For the better of this year, I’ve been traveling the country to deliver a “Talent Talk” presentation titled “Strategic Talent Management: Key Insights to Hire, Keep, and Grow Your Healthcare Workforce.” Select elements of this presentation have also made their way into the keynote of our Talent Symposium user conference. I’d like to share five key takeaways from this presentation, especially the content that seems to be the most surprising and interesting to attendees.

Ironically, the very premise of this presentation – that healthcare talent management professionals need to work together toward shared goals – seems a bit shocking to some. The idea that maybe learning and development teams or organizational development teams should be creating curriculum and career path options to help build internal talent pipelines for hard-to-fill positions has been, throughout the year, consistently one of the big epiphanies of the day. On more than one occasion, I had to answer, “How do I hire front-line nurse leaders more effectively?” with “Why are you hiring them at all? You should be growing them yourself so you aren’t dependent on a historically awfully labor market. In this market, you need to grow the team you need.” More often than I would have expected, this answer was met with stunned expressions as light bulbs clicked on throughout the room.

Another big “aha” moment, for most participants, has been the realization that “everyone you want to hire is already working.” With unemployment rates at historic and very unhealthy lows, the biggest source of hire isn’t the unemployment line, it’s the competitor down the street or, if you are truly blessed, a local nursing school. Of course, this means that you are, conversely, the biggest source of hire for your competitor down the street. That naturally leads to a conversation about how you build an employer brand and communicate that brand, which then turns to conversations about recruitment marketing, especially sourcing and candidate relationship management. In this area, the biggest epiphanies come from the realization that it can take 11-17 “touches” before an already-employed candidate will take the final step to apply to an open position at your organization.

One surprising finding for me, as the presenter of these Talent Talks, has been the number of participants who understand the value of structured interviews and behavioral assessment in reducing first-year turnover. Many participants could even successfully identify the percent decrease in first year turnover they could expect to see from successful implementation of behavioral assessment – 40%. What was disappointing were the number of participants who, despite understanding the potential business impact, still weren’t using this kind of solution or had abandoned it for lack of manager adoption. This is a clear area of opportunity for the market and for us as a vendor to better support our clients in driving utilization and return on investment measurements.

In the world of retention, many folks have been surprised by research findings around the potential reductions in turnover than come from “recognition for a job well done.” Recent research in this area has found that “recognition for a job well done” can reduce “intent to leave” by 17%, increase job satisfaction by 40%, and increase satisfaction with the profession by 47%. Fortunately, many participants were beginning to investigate or even implement recognition strategies.

Another consistent surprise for all participants are the significant negative impacts that come from large spans of control, specifically increased staff turnover, and decreased patient and staff satisfaction. While most participants intuitively understand that spans of control are too wide in healthcare, especially hospital settings, they have been universally shocked to learn that the average span of control outside healthcare is around 5x smaller – 9.7 directs per manager vs. 49 directs for a nurse manager or 56 directs for an environmental services manager. They were equally shocked to learn from recent research that no leadership style, no matter how service-oriented, no matter how professional, can provide a positive staff or patient experience across excessively large team sizes.

Each of the above “ah ha” moments can be linked to a set of action items and recommended talent strategies, and a big part of the Talent Talk is about the “what next?” part of the conversation. If my spans of control are too wide, how do I begin to address this? If recognition drives retention, where do I start on my recognition journey? (Given span of control issues, it sure isn’t with the managers…) If we need to build a strong employer brand, where do we start? What tools do we need? What skill sets and process changes? How do we do more to grow internal talent and rely less on the external labor market?

The result of all these sessions has been lively discussion, sharing of best practices, and lots of epiphanies as we discuss the issues. We’re going to run the same series next year in different cities. We hope that you can join us in these conversations as we navigate our way through the historic talent challenges now facing the healthcare market.

About David Wilkins

As Chief Strategy Officer at HealthcareSource, Dave leads marketing strategy, overseeing corporate marketing, product marketing, and strategic alliances. Previously, he co-founded the Oracle Sales Academy, a sales enablement organization serving Oracle’s global sales team. Prior to Oracle, Dave was Head of Taleo Research where he was recognized as an industry thought leader in the field of Human Capital Management. Dave has also served as VP of Product Marketing for and as Chief Strategy Officer for Knowledge Impact where he spearheaded OEM relationships with PeopleSoft, Clarify, and Witness Systems. In 2010, Dave keynoted the national Training conference, and in 2011, the ATD Chapter Leaders Conference. Dave received his bachelor of arts from University of New Hampshire.