3 Takeaways from the 2016 ASHHRA Conference

3 Takeaways from the 2016 ASHHRA Conference
Marketing Director

This year’s American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) Conference and Exposition took place this past week at Grapevine in the Lone Star State of Texas, home state of PreCheck’s headquarters. This year’s theme was “Nurturing Engagement in Shifting Landscapes,” emphasizing the importance of keeping staff engaged as the healthcare industry continues to evolve and adapt to the ongoing changes. From the opening keynote speaker to the individual conference sessions, it was clear that engagement is a critical focus for healthcare HR in 2016 and beyond. “One of the things we face without fail is that things are changing and we don’t know how [they] are going to end up in those shifting landscapes,” Kristen Fox, ASHHRA’s 2016 President, stated during the opening ceremony.

The following represent my top three takeaways from this year’s ASHHRA conference. I hope you find them insightful as you prepare for the upcoming year.

1. Ann Rhoades’ Lesson on Organizational Values

As the healthcare landscape continues to undergo rapid changes, building values based organizations is becoming critical for ensuring long-term success. In order to provide great patient care, Ann Rhoades, President of People Ink, emphasizes that it’s not only important to hire for competencies, but healthcare employers should also focus on hiring staff that share your organization’s values. “It’s not about those values you put on the wall,” Rhoades explains. “It’s about what every single one of you do every day and how you lead with those values and hold people accountable with those values. It’s the associated behaviors that determine what the real values are at the organization.”

According to Rhoades, there are five characteristics that great places to work have in common:

  1. Values Blue Print: They have figured out who they want to be and reciprocal behaviors that represent those values.
  2. Hiring “A” Players: This means hiring staff that share the organization’s values (plus the competencies).
  3. Accountability & Rewards: They hold their people accountable for getting the right outcomes and reward those who achieve those outcomes.
  4. Customer Branding: They understand that every team member has a role in building the brand and are proactive in engaging their people along the way.
  5. Continuous Discipline: They believe in continuous improvement and focus on systematically building a high performance culture.

“From an HR perspective, culture is the responsibility of every single person in the organization,” Rhoades explained. “You have to facilitate it. The better you can get everyone involved, the better the outcomes.”

2. Turning Employees into Brand Advocates

With the healthcare sector experiencing incredible job growth and significant staffing shortages in the coming years, healthcare employers need to focus on differentiating themselves in order to remain competitive in the future landscape. “One of the ways is to have a good, strong employer brand and deliver it through your employees or to any consumer using your services through social media and beyond,” Gary Zukowski, Senior Vice President at CareerArc, explained during his presentation.

Social media can be a great way to empower your organization’s best employees to become brand advocates, as demonstrated by Carrie Corbin, Head of Talent Attraction Strategy & Employer Brand at American Airlines. “Employees are the untapped marketing channel,” she explained. “90 percent of consumers trust recommendations from people they know.”

To turn your employees into brand advocates, Corbin recommends the following:

  • Identify your employee groups and channels. If you have internal social networks, you can see very quickly who’s happy at working with your company and who’s not.
  • Curate and share content. Share recommended employer content (i.e. news or job postings) and encourage employees to share within their employee and their external networks.
  • Have a content strategy. Look for opportunities to repurpose content that already exists and determine how to curate content before you invest in tools to distribute that content.
  • Empower authenticity. Let employees know it’s okay to have a voice. If you can put some guidelines over things and give people the ability to have some influence, you can empower them and give them an opportunity to be rewarded.
  • Offer incentives. Create incentives around sharing content and your employee referral programs. Employees are going to share your content with their external networks.

You can empower your employees to be brand advocates by following Corbin’s advice and partnering with other teams. “We made a very deliberate effort to partner with marketing to determine we can support each other,” she explained.

3. HR’s Role in Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions have become a very common occurrence in the healthcare landscape as hospitals and healthcare systems continue to merge into larger integrated delivery networks. According to attorneys Mark Nelson and William Sweeney, Shareholders at Polsinelli PC, the most critical question for the HR team to understand is the type of transaction that is in play. The type of deal is going to drive how HR can help advise the team. For example, a simple asset purchase involves one organization buying assets and from an HR perspective, there will be a termination of employment for the acquired entity. Other transactions such as a simple merger or joint venture may not involve termination of employment, but there are important employment benefits considerations as the different organizations are combined.

In this highly attended session, the Polsinelli shareholders were joined by Edward Rathman, Benefits Director at Catholic Health Initiatives, as well as Katie Bata, VP HR at Advocate Health Care. When preparing for a merger or acquisition, Bata and Rathman recommend the following:

  • Be transparent with employees. When there is absence of communication, minds run wild. “Involve them from the get go and share what partners you are looking at so they understand culturally why you are looking for a partner,” Bata recommends. “Across the merger period we saw our associate engagement go up a percent or two because we engaged everyone and they felt that level of trust.”
  • Documentation is critical. If it’s not in writing, it does not exist. “If the practices of your line level leaders don’t match your policies and procedures, get those processes aligned and documented,” Bata says.
  • Follow due diligence. Have a checklist that you share with the other party, but be willing to be flexible as part of the due diligence process. “Due diligence is more of an art than a science,” Rathman explains. “Every time you look at a transaction there’s always something new that’s going to be unexpected that you have never seen before.”
  • Pay attention to culture. It’s not only important to look at the financial implications but culture is equally important. Spend enough time getting to know the organizations you are going to partner with. “We spend a good year looking at potential partners,” Bata explained. “It’s more like dating and getting married.”

HR has a critical role during mergers and acquisitions not only from a compliance and benefits perspective, but also from a change management perspective.

Did you attend this year’s ASHHRA conference? What were your favorite learnings from the conference. We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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