you knew they’d been impressed by the staggering lack of complications or issues with the new process. Ted was present to answer questions and he had rapt attention from the audience; this guy was about to become very popular.

Since Catalyst Learning is a workforce development organization, I promised to address workforce development and here it is.

Learning & OD – ‘How can I focus on MY career?’

Again our speaker describes a dichotomy positing that there are two types of employees:
1) those who want to grow their career,
2) those who want to be the best at who they are in their current role.

Either way, Children’s of Pittsburgh focused on the growth of their employees by providing a continuing education fund for those that want to attend a conference or other learning opportunity. For loyal employees who want to stay in same position, the organization still challenges them to improve in that role every year.

CHP provides online learning opportunities, leverages leadership and mentorship programs in which over 1000 people participate each year.

Ted brought this all home by stating that, “Hospitals need highly skilled employees and Patient Satisfaction is still relatively new to the industry.” He spoke of combining “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches, identifying specific behaviors that drive outcomes, and building accountability through better staff communication which correlates with patient safety.

So, here is your challenge – where are you as an HR or OD professional doing “The Vision Work”? We’re all being targeted for improvement these days. I hope this post has inspired you in some way to take things to the next level, whatever your role in your organization.