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Support Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives by Upskilling the Front Line

By M. Lynn Fischer, Founder & CEO Catalyst Learning Company

The American Dream, the belief that anyone, can attain their own version of success and upward mobility through sacrifice and hard work, is alive and well in the Healthcare industry. It is the largest and fastest growing sector in the US economy, has numerous entry points and a myriad of possibilities for promotion and job advancement. Entry-level employees with limited education have a variety of paths by which they can move from low-skill, low wage roles to middle-skill, family sustaining wage positions. This group of essential workers, employed in lower-wage roles, tends to be very ethnically diverse.

“Who touches and impacts the patient? It’s our frontline co-workers. Who has one of the largest impacts on patient experience? Again, it’s the frontline co-workers. When we invest in these co-workers, we enhance the learning and productivity of the organization.”

Sister Claudia Ward, Program Manager Health Leads, Mercy

So you’ve decided that the best way to achieve success through a diversity and inclusion initiative lies with the education and empowerment of your organization’s low-wage front line. Where should you go from here?

Understand How Much Executive Support You Have… and Build from There

Most human beings, and virtually all of those in healthcare, want to “help people”. At its core, that is what front-line development is all about – reaching out your hand to help associates who want to progress in their careers and need help to accomplish that goal.

In our work to advocate for front-line employee development, scare resources sometimes evaporate. Everyone enthusiastically says, “we need to do this”! But the reality is that very few health systems actually implement a system to facilitate long-term development and upward mobility for front-line employees. If nothing is in place, you may want to “start small”, unless you have a C-Suite champion and a good-sized budget.

Atlantic Health (Morristown, New Jersey)

As the only New Jersey-based health care company on the Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies To Work For®’ List, Atlantic Health System appears alongside some of the country’s best-known and most successful organizations, such as Hilton, Wegmans and American Express.

A program that Brian Gragnolati, President and CEO of Atlantic Health System said he is proud Atlantic Health has instituted is ‘School At Work’ (SAW®):

“We have a lot of staff members who might be in a job that they might desire to progress in. It might be a housekeeper, or it might be dining service or patient transport for an example. They’re in those roles and they can’t progress because perhaps they had a bit of a stumble early on in their lives,” Gragnolati said. “Maybe something happened in their families or they got in a little bit of trouble in high school and didn’t get out of high school and maybe have a GED. Now it’s 10 to 15 years later and feel like they’re stuck.”

New Jersey Herald, “Atlantic Health again one of Top 100 best places to work in U.S.” by Joe Carlson

Gragnolati said everything the health system does for its employees is done so it can “support our staff so human beings can continue to care for human beings in remarkable ways.”

Brian Gragnolati, center, president and CEO of Atlantic Health System, and Nikki Sumpter, center left, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, stand with graduates of the “School at Work” program, which gives employees the opportunity to learn during regular work hours and learn skills needed to explore other career opportunities in health care.

Begin with Your Goal When Designing a Development Program

It sounds so obvious, but I’ve been amazed over the years how many customers proceed with a program because it feels like the right thing to do, prior to having a solid business-related justification. Examples of different types of outcomes you might discuss with your stakeholders could include:

  • identifying and upskilling people for a high-need position
  • increasing the ethnic diversity of people in middle-skill and supervisory positions, or
  • retraining loyal employees whose jobs are in jeopardy due to automation (an increasingly urgent imperative for conscientious employers).

Effective workforce development programs involve a number of different groups within the health system, and typically fall under the umbrella of Talent Acquisition, Talent Management, or Learning & Organizational Development or Effectiveness (L&OD/L&OE). Working closely with these various departments will help you achieve implementing a successful program.

Career Planning & Advising. Essential. Often Missing.

I have long been astounded by the huge dollars spent on external recruiting of new employees and the paltry sum spent on developing internal staff. Return on Investment will be demonstrated over a period of years as the percentage of “internal hires” grows. Once a career is successfully planned, the advancements can be game changing. The lives of the front-liners get a boost and their families also benefit. Helping an employee identify a middle-skilled position that is a “good fit” and attain it, can jump wages by 45-50%.

Help Associates Define Options

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there.”

The classic 4-step career planning process includes: self-exploration; job research; exploration of job options; and taking action. For front-line workers at the entry-level, this way of thinking will likely all be new and require structured support. Those who are already employed in certificate-level positions may be more autonomous once you get the right tools in their hands.

