News & Insight
February 2011

Committing to Tomorrow's Leaders Today

How one of Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For® develops its next generation of leaders.

Andrew Kovach, VP Human Resources and Chief Administrative Officer at Atlantic Health System

Our company, Atlantic Health System (AHS), is the owner and operator of two major hospitals and, with over 10,000 employees, one of New Jersey's largest employers. We are honored by the talent of our employees and they in turn seem to be rather proud to work here, as evidenced by our enviable engagement scores and retention rates (upwards of 95%). In fact, AHS was just recently named for the third consecutive year by Fortune magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For®.

Given the healthcare industry's evolving regulatory environment and the declining patient volumes we're seeing in our state, delivering the highest level of patient care and satisfaction has become more critical than ever. Of course with hospitals, like all other services businesses, happy employees tend to lead to happy customers (patients). Therefore AHS views high employee satisfaction and engagement as mission critical.

We accomplish these high levels by acknowledging that people want to accomplish great things and be recognized for doing so...and not just with pay increases. They want the tools and opportunities to be successful. Research shows that people view opportunities to take on new challenges and more responsibility as more important than any other factor when it comes to career satisfaction. This not only improves an individual's career by helping them acquire knowledge and skills, but also helps the company to identify and cultivate tomorrow's leaders.

This last point has become even more important to our organization in light of the fact that a significant portion of our senior leadership is expected to retire in the next couple of years. To prepare for this inevitable change, last year we embarked on a new leadership development program to prepare our staff for current and future leadership challenges. We wanted something more personally engaging and reflective of AHS's culture and priorities than an off-the-shelf program. Therefore we partnered with WJM Associates to deliver their customized Leadership Discovery Process (LDP)™ for 20 of our officers and directors. Rather than a conventional classroom or software-based program that some organizations rely on to teach leadership skills, the LDP™ was tailored for each individual participant, focusing on the individual's strengths and opportunities for development in relation to AHS's identified core leadership competencies.

While Lynn Turner, AHS's Head of HR/OD, and I were intent on creating a developmental experience that was highly engaging at the individual level, we also wanted to avoid the cost and lack of organizational "leverage" associated with the individual, uncoordinated executive coaching engagements that our organization had employed in the past. We also wanted a process with clear measures of success. Here's what our LDP™ process looked like:

Our WJM Account Director, Tracy Duberman, selected a cadre of exceptional WJM executive coaches who interviewed each participant and their manager and administered an online personality assessment to the executive. Next an online "360-degree" survey was sent to each participant's manager, peers and direct reports, customized by WJM for our identified core leadership competencies.

The results of the interviews, assessments and surveys were summarized and delivered to the participants by the coaches in feedback sessions with them and their managers. During these individual conversations, an action plan focusing on the 2 or 3 most important developmental opportunities was agreed upon for each executive.

For the next two months, the participant and his or her coach met to explore strategies for meeting these developmental goals. During this time, our WJM Account Director, Tracy Duberman, facilitated regular sessions with our coaches during which predominant leadership developmental themes were identified and discussed. As a result, WJM designed specific content for group workshops for the participants on subjects such as Developing Your Direct Reports and High Impact Communications Training, which allows us to provide further high-priority and cost-effective development to our leaders.

One year since program kick-off, and now nearing the end of Phase 2 of the LDP™ with an additional 12 leaders at Atlantic Health System, we have been very happy with the result. The participating executives have made significant progress toward identifying and achieving leadership development goals that resonate with the individuals and are aligned with AHS's leadership and succession objectives. In a follow-up survey, 95% of the participants report that the LDP™ process strongly helped them improve their self-awareness regarding their strengths and developmental opportunities and make meaningful progress towards attaining their goals. By this point the cadre of WJM executive coaches working as AHS coaches are intimately familiar with our unique culture, are on top of organizational developments and changes, and understand the function of coaching within the company's succession management and talent developmental efforts. We've been very happy to utilize these same coaches in various initiatives outside the LDP™ program, including on-boarding new leaders into key senior roles at the company.

We are planning on continuing the LDP™ program through 2011 and expanding it to other groups including our Physician Leaders, a special area of focus for WJM (see the article Developing Physician Leaders Today below). After all, we believe that the best way to get our next generations of leaders to make a long-term commitment to Atlantic Health System is for Atlantic Health System to make a long-term commitment to them.

Andrew Kovach is Vice President, Human Resources and Chief Administrative Officer of Atlantic Health, a recognized leader in quality health care and advanced medical technology. He has responsibility for all Human Resources policy and procedure matters for this integrated healthcare delivery system. He has held increasing strategic role within the System since 1996 and has been instrumental in its growth and success. Mr. Kovach is included in Who's Who in Industry and Finance and Who's Who in the World. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Morristown Club and a Board member of HB Investment Co.

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