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Stephanie Neuvirth

Senior Vice President of People & Organization, Banfield Pet Hospital

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Strategy is the New Currency for Growth in Healthcare Human Resources

09/30/2015 12:00PM | 15990 views

For the past two decades, Human Resource leaders have been playing defense – focusing on policies, procedures and administrative tasks to help mitigate risk and protect the status quo – rather than playing offense with a primary focus on creating value and enabling the advancement of an organization. With the marketplace changing so fast and a demographic shift in full bloom, it’s time for HR leaders to shift their thinking from being transactional to being more strategic. 

HR professionals can and should be change and thought leaders in identifying and transforming the future of healthcare. Being more sensitive to changing demographics is but one part of the picture where HR can play a vital role – joining, changing or even leading the conversation toward greater cultural competency.

Historically, the HR role has been administrative in nature: processing personnel forms and payroll records; maintaining benefit programs and employee performance reviews; and enforcing compliance issues in a highly regulated environment, to name a few. In fact, the traditional HR executive dedicated 80% of their time to such administrative tasks. While important, this placed a time-consuming burden on them that supported old models and antiquated ways of doing business in the healthcare industry. Over the past 20 years, the HR role has evolved. Today’s HR executives are expanding their focus and are understanding the need for talent management, dedicating efforts to workforce planning, talent acquisition, leadership development, engagement and succession planning.

Additionally, there are now new skill sets required to align organizations, build synergies and lead change management initiatives. These factors make it necessary for HR leaders to think like an entrepreneur, business owner or CEO, and see through a wide-angle lens of opportunity – a lens of thought-leadership and constructive disruption that views talent management as a time-critical business growth necessity. With such a shift, strategy becomes the new currency for growth in the world of healthcare human resources.

While the thinking has certainly shifted in the past 20 years – taking HR leadership positions from their administrative roles to ones more centered on the development and capacity-building of people – the transition must go even further. HR leaders must make themselves more relevant by taking it upon themselves to find ways to add greater value by enabling growth and advancing opportunity. Being a functional expert is no longer enough, and they must move into more of an advisory and strategic capacity. One that recognizes that it’s not just about talent management anymore, but rather the complete utilization of Human Capital as a means to fuel business growth.

Being more strategic about how to maximize human capital assets across all department and functional areas will empower HR executives to enable opportunities not only within their own departments but across their entire organizations. Their impact will be more far reaching and influential throughout the organization when they take a less tactical and more strategic approach to their daily roles and responsibilities.

Think of the different roles, responsibilities and functional areas throughout your organization as a strategic dashboard. As an HR leader, you are not only required to find the best people to make the dashboard better, you are now ultimately accountable to enable growth and new opportunities from this dashboard of resources. This represents the new normal for today’s HR executive, and the future of healthcare – the industry’s ability to grow and innovate and ultimately save lives – depends upon it.

As an HR executive with 20 years of experience across multiple industries (from entertainment to consumer-packaged goods), I’ve been fortunate to have worked with different types of people who have exposed me to a wide variety of strategic competencies. Through this unique set of hands-on experience, I’ve adopted a specialization in culture transformation and change – one that I’ve applied to my role as Chief Human Resources and Diversity Officer at City of Hope, where I’m accountable to lead the seamless transformation of our operating culture and enable change management requirements to assure that we optimally serve our mission.

As such, my entire HR team has adopted a more strategic and less tactical approach to their roles and responsibilities. We operate with the mindset of continuous improvement; we are enablers of growth and opportunity who strive to find new and better ways of doing things across all sectors of our business. I’ve utilized my cross-functional and multi-industry experience to redeploy the best practices I’ve learned along the way and have created an environment where others in my department can do the same. While we support structure and protocols, we encourage discovery and authenticity in leadership that overtime evolves organically into authentic behavior change throughout the organization.

From my human resources journey, here are five ways to begin shifting HR to its new strategic advisory role, the new currency for growth in the healthcare industry:

Become a Student of the Business. What is the business trying to achieve? What are the requirements to grow and prosper? Be proactive and don’t wait to be spoon-fed information. Do your homework and your due diligence to understand the strategy, growth initiatives and key priorities of the organization. Then align your efforts accordingly to help achieve these goals. What are the top three priorities and how can you support them? Do you have the right resources in place? With the right capabilities? Developing the right relationships is also crucial, which brings me to my next point:

Build a Purposeful Network. Not only internally amongst your immediate colleagues, but externally with other senior leaders across multiple departmental and functional responsibilities. Expand your network beyond your own organization and across other industries as well to learn their best practices and how they intersect with those in healthcare. Building the right relationships within your network will help you align your efforts to the pulse of what’s going on. Too many professional development networks look only to mirror their own skill-sets and competencies. I recommend stretching yourself and elevating your influence by expanding your network further and wider whenever possible.

Link and Align Opportunities. HR leaders must know when and how to re-sort their own priorities to support bigger and better outcomes. They must be flexible enough to adjust their own agendas so they can enable the advancement of others by helping them accomplish their goals. In turn, this will create opportunities for others to help you achieve your goals – and ultimately those of the organization you serve. HR leaders must know how to connect the dots and sometimes take a leap of faith to pursue an opportunity that might be missed if you wait to plan out a strategy. The best success stories come from leaders who realize there is no straight path to any goal. But taking small steps while staying focused on the big picture will get you past the twists and turns and finally to your ultimate destination.

Go Where the Energy Lies Within Your Organization. Be organic, not dogmatic. You can enable people and departments – even as you progress all the boats – by letting things come more naturally and not putting limits on others. Connect the serendipitous dots along the way while keeping your eye on the end game. At the same time, pivot away from energy draining activities that are not adding value or advancing the organization. Figure out what you need to stop doing or at least change the frequency of these activities to create space for more strategic work – “the great work.” When people shift with you, reinforce with reward and recognition and keep the energy pumping.

Go Where the Future Is. Too many HR leaders get stuck in the here and now. Shift your strategic focus to the future. Realize that this means shifting your game – you must now play more offense and less defense. You can’t be proactive about moving the organization forward and advancing the future of healthcare if you remain stuck administering policies and procedures. You need to look further out than that, move out of your comfort zone and play more than one position, not just the one you know. Look through a wider and longer lens that allows you a broader view and gives you different vantage points. 

For example, at City of Hope we spend a lot of time planning for the future needs of our catchment area by modelling out what the catchment area will become and what that means internally and externally – to our current and future employees. We already know that the Latino population is shifting and that 58% of Latinos in our catchment area don’t speak English very well. If we’re going to communicate with our future patients, we must become more culturally competent – fluent not only in Spanish but in their culture. Any programs and initiatives from here on out must be in service to this community. We can no longer be single-minded and think that we can communicate with everybody in the same way. The better we interpret and adapt to the needs of this demographic, the more influence and impact we will have to keep the community healthy.


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