Ascension has development programs similar to TriHealth, including quarterly leadership meetings and a series of classes. The St. Louis-based health system pairs its administrators with clinician executives in each of its markets. It shuffles executives within its vast hospital network to provide new perspectives and fill roles in regions where it can be hard to recruit qualified employees.
Ascension also recently launched a diversity inclusion campaign that seeks to cultivate minority leaders.
"The types of leaders are changing," Ascension CEO Anthony Tersigni said at the American College of Healthcare Executives' 2018 Congress on Healthcare Leadership in March. "The time for guys like me who started as a hospital operator is passing."
The CEO of a Fortune 100 company told Tersigni several years ago that he spends about 30% of his time on leadership development. Tersigni, who at the time only spent a fraction of that on cultivating executives, said that interaction completely changed his perspective. Ascension has since partnered with a number of universities to build a better leadership curriculum and management pipeline.
"Disruption in the healthcare industry is not going to come from the hospital across the street, it has been coming from outside the industry," Tersigni said. "We need to understand how they think, how they act, how they make decisions, because it is a lot faster than healthcare can dream of."
Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph in 2017 partnered with the University of Great Falls in Montana, in part, to create a stable pipeline of managers to feed into the integrated health system. The university, which was renamed University of Providence, will include professional and certificate programs for Providence St. Joseph's more than 111,000 employees.
The health system has also implemented mentoring and leadership development programs that have increased its women executive cohort by 50% over a three-year period.
"Diversity begets diversity," said Dr. Rod Hochman, CEO of Providence St. Joseph, adding that women and minority leaders will help the system better understand its most vulnerable populations. "We are looking for folks with different perspectives who can help lead us through this time of change."
Whether the successors are internal or external, establishing a strong executive pipeline requires a proactive and standardized approach, and the board should take the lead, industry analysts said.
A health system should identify the competencies it needs to lead the team going forward and where the gaps are, said Craig Deao, a senior leader at Studer Group. "The three keys leaders of tomorrow need to have are getting people to do things better—performance improvement; getting them to do new things—innovation; and helping people do those things—engagement," he said.
Nurse Faye Sullivan, from the Studer Group, runs a nurse leader boot camp that focuses on objectively validating and coaching staff.
Managing the process rather than the people will translate to more innovative and engaged employees, according to Rolnick. It starts with communication, he said.
"Today, the average employee of a hospital has no idea of the strategic direction of their organization and what their role is," Rolnick said. "You have to tell them as much as you can, and be open and honest."
Beyond employee engagement, executives need to understand how to interact with patients. As the industry adapts to thinking of patients as consumers, that requires a different lens, Deao said.
"People need to understand how to shape behavior and apply concepts of psychology to running the business," he said.