ACHE's Top Issues Confronting Hospitals: Personnel vs Talent

Cielo Healthcare Jill Schwieters PeopleIn February, the American College of Healthcare Executives released the results of its 2015 survey on the top issues facing hospital CEOs. On one hand, I was pleased to see executives recognizing "personnel shortages" as an important priority for them—it ranked fourth on the list up from No. 10 last year. On the other hand, I was disheartened to see the word "personnel" being used instead of a more modern or fitting term such as "people" or "talent."

What's my struggle with "personnel?" To me the term is dated and conjures up images of days gone by in which pencil-pushing rule makers sat in an office composing policy handbooks for the organization and people to follow. Imagine a time when problems were so black and white that they could be dealt with through a carefully written policy…if that era ever really existed!

Today, healthcare is an extremely complex industry that puts complex demands on its people. Hiring the right people is essential. In fact, talent has become the single biggest difference-maker in achieving strategic goals.

Most industries recognize that truth. Whether it's Silicon Valley or Wall Street, the best organizations compete to attract, retain, and develop talent because they know that people are critical for achieving strategic goals. In healthcare, that realization is rapidly growing, as the leap to No. 4 from No. 10 on the ACHE survey shows. Our priorities must include a focus on workforce or people Issues to drive innovation and solve the toughest problems we are faced with today.

As an example, the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing recently conducted a study on hundreds of thousands of Medicare patients to determine the effect of nurse workplace conditions on readmissions after major joint replacements. As reported by OR Manager, the study revealed that "Patients cared for in the best work environments had 12% lower odds of 30-day readmission." In other words, treat, train, and manage nurses better and you can improve quality of outcomes significantly.

Similarly, researchers at the University of Southern California determined that improving clinical workflow and giving clinicians different strategies for administering antibiotics had a discernible impact on patient safety, as reported by Health IT Analytics.

Meanwhile, an Economist Intelligence Unit survey of hospital executives, as reported by Healthcare Finance News, named rising costs as their number two challenge. Since "labor" comprises nearly 60% of the costs of running a hospital, I would suggest executives have a robust and well executed approach to talent acquisition, management and engagement to make sure they are efficiently and effectively maximizing resources.

Indeed, 69% of those executives recognized that strategic talent management will be critical to maintaining competitive advantage, while 74% cited attracting and retaining talent as an important area of focus for their own organization.

That corresponds closely to the things I hear from hospital executives on a regular basis. Talent is becoming a front burner issue in the C-suite. Most senior leaders are focused on retention and engagement over talent acquisition at the moment, but all workforce challenges are inter-related.

In fact, I think we underestimate the need for a strategic approach to recruitment, retention and engagement. After all, talent influences nearly every challenge we face today from rising costs, changing care and business models, to quality outcomes, improved patient satisfaction and customer service.

If people really are our key differentiator today and I believe they are, then we have to evolve our thinking and language suitably. After all, it's people who are going to be driving innovation, shaping organizational culture, and serving our patients and customers. Healthcare is, and always will be, a compassionate, people-driven business. As healthcare executives we should be leading the charge in advocating for our people not our personnel. If you doubt me, just think about the last time you turned to your policy handbook to solve a key business challenge.