20/20 Vision: The Workforce of the Future

This blog is a recap of the virtual DATISfest session: The Future of Your Workforce – Exploring the 2020 State of Workforce Management. This panel session featured Lauren Cohn, Executive Vice President and COO of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare and Tami Lewis-Ahrendt, Executive Vice President and COO of CenterPointe. These two industry experts shared their strategies and expertise for leading the workforce forward in these uncertain times.

What are your workforce management priorities? Here at DATIS, this is a frequently asked question. We ask it every year in our workforce management survey for executives in the health and human services industry. And each year, we get similar, yet different, results.

In the 2020 State of Workforce Management Report, our most recent publication of our survey results, recruiting and retention topped the list of priorities. This is consistent with prior findings, showing that it’s a complex initiative that requires ongoing attention. This was followed by financial sustainability and operational efficiency to round out our top three 2020 priorities. Of course, all of this data was collected before there was any notion of a pandemic that would bring about drastic changes to the workplace and our lives.

While new safety measures, work-from-home protocols, and other organizational changes have had to be prioritized to continue to provide essential services, our workforce management priorities still remain. And now, we need to consider everything within the context of this “new normal” and adjust our methods and strategies accordingly.

To help us understand how we can pivot our strategies and continue to move forward, we brought in Tami Lewis-Ahrendt, EVP and COO at CenterPointe, and Lauren Cohn, EVP and COO at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare. They shared their insights and expertise in our “interview-style” panel session, providing great takeaways for anyone in the human services field.

What is Your Greatest Strength?

This interview question is so common, it’s almost cliché. But asking it to an executive about their organization as a whole puts a new spin on things. In times of turmoil, as well as times of calm, thinking about and communicating what makes the organization great can help us focus on the positive for our workforce.

For CenterPointe, Tami described the value, uniqueness, and innovation of their organization. As a non-12 step provider of behavioral health services, CenterPointe offers a less common approach to care than many others in their area. This enables the organization to embrace uniqueness in other areas as well, including the uniqueness and diversity of their employees and applicants. Their focus on investing in their people and being centered on each employee’s success translates directly into their recruiting strategy as well.

Over at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Lauren spoke to the focus on the diversity of the clients and staff as well as their close community ties. Providing services in rural areas, their organization is often is only provider around. However, these communities have greatly diverse populations. And because their staff live in these communities as well, there are uniquely close community ties between the organization and the communities they serve. Lauren also described passion videos that are part of their recruiting strategies. These videos showcase various employees throughout the organization speaking to what they love about the organization and what makes it great to them – giving the individual a unique voice in contributing to what makes the organization great.

Why are You Looking for a New Position?

You’ve likely been asked this question in one way or another during a job interview. When asking this question to an organization, we have more of a retention focus in mind. We want to examine why people choose to leave your organization, how you measure this, and what strategies can help improve retention overall.

At CenterPointe, Tami described a data-driven approach to understanding what draws employees to the organization, what motivates them to stay, and why they ultimately leave. By gathering as much information as possible with things like point-in-time surveys, annual reviews, and exit interviews, they’re able to get a clear picture of what their employees want and need. And it’s not all about the money.

“It’s a trap that many organizations fall into – believing that if you pay them, they will come. And they might come, but they won’t stay.”

– Tami Lewis-Ahrendt

As Tami noted: money is important, but it’s not as important as being valued. At CenterPointe, they noticed that a primary reason why employees leave is because there’s not a lot of opportunity to move up and climb the corporate ladder. This is mostly due to long-term retention and a wide organizational structure. To address this, CenterPointe created an internal leadership academy – a one-year program that identifies high-potential employees and provides them with training and stretch projects that help with their personal development. This is a more fluid vision of what succession looks like and helps employees grow in a way that prepares them for leadership roles, whether that occurs internally or at another organization. Overall, investing in individual employee’s growth trajectory has been the key to improving retention at CenterPointe.

At Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, we hear a similar story: money isn’t everything. Their approach to collecting data is similar, with employee feedback, appraisals, and exit interviews all included. Lauren also described their approach to making upfront efforts to find the right fit during the recruiting process. Using screening tools like the Predictive Index, they work hard to match the right person with the right fit, helping to prevent turnover down the line.

Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

Switching focus slightly, this interview question speaks to the second priority from our workforce management report: maintaining financial sustainability. Looking ahead and planning for the future isn’t just something individual employees need to do. It’s something the organization needs to do as well to ensure it’s able to continue providing its essential services.

Both Tami and Lauren noted the importance of data, data, and more data in this area. For both of their organizations, it’s essential to collect as much data as possible, review it regularly, and get the right information to the right people to make the right decisions. This data is what provides the necessary visibility to see if the organization is able to weather the storm brought on by the pandemic as well as to look ahead to see how they’ll be able to operate in the future. Data provides the information you need to see what you’re capable of and to demonstrate that you’re ready for what comes next.

“Especially given what we’re going through now, changing some business models, you have to be constantly looking at what’s working and what needs to be adjusted a little bit as you make these massive changes in a short amount of time.”

– Lauren Cohn

Describe a Time You Used Technology to Improve a Process.

To bring it all together, we need to take a look at operational efficiency – our third workforce management priority. This really represents the link between the highly individualized focus on recruiting and retention and the large-scale focus on the organization’s sustainability as a whole. Leveraging new and existing technologies to achieve operational efficiency allows your organization to improve its financial sustainability by streamlining processes. And it also empowers your employees to do their best work by saving them the time and effort of dealing with redundant or ineffective processes.

With the disruption caused by COVID-19, we’ve of course seen technology used more heavily than ever before. Video conferencing has become the norm, while employees out in the field may rely on portable technologies in order to continue to provide services.

For both CenterPointe and Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, we again saw an emphasis on data and evidence-based decision making. But it goes beyond crunching a few numbers or making a few suggestions. Instead, improving operational efficiency is a very intentional process for both organizations, with dedicated job titles, departments, and committees that focus on process improvement. At the end of the day, it comes down to giving employees ownership of their processes – empowering them at the individual level to identify and make process improvements – to the point where process improvement is a core value for the organization.

Through Tami and Lauren’s insights, we’ve seen how their organizations utilize similar strategies tailored to their specific organizational needs to achieve success. Even as the pandemic disrupts the way we work and provide care to our communities, focusing on workforce management initiatives like recruiting and retention, financial sustainability, and operational efficiency, can help organizations navigate their way through uncertain times and come out the other end that much stronger.

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