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Staffing a New Hospital - 7 Things You Need to Know

February 21, 2018

staffing-new-hospital.jpgIn many industries, opening a new facility is relatively common. Manufacturing, distribution, and retail companies are familiar with the start-up process. Our team has a pretty well-oiled approach to building a high volume selection system for a new facility. It starts more than two years in advance and we know exactly how it will work.

The exciting part of these projects is the opportunity to define, and build a culture, and a selection system to support it, from the ground up. Trying to change a culture and implement new processes in the face of history, tradition, and the politics of an existing organization can be painful, but setting these standards and expectations, before you open the doors, is a bit easier. But – it doesn’t mean there won’t be issues that arise and you should anticipate as many of these as possible.

Related: 3 Examples of Operationalizing Culture Fit through Talent Acquisition

However, the challenge is that healthcare start-ups are less common and more complex. Most hospital leaders and administrators will not be involved in opening a new hospital or campus in their careers. Perhaps they’ve opened new physician offices, surgery centers or other out-patient clinics, but a completely new hospital from the ground up is far less common. So, it’s likely it will be your team’s first experience. 

A hospital, too, is a far more complex organization than a manufacturing plant. Reproducing manufacturing plant operations is relatively simplistic compared to establishing patient care operations. The clinical and patient care issues can seem endless. There are firms that can help with facility and operations planning. 

What’s often missing is expertise in how to efficiently and effectively staff the new hospital and to define and build new cultural expectations into an on-going selection system and other talent strategies. For instance, the number of job titles, job families, and important hiring considerations in a hospital are significantly higher than a manufacturing or distribution facility. Fortunately, we’ve been able to combine our start-up expertise, with our healthcare selection expertise, to build selection systems for several new hospitals and the lessons we’ve learned can be applied to existing hospitals, too.

A few things you can learn from those who’ve been through this process:

1. Start with your senior team.

You need to be, particularly, careful and deliberate in building the leadership team. Building operations from nothing requires a different skill set than running an existing operation. You need leaders who are flexible, innovative, comfortable with ambiguity, and visionary but also with an ability to execute. These people need to be able to sit in a room, before the building even exists, and create the vision and new processes that will help to realize it – much different than stepping into an established organization. They also need to be adept at building the next level of leadership, in one fell swoop. They won’t be picking 1 or 2 people to round out an existing team.

Related: What Makes a Great Healthcare Leader?

2. Start early!

This should go without saying, but most of the early attention in the planning process is focused on facilities and core patient care and operational issues. HR and the hiring process is a bit of an afterthought. The reality, though, is that your HR team has never been through this. Every one of these we’ve worked on would have benefitted from starting formal discussions about the selection system at least a few months earlier than they did.

Related: Healthcare Hiring: A Test vs. a Selection System

3. Define what you are looking for.

Here’s where you have an advantage. Rather than trying to change a culture that already exists, you have the opportunity to define and build the culture from the ground up. This work requires some deliberate steps, though. You can’t leave your definition of the culture you envision at the theory stage. You need to define the specific behavioral competencies you’ll be looking for in staff at every level of the organization. These are the skills your target in the selection process, and will form the foundation of your performance management and staff and leader development efforts. That’s how you build and sustain a culture.

Related: Four Keys to Establishing a Hosptial-Wide Behavioral Competency Model

4. Pay sufficient attention to selection system and hiring “process.”

The start-up process is not just your normal selection process with a higher volume. You can’t expect your current HR team to handle this by just doing “more” of what they normally do.  High volume hiring means they need to develop a new process. They’ll need to sift through thousands of candidates, quickly. They can’t use the same process they use to process their standard number of requisitions. Will your current ATS work? Will it need to be modified? Where will you get the resources to screen applicants, resumes and do phone screens? How will the process change for various job families?

Related: 3 Steps to Reducing the Stress of a High Volume Hiring Project

5. Deploy “evidence-based” hiring practices.

You need to be as deliberate and objective as possible at every step of the hiring process – on a large scale. There is no room for non-standardized hiring decisions based on instinct or variable standards. Choose the right tools - ATS, interview guides, training, behavioral screening tools, etc.

Related: Evidence-Based Hiring: Everything You Need to Know

6. Consider internal transfer policies.

If the new facility is part of an existing system, what’s the policy on how you’ll handle internal transfers? There are relationship and political considerations, as well as cultural considerations. This is not a 5-minute discussion. We’ve been through these situations and can outline options and the pros and cons of each option.

7. Keep your standards in the face of challenges (but remain practical and flexible!)

There will be bumps in the road. At some point, there will be that old pressure to just find someone with a pulse and a certification. For the most part, you want to resist that – you’ve invested too much and this is your opportunity to build the ideal facility and culture. But some of your estimations about the depth of your candidate pool and the relevant standards may have been off and you’ll need a deliberate approach to deciding when to make thoughtful changes to your system.

Do you want to learn more about staffing a new hospital? Click here to read the thoughts of Mark Sevco, President of UPMC East in Pittsburgh, who’s been through this process and can now boast of his health system's top patient satisfaction scores.

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Bryan Warren Bryan Warren was the former Director of Healthcare Solutions at PSI. He was responsible for developing and promoting tools and services designed specifically for the unique challenges faced by healthcare organizations.