Hospitals and private practices are rapidly adapting to the radical changes required by the Affordable Care Act. They're implementing new structures, investing in the latest technology, and modifying their processes to accommodate a new method of physician compensation.
In the midst of this revolution, many hospitals find themselves rebuilding their executive lineups, as baby boomers are retiring in record numbers now that the economy is showing signs of stabilization. But to develop effective leadership teams, hospitals must prioritize a new executive skill set, one that emphasizes collaboration between departments, data-driven decisions and a reimagining of hospital performance measurement. Under the new health care regime, the most effective leaders will be agile, innovative and unapologetically committed to embracing change.
To ensure that recently hired leaders will have an immediate positive impact, hiring committees should target candidates with skill sets that include the following:
Collaboration between departments. The ACA requires that every health care professional, from nurses to lab techs to surgeons, think more holistically about patient health, focusing on how the sum of services is affecting the patient's well-being and treating the patient with maximum efficiency. Doing so requires a heightened level of collaboration between typically disparate departments. An effective leader must model this collaboration at the top, working with departmental leaders to encourage teamwork and open communication among all levels of staff.
Furthermore, effective leaders must both collaborate and influence, as one of their primary roles will be to evangelize the changes required by the ACA and convince hospital veterans to alter their decades-old processes. They must lead a cultural shift, not just a policy change, so interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are key. The best leaders will identify and use internal influencers to effect organizationwide changes.
Diversity of experience. Before the ACA, hospital executives may have looked for candidates with experience closely matching that of their hospital's specific objectives: helping a small regional hospital grow to be nationally recognized, or launching and staffing an acute care wing, for example. In the current health care environment, hospitals will benefit from a more diverse array of experiences.
It's critical that leaders have a variety of skills, enabling them to understand each function's particular contribution to the overall performance of the hospital. They'll need to manage and implement a number of hospitalwide changes over the next few years, and having a high concentration of experiences in one functional area may hinder the ability to manage global change. While tenure and experience in growing an organization are far from disadvantages, hiring committees also should look for the ability to adapt. (And, of course, leaders with a diverse background will better understand and collaborate with internal departmental leaders.)
A commitment to data-centricity. The ACA changes the physician and hospital compensation model from pay for service to pay for performance. At the heart of the new performance measurement system lie patient data. The best hospital leaders will understand how these data are collected and stored and, more importantly, will be committed to aligning internal performance measurement (promotions, bonuses, training, etc.) with the compensation model.
To implement a new performance management system, leaders must see the big picture and understand how each department "touches" patient data. Leaders must embrace a data-centric operating model and refuse to allow data silos to exist. In other words, the most effective new leaders will embrace innovation, big-data initiatives and investments in technology that will put data at the center of business decisions.
An entrepreneurial spirit. As a result of the new compensation model, health care has become increasingly competitive. Hospitals must differentiate themselves from their competitors, attract top talent and implement innovative solutions that build credibility among consumers. Leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit will approach these new challenges with gusto. They'll be motivated, not deterred. They'll understand the importance of staying on top of the latest industry trends, thinking creatively and taking risks.
Additionally, leaders with an entrepreneurial outlook will foster a culture of entrepreneurship among hospital staff. Effective leaders will implement creative solutions for improving patient care and adopting a managed care model, but also will spearhead new internal processes that will get physicians more involved in organizationwide efforts. Team members who truly believe they're an essential part of a revolution in patient care, as opposed to a byproduct of it, will perform better and provide a higher level of care to their patients. Additionally, healthy, positive cultures attract and retain the best and the brightest talent.
Finding Suitable Candidates
Hospital leaders should work with their partners in human resources or an executive search firm (or both) to develop a pool of talent in anticipation of a vacancy. Ideally, executives should choose a firm that has specialized experience in health care executive placement and that has researched the skills required for the new breed of leader. This will allow more thorough vetting and less scrambling when an executive announces his or her departure.
Leaders should carefully tailor job descriptions to highlight the aforementioned skills and directly address the importance of a culture fit; asking a marketing or communications team member to assist with the drafting of job descriptions could be valuable. Finally, the interview process should be exhaustive but efficient, as employers with a lengthy or arbitrary process are more likely to lose candidates to competitors.
As the health care industry becomes more complex and hospital heads change or grow their executive teams, they must look for leaders who will approach mandatory changes not as incremental tasks but as a large-scale culture change that requires teamwork at all levels. Finding a candidate possessing the right combination of experience, soft skills and vision won't be easy, but it's a critical element of success that hospital leaders should not minimize.
Gilbert J. Carrara, Jr., M.D., and Adam J. Millinger, L.C.S.W., are partners at Battalia Winston, an executive search firm specializing in senior-level placement for life sciences companies.