As hospitals and health systems continue to navigate the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, one important tool often goes overlooked. Human resources can play a vital role in developing organizational strategy and building an engaged workforce of the future.

“The critical functions of HR have a direct impact on the success of an organization’s strategic plan,” says Lydia Ostermeier, R.N., vice president of senior executive search firm B. E. Smith, Lenexa, Kan. “When these elements are functioning at a high level, the workforce is operating efficiently and aligned with the organization’s mission, allowing it to more easily achieve goals and objectives.” Dawn Rose, executive director of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration, Chicago, agrees. “Proactive HR leadership during times of significant change requires empathy, compassion, and priority focus on nurturing an organization’s greatest asset — its people,” says Rose.

HR’s role in achieving mission and strategy

Although HR can play a significant role in helping hospitals and health systems to achieve their missions and strategies, HR tends not to be included in the higher levels of executive planning, Rose says. HR plays numerous roles within an organization, from workforce recruitment and retention to managing benefits and wellness programs. Moreover, HR should play an active role in enhancing operational performance and attaining the mission and vision of the organization.

• Strategically, Rose notes, HR plays a lead role in change management and championing organizational change by helping the workforce to understand the significance of change and why everyone’s role is important.

• HR supports organizational culture by tracking employee engagement and building a skilled workforce that is supportive of the organization’s mission and vision. “There’s a lot more watching and listening activity going on by HR,” Rose says, “and not just from an assessment perspective.”

• HR seeks the pulse point of the organization by understanding what’s working and what’s not working, Rose notes. HR analytics provide insight into the barriers to successful collaboration within the organization, as well as an understanding of best practices and effective team building.

• Succession planning supports leadership continuity and organizational success. “The increase of insured patients, the aging baby boomer population and the shortage of experienced executive leaders are generating a highly competitive market for health care professionals,” says Ostermeier. “It is imperative for HR leaders to continue to drive succession planning throughout their organizations, from the C-suite to the bedside.”

• HR leaders can help to advance population health initiatives through workforce diversity and recruitment of leaders with strong data analytics skill sets, says Ostermeier. Organizations whose workforce closely resembles the community’s diverse population will have greater success in population health, she adds.

Elevating the role of HR within the organization

“Organizations can elevate the HR executive role by incorporating these leaders into strategic planning, as well as reporting on recruitment and workforce initiatives to the board and C-suite,” says Ostermeier. She advises HR executives to expand their influence across the organization by proactively collaborating with other departments and external partners and stakeholders.


Case Study Holy Family Memorial, Manitowoc, Wis.

With workforce and organizational culture as the organization’s No. 1 priority, Holy Family Memorial President and CEO Mark Herzog recognized the need for an elevated human resources role within the organization. “HR understands what drives culture, and shaping the culture is an important part of what we do,” he says. One critical function of HR at Holy Family is defining the second-curve leadership competencies that will help the organization to succeed in the future. “We created a leadership assessment to evaluate future leadership potential,” says Laura Fielding, administrative director of organizational development. The leadership assessment looks at learning capacity and the ability to inspire, among other things. “The focus is on high-potential leaders, not just high-performing leaders,” Herzog says. “It’s an important part of continuity planning, he adds. “By managing our culture, we build a pipeline of future leaders to move the organization forward.”


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