How HR professionals can guide organizations through the uncertainty of our “new normal.”
By Linda Thompson, MBA, and Deborah Hicks, M.A.
The magnitude of our current realities highlight the importance of human resources professionals, specifically, how HR represents the culture, or the "heart," of the organization that must remain stronger than ever. This moment requires deep reflection about what is truly the foundation for supporting the "human resources" of our organizations, and most notably in health care. No one could have anticipated the impacts of this unprecedented moment in our world. To live with such ambiguity, uncertainty, fear and inability to predict the future called our "new normal." Nowhere has that been more profound than in health care organizations.
This pandemic will make or break organizations — based on economic realities, but more significantly due to the gap in leadership across multiple levels and the failure to make a meaningful connection with the staff and their purpose. Managing and leading both the current operational needs and future vision for people and culture creates a challenging polarity at many levels. "Human leadership" must drive the culture throughout the system and do so with courage and tenacity to insure connection with humanity within their organizations.
Patients come at their most vulnerable moments — especially true now — yet, showing our own vulnerability within that system is not so easy. Many leaders, because of their "authentic" expression of vulnerability, are leaders with dedicated followership. These leaders exemplify what Gallup identifies as the four leadership components critical to "followership": compassion, trust, stability and hope. None of that can be achieved without being vulnerable and authentic as a result. Human leaders/HR leaders must model these behaviors, including being honest about mistakes when partnered with learning, being the voice of those at multiple levels, and holding colleagues accountable to the same. Health care needs and deserves the best leadership talent across all levels, and especially in HR for operations and to ensure connection with humanity within their organizations. Truly not for the faint of heart, but also no greater reward for service to our clinical teams, researchers and staff, and also to the patients and families they serve.
We believe the future of the profession will be about human leadership, beyond headcount and operational functions that are the "resource" management which is critical, but not the answer to the future. And though there is no silver bullet, the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the realities of inequity and injustice, our vulnerability could be instrumental for a renewed appreciation for humanity. What if we are able to take the good of the human spirit and regain its importance in both our work life and our personal lives — might there be a better tomorrow? Might there be a renewed vision for the role and contribution of HR as a result?
We are humbled by the commitment and resilience of all who step into the doors of our health care institutions for which we have nothing but praise, admiration and gratitude.
Consider the following as a menu to improve the current reality for HR and beyond.
- Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Rules: Emotional Intelligence trumps ideal experience and IQ in leadership every time, yes, even in health care. Clinicians, researchers and administrators, including HR leaders, who find their way to our complex systems these days, require a base intellectual horsepower, yet EQ is what will sustain you as a leader that people trust and believe in!
- Review and Assess Organizational Core Values and Assertions: Assess your organization’s core values and codes of conduct to reflect the importance of human leadership — the words and signs on the walls often say the right thing while people shake their heads due to inconsistency of application or the perception of lack of adherence. Invest in identifying criteria for hiring, development and performance accountability for leaders and others who are managers of people and influential in your organization.
- Teach and Educate: Teach and educate on the skills critical to allow human leadership/EQ to be in the forefront, so that the commitment to people and humanity is always present. This should include teaching across all levels of the organization about acts of communication, such as: how to make requests as opposed to complaints; how to give feedback rather than promote rumors or gossip; learn to focus on the behavior or the result, rather than criticizing the human being in a problem.
We believe the organizations that will succeed in the future will be those that require leaders to learn and be educated about core skills like how to set a vision while simultaneously learning the art of making requests, offering support, and active listening to include facilitating critical conversations. Leaders will continue to maintain the status quo without this knowledge and supporting skills. This can be done through onboarding, coaching and just-in-time team development. This type of training/education should also be initiated with intention in graduate and medical schools.
- Build Self-Awareness: Build opportunity for self-awareness in any and every person wanting to become a leader in a health care institution. No leader can reach their potential as a human leader without a deep understanding of themselves. Some will need the help of mentors, advisors, coaches or other supports in the discovery process but all have the potential to build upon.
- Inclusion, Diversity and Equity: We have tried to make a difference in creating strategy and framework to address the reality of our workplaces not being places where opportunity, access or voices are equal. What we have attempted is not enough and needs a deeper and personal set of systemic changes. All of the skills noted above support this effort but it MUST also be supported in new and different ways. Racism, sexism and so many "isms" are alive in our organizations, in our streets and, at its most devastating level, in the hearts of some. This is no longer about making all the "right" equality statements in our policies and mandating unconscious bias training — it is all about human leadership and systemic innovation and disruption for change. We all need to do our part, especially in questioning our inner selves because that is what drives our outer leader in all we do.
At the risk of sounding like a touchy feely HR person, the reality is that emotional intelligence and leadership matters, now more significantly than ever, and it is where caring compassion and love should reign — our health care system. During a recent episode of "CBS Sunday Morning," leaders were being interviewed on being a leader amidst this pandemic. The CEO of Allina Health, Dr. Penny Wheeler, said it best: "Health care is more about love than anything else." She went on to say, "In crisis and in normal times you need to get the facts and information from every vantage point, learn from the people who are closest to the work, as they will guide the choices and decisions you make as a leader. Collaborate intensely and communicate."
Our HR profession, our health care organizations and our society have the potential to open to new skills and vision for a new reality for leadership, for human resources and for our world. Be a part of this renewed purpose.
Linda Thompson serves as senior vice president for human resources and service excellence.
Following a distinguished career in health care HR executive leadership, Deborah Hicks founded a consulting and leadership coaching practice.
Originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of HR Pulse magazine.