Encourage the leader of your Talent Acquisition group to dedicate at least one person to career advising. Important skills for the internal developer are nurturing talent and facilitating connections within the organization, making the position different than a typical recruiter.

You’ll want a focused area in the organizations website where employees who are able to operate autonomously can learn what tools are available to them and be provided with contact points for related activities such as job shadowing and tuition support.

Something to consider is adding a supplemental program, such as CareerCare®, that allows employees to do guided self-reflection, a career interest assessment, and learn about high-need jobs within your organization. Employees will then be able to approach HR with a well-qualified idea of what will work for them that the hospital has need for.

Think about developing a class where the goal outcomes are a completed Career & Learning Plan, confidence in the future, and motivation to act on the plan. Access to an advisor or mentor will also be essential for your entry-level employees to successfully complete a career plan.

A key element of this work is translating the needs of the often voiceless and sometimes invisible hardworking people in our country to the seats of power. Seats of power that are busy, want to help, and need to quickly understand, “what do you want me to do”? Using the tools outlined here, be ready with your answer to that question!


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Emory Healthcare & Catalyst Learning – 15 Years of Frontline Workforce Advocacy

School at Work (SAW®), a career development system for entry-level healthcare employees, has proven to develop viable paths for career progression and shown significant changes in day-to-day performance in frontline employees at Emory Healthcare, according to Anne Nelson, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness and Talent Management. Nelson goes on to tell us that participants’ supervisors have said that

these graduates are more willing to take initiative and speak up, now that they feel like they have a voice.

Emory Healthcare, a leader in innovation, has a celebrated history of stellar accolades ranging from positive patient satisfaction scores to its advocacy for the frontline non-clinical workforce. Emory Healthcare is the only National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Center in Georgia and the only health system in Georgia with three Magnet-designated hospitals. Nationally ranked for quality among the top ten percent of academic medical centers in the U.S according to Press Ganey[1]Emory Healthcare continues to set the standard for all aspects of care in Georgia time and time again.

Recently recognized as a 2019 CareerSTAT Frontline Healthcare Worker Emerging Champion[2], Emory Healthcare uses SAW® to provide frontline workers with a stepping-stone into certificate or degree programs. SAW® is a comprehensive program that strengthens communication, grammar, reading, and writing skills as well as providing a well-developed career plan within the organization. A typical SAW student has a high school diploma or GED and works in Dietary, Environmental Services, Housekeeping, as a Nurse Aide or in an entry-level office position. Using adult learning principles with a Blended Learning Model, SAW® has produced completion rates considered best practice in adult-learning.

Debra Longo, Corporate Director of Organizational Development and Learning Services at Emory says, “we long to find the right formulas, processes, and approaches to retain our frontline workers. There’s such a competition in the market for so many positions that we need that are critical to the business of healthcare.

SAW® gives us a chance, to engage some of our frontline workers in learning and in the mission of the Healthcare System.”

Sandra Barber, Emory’s Training Specialist and SAW Coach of 7 years, says “From a Coach’s perspective, you get to see folks who come in as frontline workers who have some very low confidence around their potential and their abilities in the skill development area. Barber goes on to say, “Once they complete SAW®, the associate feels more connected to the organization. When they’re back at work, they have a better sense of their ‘Why?’. You realize that your role is much larger than you and that your intent as well as your impact matters. They feel like they have a future in the organization.”

When setting their new five-year OE plan, Nelson wants to continue to outline expectations, provide resources and training, and measure the outcomes associated with programs.  “We look at our progression – the number of people who graduate from SAW® that then go into our Emerging Leaders program and our New Leader Foundation program.”

With SAW® as a contributing factor, Nelson states, “We have seen career progression, advancement into leadership roles, and leaders recognizing significant changes in performance for those who have completed SAW. I want to make sure that it’s hardwired into internal career progression at Emory Healthcare.”

Nelson also speaks to the efforts she made to facilitate the connection between the executive team and the SAW® students. “For our first graduation, we invited the executive team including the Chief Executive Officer, at the time John Fox. John was so incredibly moved by the stories of our graduates thanking the executives for giving them a second chance.” She has spoken at all sixteen School at Work® graduations held at Emory Healthcare and continues to make sure that the program gets recognition from the executive team. President and CEO Jonathan S. Levin, MD, FACR says, ”Emory Healthcare’s vision is to provide the best place to work, learn, and grow by creating an inspiring work environment for our frontline workers and teams that allow them to contribute to their highest level.”[3] With more than 200 School at Work® graduates over the past 15 years, Emory continues to push their drive for excellence stretching from every corner of its hospital system. In 2020, despite the challenges placed on them as a result of COVID-19, 28 Emory employees graduated from SAW® in April. This group worked together to create a plan that they stuck to, ensuring they finished their class on time.

