By Margery Weinstein
Health-care facilities know they can count on CHG Healthcare Services to help them staff their workforce. So it’s comforting to know that CHG’s own employees can count on CHG, too. Enhanced new hire orientation and onboarding were just two of the ways the company fostered superior employee performance. With a rapid growth in revenues and people in recent years, CHG is ensuring its learning programs keep pace. Training technology investments were accompanied by attention paid to improving retention of new employees by focusing on employee engagement.
Putting People First
In November 2011, CHG was in the midst of making a major training decision for its people: Should it send all new hires to CHG’s corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City to attend Foundational Training, which traditionally was designed specifically for new sales hires? It would be expensive, time-consuming, and, some argued, potentially irrelevant. For CEO Mike Weinholtz, the decision came down to doing what was right according to the company’s core values.
“CHG’s defining core value is Putting People First,” says Weinholtz. “Our people are the most important part of our business. Our industry success is based on our culture of providing personal and professional growth opportunities in a people-centric atmosphere of respect, support, and fun. Putting People First is at the core of everything we do.”
Weinholtz decided that Putting People First meant investing in all new hires. Foundational Training provides orientation and skill improvement, but more importantly, it is an introduction to CHG culture. To maintain and improve the culture throughout CHG’s offices across the country, every new hire now receives the same introduction to Putting People First.
But there were still other new hire challenges to meet. “Two issues were evolving as we continued to expand our hiring to grow our business: getting new employees trained and successful quickly, and keeping them at the company during the often-difficult first two years of employment,” says Senior Vice President Kevin Ricklefs. “Our main business is heavily sales- and service-oriented, and these new Business Partners (non-sales support hires) did not have a clear picture of the sales and, therefore, the main function of the company,” he says. “It was becoming increasingly difficult for the sales teams to rely on the Business Partner roles to ensure a quality CHG experience for our customers.”
To address this issue in 2012, CHG’s employee orientation opened its extended sales training segment to all new hires whether or not they were in a sales or Business Partner (non-sales) role. All employees have participated in the half-day company orientation, but prior to the first quarter of 2012, only sales reps would go on to attend three-and-a-half days of orientation training on industry practices, sales skills, and general success principles. “In the last 12 months, 392 employees have graduated from the program,” says Ricklefs. “Due to continual upgrades and improvements based on employee and business feedback, the program continues to reach greater heights with an overall effectiveness score of 98 percent (2012 year-to-date).”
To address the second issue of retaining employees, the company’s largest division launched the Creating Optimal Results Education (CORE) initiative—a restructured approach to onboarding for sales and Business Partner (non-sales) new hires, encompassing training efforts for all first- and second-year new hires. (CHG received a 2013 Outstanding Training Initiative for this program; see p. 106 for more details).
“To better meet the change in demand and outcome, we concluded that an organizational change in structure would be necessary,” says Ricklefs. CORE is composed of four distinct branches, each serving different purposes: sales training (for new hires through their second month); Business Partner training (for new hires through their second month); leadership training; and continuing education (for those in their third to 24th month). Other specific 2012 CORE changes included: new hires keeping all new business found during their first month of training, which allows for earlier incentives and a more immediate sense of contribution to their team’s financial goals, and a 40 percent increase in coaching for first- and second-year new hires.
These changes made an immediate impact. In the first six months of 2012, first-year new hires each generated 15 percent more gross margin from January through December.
CHG devotes resources each year to find new and innovative ways to engage its people in learning and promote growth and development, says Ricklefs. It does this in two ways:
Technological improvements to CHG’s existing infrastructure include a rebuild of an already state-of-the-art technical training lab. Trainers felt some incremental improvements could enhance the learning experience, so CHG redesigned the facility in 2012. Trainers now can teach from multiple areas of the room and more easily move throughout the rows to assist individual users. Updated screens now can be seen more easily by those in the back of the classroom, and individual desktop computers were replaced with laptops to allow more comfort and leg room for learners. Feedback from learners came quickly, mostly focusing on the improved comfort of the lab and the better interaction with the trainers.
Technology supporting CHG’s leadership development program also was strengthened. “To help monitor and track the progress of our ever-expanding leadership development program, a more robust tool needed to be put in place,” says Ricklefs. “What started as a simple spreadsheet had evolved to a database and took one more step in 2012, as CHG’s learning and development team worked with IT to build a custom tracking solution in SharePoint.” Data collected includes 360-degree leadership feedback, training courses attended, and service effectiveness and engagement scores. Reports from the database are made available for individual and organizational leadership succession planning.
Structured programming and technology investment, no matter how impressive, won’t help if employees are not able to effectively collaborate. To that end, CHG offers a mentoring program known as Partners in Performance. A five-person committee selects pairs, matching the mentee’s desired goals (financial or analytical growth, vision, people skills, engagement, etc.) with mentors who have demonstrated competencies in those areas as defined by their 360-degree evaluations, engagement scorecards, team performance, and peer reviews. Matches are generally cross-divisional to avoid any bias or effect that an internal business relationship would have on the degree of openness between mentor and mentee. Mentors and mentees meet together at least one hour per month, with 70 percent meeting more frequently than the minimum requirement. Separate monthly meetings (e.g., all mentors meet collectively) are held to review select research on mentoring best practices and to ensure peer-to-peer accountability.
More than 40 leadership pairs have completed the six-month Partners in Performance program, with another 10 to 15 pairs anticipated to participate in each upcoming quarterly start date. Ninety-three percent of mentees accomplished the goals they set at the beginning of the program. Specific examples include: improving crucial conversations with their teams, setting more realistic expectations for self and team, building a better business plan, and developing a more strategic perspective.
Filling the Leader Pipeline
To ensure its success is geared for the long term, CHG is actively preparing its future leaders. “With expected double-digit people growth year after year, the company’s focus on Putting People First requires that the number of new leaders added to the leadership pipeline keeps pace at a double-digit rate,” says Ricklefs.
CHG starts the leadership pipeline by identifying potential new leaders through a semi-annual 9-Box Assessment in which existing leaders review each of their employees based on current performance and 12-month potential. Those employees who are identified as being ready for additional responsibilities are provided professional development coaching and support to further their readiness.
Those specifically identified as potential leaders are scheduled for a Talent Inventory Profile (TIP) in which their leader and peers rate them in several leadership characteristics. The leadership candidate then completes the three-month Leadership Evaluation and Assessment Program (LEAP) and is introduced to the principles, practices, and challenges of leadership at CHG. This is both a pre-leadership preparation and self-selection program. Once an individual has progressed into a leadership role, he or she enters the 24-month CHG Leadership Onboarding Program. Combined, these early steps in leadership development have created an accelerated learning curve for new leaders, contributed to higher employee satisfaction and engagement ratings (more than 90 percent), and supported a low rate (less than 10 percent) of leader turnover, according to Ricklefs.
The company’s comprehensive leadership development is paying off, Ricklefs adds. “CHG anticipates a greater number of more prepared succession candidates and up-and-comers for the next level of responsibilities than traditionally would be available using a more limited selection and development method,” he points out. “Overall, this will provide a stronger candidate pool and a more effective employee base.”