Healthcare Business News

Developing prospects

N.J. system trains new leaders among ranks

By Joseph Trunfio
Posted: May 17, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

As president and CEO of Atlantic Health, a two-hospital healthcare system and one of New Jersey's largest healthcare employers, I have the privilege of touting our exceptional care delivery and innovative medical advances.

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But I'm especially gratified that our talented employees are proud to work here. Our employee engagement scores and retention rates are strong. In 2010, Atlantic Health was chosen by Fortune magazine for the second year in a row as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and has been recognized four times by the AARP as one of the Best Employers for Workers Over 50.

We know that our employees' job satisfaction ultimately results in the best patient care and higher patient satisfaction, and that consistent, effective leadership is crucial to maintaining and improving job satisfaction. Amid decreasing hospital volume statewide, an ongoing need for growth and an uncertain regulatory environment, one question that keeps me up at night is: How is our organization cultivating the leaders we'll need in the future?

In the next few years, a significant portion of our senior leadership team will retire. We need to respond to the ever-changing healthcare landscape, make sure that knowledge gets properly transferred and doesn't simply leave the organization, and plan for our future by developing unique leadership competencies that span multiple layers.

In keeping with Atlantic Health's tagline, “The Passion To Lead,” we embarked on a new leadership development program to prepare our staff for current and future leadership challenges. We wanted something more innovative and personally engaging than a generic, out-of-the-box program. To inspire our employees to be passionate about developing their leadership skills, our organization's culture and priorities had to be an integral part of the design of the program.

Partnering with WJM Associates, an executive and organizational development consulting firm based in New York, we developed a pilot leadership development program for about 20 Atlantic Health officers and directors. We tailored the program to be sure its objectives and activities would be meaningful to our participating employees and clearly defined how we would measure success. Here's how the process worked.

First, the firm assigned coaches to interview each participant and his or her manager and to administer an online personality assessment. Next, an online 360-degree survey was sent to each participant's manager, peers and direct reports, customized to capture information related to our established core leadership competencies.

The results of the interviews, assessments and surveys were summarized and delivered by the coaches in feedback sessions. During these conversations, each employee, along with his or her manager and coach, created an action plan focusing on the two or three most important developmental opportunities.

For the next two months, participants and their coaches explored strategies for meeting those developmental goals. The coaches worked together as a group to identify the predominant leadership development themes that were emerging from all of the sessions. With those combined resources, the firm designed workshops for our participants, with content focused on areas including developing direct reports and communications training. For us, the format and subject matter, specifically designed to meet Atlantic Health's needs and parameters, provided the kind of support that our participants find valuable as future leaders and in their current roles.

It has been three months since program kickoff. The participating employees are making significant progress toward identifying and achieving leadership development goals that make sense for each individual and that are aligned with our organizational objectives. According to the feedback we've gotten thus far, participants feel the process has helped them become more aware of their strengths and developmental opportunities. They're confident about attaining the goals they've created and feel they have the support they need to do it. We plan to continue the program this year, expanding it to other groups including physician leaders.

Joseph Trunfio is president and CEO of Atlantic Health, Morristown, N.J.



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