Catalyst Learning Company (CLC), creator of School at Work, was founded to increase access to education for low-wage workers; adults who have been left behind and aspire to “do better”. CLC provides high quality skill and career development programs to healthcare organizations across the U.S. These programs target the frontline associates of the organization – from entry-level individuals to first-level supervisory nurses. Catalyst Learning is honored to serve 600+ acute care hospital customers, including Emory Healthcare. Many of Catalyst Learning’s customers are nationally recognized for their efforts in providing education and opportunity for healthcare frontline workers, including nine who have been recognized by CareerSTAT as Healthcare Workforce Champions.  Learn the “9 Ways Hospitals can Support Frontline Healthcare Workers, and Create a Winning Culture!”

 

[1] Magnet Recognition.” About Emory Healthcare. https://www.emoryhealthcare.org/about/magnet-recognition/index.html Accessed 08 August 2019.

[2] Christenbury, Janet. “Emory Healthcare recognized as emerging champion for School at Work program for frontline health care employees.” Emory News Center. 19 July 2019. https://news.emory.edu/stories/2019/07/ehc_emerging_champion_school_at_work_program/index.html Accessed 08 August 2019.

[3] CareerSTAT Frontline Healthcare Worker Emerging Champion Emory Healthcare; Education as a Priority for the Frontline Workforce.” National Fund for Workforce Solutions. https://nationalfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/NFW19139_Natl_Fund_Emory_v5.pdf Accessed 08 August 2019.

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Mercy Adopts New Technology to Educate & Advance Frontline Coworkers

Mercy serves millions of patients each year, with a health network that comprises more than 40 acute-care hospitals and nearly 900 physician and outpatient facilities across Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas. Mercy is the country’s seventh-largest Catholic healthcare system and employs more than 40,000 people.

Mercy’s mission statement is to deliver patients a transformative health experience. But Mercy has another calling of service, one to its coworkers. In addition to outstanding leadership development, Mercy is deeply committed to advancing and educating the ministry’s frontline workers.

Mercy aims to improve compensation for low-skilled co-workers. Through its Social Determinants of Human Dignity Committee, senior leadership builds opportunity and career development tracks for these lower paid coworkers. Mercy offers tuition advancements, apprenticeship programs, internships, plus supportive HR policies like medical premium assistance and affordable childcare. Removing barriers to career advancement for lower paid coworkers is part of Mercy’s ministry.

Building on workforce development efforts that originally began in 2004, Mercy and Catalyst Learning collaborated to provide a new microlearning solution for developing employees.

CLiMB is an online library of focused microlearnings for entry-level coworkers who are working in a healthcare setting. It focuses on key work concepts like basic professionalism, communication, productivity, managing stress, and providing exceptional customer service.

All of CLiMB’s 10 to 15-minute learning modules enable learners to practice real-world scenarios in order to improve their performance on-the-job. During the recent virus pandemic, remote learning and development has become even more crucial for all healthcare facilities.

Talent Development Sees the Positive Impact of CLiMB

Beth Kinsey, a Senior Specialist of Talent Development at Mercy, commented that much of the feedback from CLiMB was that it helped co-workers process information.

“Learners are asking clarifying questions with their leaders,” Kinsey says, “They’re repeating information back to leaders and seem more engaged when tasks are being explained.”

Effective listening and preparation for tasks is part of the module “Listen for Accuracy.” This module teaches learners to avoid distraction when speaking with leaders, to clarify what is being said, and to take accountability for what information was processed by asking clarifying questions.

Soraya Humphries, another Senior Specialist of Talent Development at Mercy, commented that CLiMB really opens up accessibility of L&D to so many more of Mercy’s lower-paid coworkers because it is all online. “All departments within the health system, clinical and non-clinical, have been accessing CLiMB,” says Humphries. There have been 469 individual learners and 2,146 total modules completed.

Examples of how MicroLearning is Being Applied by the Front-Line During COVID-19

One CLiMB participant in the Emergency Department at Mercy was going through a COVID-19 outbreak preparedness training this Spring. She suggested to HR that the CLiMB module “Speak to be Understood” should be included in the package of that training, because giving concise instruction is so important during crisis situations.

