Lakeland Health Leads From The Future

Everything is changing at Lakeland Health in Southwest Michigan, and the transformational leadership team there is embracing it head on. From talent retention to community involvement to the organization’s mission, Lakeland Health is rapidly adapting to the new healthcare landscape, and their team members are leading the way.

The top item on Lakeland’s agenda is transforming the workforce, beginning with a cultural change. “Talent first thinking” puts team members in the driver’s seat, empowering them to take charge of their own careers. “Listening with the heart” encourages stronger teams, relationships and diversity throughout the organization.

Tracy Braman, human resources executive director for Lakeland Health, describes the culture as one of collaboration with a high level of compassion. Part of the cultural transformation includes changing the language they use.

“In our HR mission, we use the word love, so I would say we have a loving culture,” she said. “One of the ways we show love and support to our team members is our commitment to believing in them and their development.”

Lakeland Health has 4,000 team members and more than 50 locations in Southwest Michigan, including three hospitals with a combined 370 beds. The organization has aligned its mission, vision and values with the community. The most deliberate shift, according to Braman, has been the change in name from Lakeland Healthcare to Lakeland Health, signifying a vision that goes beyond traditional healthcare and hospital visits.

“We are much more than a hospital, we are a part of the community,” said Braman. “Our goal is to create a culture of health for both the patients we serve and our employees.”

The vision for transformation includes creative health initiatives for Lakeland team members. The leadership team, for example, will be testing a Mediterranean diet in January. The meal plan emphasizes healthy fats found in olive oil and nuts along with fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while avoiding red meats, dairy and processed foods. If the results are positive, Lakeland plans to roll out the diet to all team members. This is a pilot we are doing through our population health transformation team, we have 13 transformation teams. We are building the capacity to transform throughout the organization.

Lakeland’s leadership efforts extend beyond its walls, too. Lakeland Health President and CEO Dr. Loren Hamel is a member of Michigan’s Great Southwest Strategic Leadership Council, an effort to help accelerate positive change in Southwest Michigan and attract and retain millennials – people who may lead Lakeland in the future. There are a number of Lakeland leaders on the larger council, and also the Leadership Accelerator program which is one part of the council. The overall council’s vision is: Michigan’s Great Southwest is a vibrant and prosperous region to live, learn, work, invest, grow, play and retire for everyone.

Inside the organization, Lakeland builds leaders with its own education department called Lakeland University. Strong internal training programs prepare the existing workforce for the demands of the future with new skills sets and relationships that cross traditional department lines.

Leading Towards the Future (LTF), for example, is an intensive 18-month program that focuses on collaboration, emotional intelligence, crucial conversations and resilience to change, among other areas. The first LTF class of 15 graduated in February 2015, and 50 percent of those team members have since made upward or lateral movements to new roles. The first physician-based LTF class, with 18 participants, will graduate soon.

In addition to a development track for leadership, Lakeland offers programs for frontline team members and recently graduated its first School at Work (SAW) class. SAW combines learning with career development, while improving job performance, employee engagement and retention. According to Braman, the SAW pilot program was a big win for Lakeland Health and its focus on developing frontline staff. Six out of eight individuals who participated stated they are going back to school.

“We want to develop team members where we have a great deal of diverse talent and support their upward movement so they are prepared to fill higher-level roles in the future,” said Braman. “School at Work has been vetted and validated by other healthcare organizations, so we know it works. With so much going on in health care — transforming at the speed of light — there are too many priorities to build one more thing internally.”

Braman says programs like SAW give team members confidence and support they may not have had before and open doors that may not have been opened otherwise.

“We see additional benefits, too. One of our HR business partners works with a Lakeland University team member to facilitate SAW, and they learn new skills by teaching the class,” said Braman. “And our LTF graduates serve as SAW mentors. The relationships they are building are key, and there is great value in that.”

With regular “heart to heart” communication between team members and leaders, Lakeland Health has forgone performance evaluations. Employees are also encouraged to apply for new positions at their own discretion, and HR encourages the support of the manager.

“Everything is changing,” said Braman, “and we love it.”