Many hospitals are delaying their planned leadership transitions as their organizations manage COVID-19, which, along with the collateral social unrest, is casting a new light on potential successors.
Rather than sticking to succession plans set to roll out in the spring or summer, health system leaders are opting to help their organizations weather the pandemic, healthcare executive search experts said.
The growing public health concerns resulting from COVID-19 and racism also caused boards to revisit what type of executive is best-equipped to lead their organizations out of the pandemic as well as reevaluate who best represents the communities they serve.
“Announcements for CEOs who had planned to retire have been put on hold because they can’t make that change in the middle of this challenge,” said Mark Madden, managing principal of Cejka Search, which specializes in healthcare executive placements. “They don’t want to raise the anxiety level any higher than it already is—they also feel a responsibility to get the organization through this.”
COVID-19 has upended the healthcare industry as telehealth utilization ramps up, staffing and supply chains are disrupted, margins plummet and providers double down on emergency preparedness. That has materially changed the jobs and responsibilities of hospital CEOs and executive teams, which recasts the requisite qualities and characteristics individuals need to manage a post-pandemic world, recruiters said.
There’s too much uncertainty to make a leadership change now, said Paul Keckley, healthcare analyst and managing editor of the Keckley Report. “Unless there is a big consolidation play on the table, boards don’t want to bring in a new face right now,” he said.
“In a time of uncertainty, you look for places where you can maintain some certainty,” added Greg Eli, a shareholder at LBMC’s healthcare consulting practice.
It’s rare to find someone who can come off as calm, collected, agile and directive during a crisis while not seeming authoritarian. “During times of challenge is when you (see) really good leaders emerge,” Madden said. “But COVID-19 is also showing organizations that some candidates couldn’t handle the situation, causing them to redirect or do some additional training. It is an interesting filter to see things through.”
For instance, executives now have to take a much more active role in procurement and cost containment, Eli said.
At the same time, the Black Lives Matter movement has accelerated diversity and inclusion efforts, which largely have been relatively modest up to this point. “Most organizations right now are taking a closer look at that,” said Jessica Jones, managing director and chief operating officer in Huron’s Studer Group business. “The pandemic has emphasized that healthcare in particular has a close linkage to its community.”