Succession Planning in Healthcare - Taking Cues From the Business World

men pushing arrowAs baby boomers retire and the healthcare job market becomes even more competitive, it is getting harder and harder to attract and retain high potential leaders. Leaders in healthcare are dealing with rising costs, changing regulations, and technology growth. Leaders have to possess the skills and attitudes to meet changing organizational needs. As we face an aging workforce, we need to be even more proactive about nurturing strong candidates to take over when our key leaders retire.

Last month, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) published an article that highlights how the business world identifies and develops high potentials. The HBR suggests that there is no one recipe for success; for a development program to be successful, the organization's culture and overall strategy must be taken into consideration.

In healthcare we don't typically see the identification of "high potentials", but doing so and targeting their leadership development is important for succession planning. This article outlines learnings form the business world and challenges you to apply it to your healthcare environment. It's meant as food for thought.

The HBR outlines three steps for success:

  • Creating a Development Program
  • Selecting Candidates
  • Training High Potentials

Creating a Development Program

  • Define what you mean by "potential". HBR suggests that an employee with potential will be able to "succeed in a bigger role in the future". He or she has the "ability to grow and to handle responsibilities of greater scale and scope". What does this mean for your organization? Be specific.
  • Build a program around your organizational needs, ensuring that it aligns with your organization's overall strategy. Consider a leadership framework like LEADS to structure your thinking, but add your own needs into the mix.
  • Enlist senior management to cooperate with HR to solidify their buy-in and to ensure that the development program is aligned with strategic objectives.

Selecting Candidates

  • Be sure that the selection process is objective and transparent. This is especially crucial in a unionized environment.
  • HBR recommends that the selection process include: a nomination by a manager, a history of excellent annual reviews, references, and behavioural interviews. 
  • Share the results with candidates. When high potentials know their status, their productivity often improves and they are less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Training High Potentials

  • High potentials should be trained with a mix of formal education and informal training, such as mentoring and coaching.
  • On-the-job training through job rotations is an excellent way for high potentials to gain a broader understanding of the organization, as well as challenging them to be flexible and adaptable. This is an interesting concept that is not often employed within healthcare. It means that a shift needs to be made from "my unit's talent" to "the organization's talent". How would this work within your organization?
  • Company leaders make effective teachers and mentors, both in formal education and informal situations. Find opportunities to foster this in your organizations. Breakfast meetings with leaders, lunch and learn, formal and informal mentoring are all low-cost ways to promote teaching by organization leaders.

What is your organizational strategy for attracting and retaining high performers? Do you look to other sectors for ideas? What has your experience been with development plans for high performers?

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