Another CLiMB worker-learner commented that she is now more intentional about listening before contemplating her responses. She has learned to paraphrase instructions that are being given back to her manager and is asking more clarifying questions to help comprehension.

Another course participant gave similar feedback, commenting that she now stops working on any activity and fully focuses on what her manager/nurse is explaining in order to not be (or seem) distracted.

A mid-level manager commented that she uses the ‘4 Best Practices for Speaking Effectively’ to get lots of needed information out to entry-level coworkers on her busy evening shift.

One supervisor said that he uses the CLiMB module “Engage with Customers” to help motivate his staff to improve customer service. He references this module at huddles and in 1:1’s, and strives to model these behaviors as he interacts with his staff. This module helps coworkers to communicate with customers in a way that positively impacts their experience.

Finally, another supervisor said that he uses CLiMB to help diffuse occasional team conflict. He said that CLiMB gives good guidance on handling difficult situations, and it assists his team to better communicate during stressful moments.

The 3-step strategy of responding thoughtfully, avoiding blame, and focusing on the future resonated with his team, and they revisit this conflict diffusion strategy when needed.

Through Scalable Applications Come Opportunities for Career Advancement

CLiMB offers Mercy the opportunity to scale-up the quantity of co-workers who can be served with development opportunities and can be used by many learners at a time that is convenient for them. Coworkers can access CLiMB microlearnings independently, with their leader, or in a learning lab at a hospital for example.

To market the availability of CLiMB to its frontline workers, Mercy uses open enrollment and internal communications like health system newsletters. Education leaders at Mercy are seeing that most courses are taken because of self-motivation from coworkers, not because of any management mandates or deadlines.

Besides just offering this as a soft-skills training opportunity, it also lets Mercy see which coworkers are most interested in career advancement. If HR sees that a coworker is completing every one of the modules, that can foster a conversation, and generally the coworker then informs managers of a desire to advance or take on more responsibility.

CLiMB offers the opportunity for HR and management to track course participation, and quarterly goals are set for each department. Course completions, how many times a course is accessed, unique page views, and what departments are completing the most courses are all tracked. Mercy even keeps a “Top Ten” list of engaged departments for fun. Manager’s subjective feedback is monitored as well.

One mid-level manager for example cited that she had team members who were looking for skill development and advancement opportunities. This manager discussed the need to her senior leadership, and was made aware of all the resources CLiMB offered. One of the modules included was even a “Your Healthcare Career: Set Yourself Up for Career Success” module. This manager was excited to be able to take all this learning and development opportunity back to her team.

Looking to the Future of Talent Development in the Front-Line Workforce

A future goal of Mercy is to use CLiMB’s available Coaching Guides for better 1×1 teaching opportunities, and to integrate CLiMB into its upcoming Career Development Academy. This academy will be an intentionally designed learning burst opportunity, and the most crucial leadership capabilities will be taught to high potential candidates. CLiMB should integrate perfectly since it proves how short, targeted, scenario-based learnings can have a big impact on employees and their performance.

It is likely that Mercy will always be at the forefront of frontline employee education. Mercy understands that it isn’t just about an altruistic outreach to its employees, it’s also about preparing the frontline co-workers who touch and impact the patient. Career development within a healthcare setting requires a variety of tools to fit the unique needs of employees, including work schedules, family situations, and education or advancement goals.

Mercy is recognized by Fortune 100 and CareerSTAT for achievements in advancing entry-level employees. Catalyst Learning is honored to be a contributor in this system’s employee engagement success.

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Diversity & Minority Empowerment Strategies for U.S. Health Systems

The Spring and early Summer of 2020 has been turbulent, with regards to how our country’s public and private institutions are progressing and evaluating race in America. In particular our African American community, which has had more trouble in achieving the same economic prosperity that other groups have had. While much recent media attention has gone towards the relationship between African American communities and local police, right now many U.S. organizations are reflecting inward. U.S. health systems are no exception. Health systems and local hospital leadership are analyzing their own priorities and wondering if they are a force for positive change at a local level.

Nearly everyone would agree that rooting positive diversity metrics right into company goals is important. But what can health systems, community hospitals, or clinics do to promote diversity, and spread economic prosperity to under-served, under-valued populations?

