Health care is in the midst of a rapid change, requiring leaders to quickly acquire the leadership skills essential for success in today’s ever-changing environment. PeaceHealth, a regional health care system with 800+ leaders across three states, 10 hospitals and multiple clinics, needed a cohesive strategy for developing its leaders. At the time, development opportunities were available through select cohort programs, requiring significant time commitment, travel and cost in order to participate. These programs were targeted for director-level and above, creating gaps in the development of frontline supervisors and managers. Leaders at PeaceHealth’s larger hospitals could access additional offerings; however, remote or smaller locations lacked those opportunities. As a result, leaders did not have a common skillset.

Determining the Process

To identify the skills needed and then what to offer, an assessment was conducted by learning and development (L&D) in collaboration with human resources. In response to identified development opportunities, L&D developed and launched Leadership Essentials. The training series focused on how to equip leaders with the fundamental leadership and management skills necessary to achieve the organization’s goals in today’s changing health care landscape. This new program addressed leadership development needs through a series of trainings spread throughout the year, accessible to any employee in a leadership role and available at every hospital. Trainings were targeted for supervisor, manager and director-level leaders.

Leadership Essentials provided a foundation of knowledge and skills, creating a cohesive approach to leadership development across the organization. Skills included coaching, leading change, performance management, finances and hiring. Each training was rolled out over the course of six weeks across the entire organization, providing access for every leader. Recognizing leaders’ busy schedules, the interactive, in-person sessions took no more than three hours, and resulted in increased retention rates from using shorter bursts of learning spaced over time.

Reinforcing Learning

Every other month a new skill was offered over the course of about a year. This provided time for leaders to apply each skill and allowed the learning to sink in between sessions. The learning management system was leveraged for easy registration. A centralized calendar, regular email announcements and presentations at monthly leadership meetings communicated the development opportunities so that all leaders were well-informed.

Learning continued outside the classroom with resources to encourage practice of the skills and allow access to materials via the organization’s internal leadership development website. Leadership meetings allotted time to discuss the skills to further embed the learning. At these monthly meetings, leaders shared testimonials of how they applied the learning to improve performance. This built credibility for the program and encouraged leaders to attend future offerings. Articles on the company’s intranet site shared leaders’ personal success stories implementing the skills and demonstrated the positive impact for teams and the organization.

L&D created content in partnership with human resources and other subject matter experts such as change management and talent acquisition. Skills often leveraged previous ones, such as using the coaching model in performance management training. Trainings had a standard format and included opportunities to reinforce the learning beyond the classroom setting. Skills, practice and the opportunity to receive feedback from peers were core components of each training.

Garnering Executive Support

In order to create engagement at the executive level, L&D partnered closely with the executive sponsor, the organization’s chief administrative officer and a strong supporter of the organization’s L&D programs. Prior to launching each training, L&D created an announcement for the sponsor to send to the executive team, encouraging support and participation. An executive summary and slide deck was developed for each skill. These were used to brief executives on the skills being taught prior to the launch of each training.

Executives were asked to support in the following ways:

  • Attend a session
  • Share their personal experiences applying the leadership skill
  • Reinforce the skill at leadership meetings
  • Look for opportunities to reinforce on-the-job application of skills

Locally, hospital executives extended personal invitations to leaders under their span of control to encourage attendance. Each training session opened with a story from an executive of their personal insight related to the leadership skill. Executive presence at the trainings reinforced the importance of the program.

Facing Challenges

One of the greatest challenges in offering training consistently across the organization was the capacity of the training team of five individuals. Offering multiple training opportunities required hundreds of hours of training delivery over a short period of time in several locations. Because of the nature of the skills being trained, L&D had a strong commitment to offer training in-person to allow for skills practice and peer feedback.

To overcome this resource challenge, L&D collaborated with HR partners and internal organization development consultants to support training delivery. This provided a development opportunity for HR partners seeking to build facilitation skills. Members of the change management and talent acquisition teams supported facilitation of trainings related to their areas of expertise.

The organization considered making attendance mandatory. Instead, they were determined to communicate attendance as an expectation, not a requirement. Leaders were assigned the skill modules in the learning management system to prompt registration for sessions that fit with their schedules. L&D met regularly with HR to engage support, provide program updates and address challenges such as low attendance. HR partners conducted outreach to leaders when registrations were low or with leaders who they knew would benefit. Executives encouraged attendance and set the expectation for participating.

Program Outcomes and Sustainment

In the program’s first year, the organization saw 50 percent voluntary participation and 96 percent of participants said they were able to apply the learning on the job. To provide ongoing training on these skills, all topics were incorporated into an onboarding program to ensure skills spread as new leaders join the organization or are promoted to leadership. Additionally, the skills are offered in a program for those who serve in a team lead role in the organization. This ensures the core skills are consistently part of development for all leaders, including those aspiring to a leadership role.

In addition to providing leadership development training across the organization in a consistent manner, the program also enhanced L&D’s partnerships with HR, change management, talent acquisition, finance, and other internal subject matter experts. The program created a model for delivering organization-wide L&D programs in a consistent manner, demonstrating the value of a cohesive approach to leadership development.