Dignity Health Transforms HR Department with Smarter Analytics

Over the last decade, Dignity Health has undergone tremendous growth and change. Ten years ago, our organization, then known as Catholic Healthcare West, was more of a holding entity than an operating company. Our acute-care hospitals each operated largely independently: held together by our common values and mission, but with minimal corporate oversight or coordination. When the recession hit, followed shortly by major changes under the Affordable Care Act, our industry became far more competitive than it used to be, requiring us to take a hard look at how we were organized, who makes decisions, and how we could offer care to our communities more effectively. Since then, we’ve made tremendous strides.

When I joined Dignity Health as the chief human resource officer in 2013, it was clear to me that if the organization as a whole was going to succeed, it had to change the way it managed its people. It was my responsibility to make sure that the HR function supported not only business growth, but also our ministry, and to ensure that our people would have a great experience working at Dignity Health. Though other healthcare companies share many of the same challenges, as a Catholic nonprofit organization, we hold ourselves accountable not only to the bottom line, but also to our founders’ mission of serving the poor and most vulnerable members of our communities. At our core, we are a values-based organization, and we put a premium on treating our patients and our staff with the highest standards of human kindness.

Prior to 2013, Dignity Health’s HR was not optimized to support our business goals. Each hospital had its own HR department, and there was little coordination between hospitals. They each handled the full spectrum of HR responsibilities, from recruiting to benefits, labor relations to leaves of absence. With our HR staff having to be jacks-of-all-trades, there was little time for HR to be strategic partners with our operational leaders. HR decisions were largely based on the experience of the person making the decisions and gut feelings. We needed to get out of the weeds of transactional work and into the business of being credible strategic partners with our hospital management teams and using data and insights to guide our path. With an HR staff of nearly 350 people, I knew we had the resources to make a real impact on the organization’s strategic goals; we just needed to think differently about our structure and build evidence-based consulting capabilities with our HR business partners.

Beginning in 2014, we embarked on a major HR transformation. We formed multiple centers of expertise for various functional areas of HR, including workforce intelligence, where teams could develop deep subject matter expertise. We also created an HR Service Center and lifted a significant amount of administrative work out of field HR. Through standardization and economies of scale, those HR professionals remaining now had the bandwidth to develop more consultative and strategic capabilities as HR business partners.

The question then became how we can create a better experience for our employees. To answer this question, we partnered with Strategic Management Decisions (SMD) and began following the approach of smarter analytics espoused in Predicting Business Success. The techniques laid out in this book helped us develop an employee listening survey that took the heartbeat of our organization in several key areas, including engagement, mission and values, career development, communication, management and leadership performance, and patient safety. SMD then linked the survey results with outcome data such as patient satisfaction and employee turnover—the information our hospital leaders really cared about. Their ability to link employee survey data with outcomes allows HR and our managers to laser focus on those things that will have an impact on not only the employee experience, but also business outcomes. As an example, we’ve learned that an employee’s confidence in senior leadership has a particularly significant correlation with patient satisfaction and turnover. So we’ve been focusing on improving the leadership skills of our low-performing managers and helping our senior leaders connect the dots on the added benefits of our employees having great experiences at work.

Our partnership with SMD has been a true game changer for Dignity Health. With actionable data analytics, we are able to focus our HR resources on those areas that have the most impact on our strategic ministry and business goals. No longer is our HR team just seen as transactional clerks or enforcers of personnel policies; we are valued by our hospital leadership for our meaningful contributions to their highest-priority needs. In 2017, Dignity Health was named in Becker’s “150 Top Places to Work in Healthcare” and was honored by being named Glassdoor’s number-one company for “Best Places to Interview.” The approaches outlined in Predicting Business Success will allow each organization to utilize their people and their data to uncover their own secret sauce for success.

Darryl Robinson, EVP/CHRO

Dignity Health 


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