Communicate Initiatives and Measure Results

Health systems and community hospitals, should identify hiring or advancement goals and craft messages to your various audiences. Make sure your current associates and your community know about diversity hiring and advancement goals. People vary in how they understand messages, so think through communication plans and how to reach intended audiences. Newsletters and communications to staff through mid-line managers can be a successful tool. Social media and community organizations can also help spread messages to the community. If you’re trying to hire more from the surrounding community, a recruitment tent at a public event may be a vital communication tool rivaling recruiting solely online.

It is also imperative to measure the results of diversity initiatives. Increased representation of identified minority groups and improved employee survey scores should be captured. Diverse employee retention metrics, advancements, training metrics, or public recognition are other tactics which can be communicated, measured, adjusted/reviewed, and celebrated.

Hire Based on Communities the Health System/Hospital Serves

When hiring, recruit underrepresented members of the local community, and demographics that mirror patient populations. Be a part of local workforce boards and other organizations with local outreach.

University Health System, in San Antonio Texas, is an organization committed to equitable talent development. UHS hires many community members who do not speak fluent English. Available career development programs have been expanded to keep pace with the evolving language and literacy needs of employees, including offering onsite English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

By hiring within their community, University Health Systems executes on-the-job learning and career development system through the ECHO® (Expanding your Career and Health Opportunity) program. ECHO® gives mid-level healthcare workers the chance to move into more advanced roles in the organization. Read more about University Health System and their hiring practices.

Create “Blueprints” for Success for Minority Candidates

Diversity at the mid-line management or Director-level is often discussed as a barometer of an organization’s diverse employee leadership practices. When employees are in an entry-level or mid-level role, it may be difficult for them to envision what a higher leadership role would look like; especially if the people currently in those roles don’t look like them. To overcome this lack of representation, identify high-performing employees to be the blueprint for what advancement could look like.

If “upskilling” is needed to bridge the gap, show what learning tools are available, whether internal or through certifications and community colleges. Develop a mentorship program aimed at promoting and advancing diverse populations. Career exploration conversations, coaching, and mentoring are steps that could help with advancement of diverse or underserved employee populations.

Put Learning Tools in Places Easy to Access

When building the talent pipeline of the lower-level employees, it’s important to find the top-performers in that group to earmark for development or future advancement. Building the talent pipeline in an organization generally means learning tools are needed.

With the recent virus pandemic, amid furloughs and layoffs, job training or soft-skill development have unfortunately been put to the side by many systems. But as many workers are now being tasked with more responsibility to fill in gaps, and hiring hopefully ramps back up, learning opportunities are going to become more important than ever.

One such offering that can support job training or soft-skill development is CLiMB™. CLiMB™ is an online library of microlearning modules, that is completely contextualized for healthcare front-line associates. Lessons and activities use real-world scenarios from healthcare-specific settings and focus on the job positions of the targeted learner. Scenarios were created based on input from customers and subject matter experts and show how behaviors can be applied immediately on the job. CLiMB™ has 5 themes: Good Work and Good Relationships, Effective Job Communication, Caring for Yourself and Others, Exceptional Patient Experience, and Building a Healthcare Career.

Obtain Support from Senior Leadership

For initiatives of diversity inclusion, hiring, or advancement to be successful, the organization’s Senior Leadership needs to buy-in. Senior Management should understand the business case for inclusion techniques and see direct links to the organization’s strategic goals. Hold Senior Management accountable for supporting actual diversity applications to the workforce. Creating a stand-alone diversity committee or ‘senior champion’ for inclusion are among best practices.

A model health system in championing diversity hiring, retention, and advancement is Main Line Health in Philadelphia. Main Line Health’s ‘senior champion’ is CEO Jack Lynch, who is outspoken and intentional about achieving more diversity at the apex of the system. Lynch believes in investing in programs that promote diversity, foster collaboration, participation, and respect in the organization, while reducing turnover costs. Main Line Health’s Diversity, Respect & Inclusion Strategy team has been in place for 7 years now. This team is tasked with developing leaders within the organization who mirror its patient population, as well as the demographics of Philadelphia. With many Baby Boomers nearing retirement age, leadership development was crucial to build a base of engaged workers for the future.

Main Line Health partnered with Catalyst Learning to implement “School At Work” (SAW®) and “Expanding Your Career and Healthcare Opportunities” (ECHO®), programs that aid in the career development goals of entry and mid-level healthcare employees. Main Line Health’s goal is to champion building a pipeline for a more inclusive leadership team. Read More about Main Line Health.