It's not unusual to hear corporate training managers speak of learning as a competitive factor that helps determine the ultimate success or failure of the business. That's how they see it at Memorial Health System in Springfield, Illinois, where pursuit of excellence is as fierce as it is for any global competitor.
Take clinical training, for example. A popular training tool for hospitals is the simulated patient room where sophisticated mannequins mimic patient response to procedures and stressful situations. At Memorial Health System, such learning events don't just focus on technical skills. Under a federal grant with the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, which involves the Department of Defense TeamSTEPPS curriculum, such learning events also teach communication.
"It's imperative that when a code happens, the medical staff communicates well and has successful outcomes," says Aimee Stash, system administrator of Organization Development. To fully exploit the learning events, the simulated patient environments offer multiple perspectives of the episode, such as the effects on a concerned family member seated beside the bed. "It's exciting to see how behavior changes based upon this type of learning," she says.
Stash says the example underscores an important credo within the learning department of the 4,500-employee health system: "It's about being able to connect to strategy so that we can deliver the education that the organization needs to meet its objectives," she says.
Doug Rahn, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the 112-year-old organization, is equally proud of the Clinical Simulation Center. "It has changed the way we interface with the community," he reports. That's because it's used for training both internal and external healthcare personnel in quasi-live environments. Participants include area colleges and the Air National Guard, just for starters. Of course, improved patient care is the ultimate goal.
And Rahn has plenty of reasons to be proud of his learning departments. An impressive list of recent learning initiatives is producing benefits throughout the organization.
One of them is called the "Great Patient Experience Retreat." It was an off-site educational event staged throughout September 2009 to underscore the roles of employees in providing great patient experiences. The entire staff attended the 90-minute learning events led by senior leadership throughout a two-week period.
Each education session focused on two required practices introduced to ease the anxiety of patients and their family members. One, called "Greet and Feet," calls for employees to make eye contact whenever they are within 10 feet of a person and to personally greet them when they are within five feet.
The second practice is a specific protocol to use when interacting with customers to decrease their anxiety. The instruction continues to be reinforced in the "New Employee Onboarding" program and other occasions, and patient satisfaction surveys and other measurement tools attest to its effectiveness.
Patient satisfaction is clearly behind another approach at Memorial: Every patient must be visited by a nurse at least once per hour throughout the day and by a unit manager once per day. Outpatients must also be visited regularly in waiting areas and be asked five specific questions regarding their treatment. The effectiveness of the year-old programs is measured by patient satisfaction surveys, decreasing fall rates, call light usage, and other indicators.
Yet another initiative involves the facility's "New Leader Onboarding" program. Stash says she became concerned last year about declining retention rates for newly hired leaders within the organization. Exit interviews revealed that many were choosing to remain with the system but were avoiding leadership roles.
Stash's team developed a new leadership program to acclimate individuals to the organization. It includes integration sessions with an onboarding coordinator, a six-month curriculum, and a personal coach to assist with the leader's development, among other steps. Attrition has dropped to near zero among participants, Stash says.
In fact, all New Employee Onboarding has been emphasized with input from the learning function. For example, new nurses undergo a robust central orientation program that "starts when they walk in the door," says Stash. That includes a week long orientation program of formal clinical training and softer areas such as resiliency and communication with physicians. To improve retention, advancement opportunities, including programs that train about nurse manager roles, are promoted. In addition, the "clinical ladder" program enables nurses to advance as they gain certifications and tenure, thereby encouraging professional development.
Signs of success were immediate. An 11.2 percent turnover rate at the start of Memorial Health System's New Employee Onboarding program last year dropped to 8.89 percent by the fiscal year's end.
To link learning to individual and organizational performance, Memorial uses two specific tools. One is the "Leadership Competency Model" (LCM), which includes 19 behaviorally anchored competencies grouped within four dimensions - individual, team, system, and participative.
For example, the individual leadership dimension stresses approachability, decisiveness, communication, and integrity. Team leadership requirements focus on interpersonal and management abilities including motivation skills. The LCM is the basis for the organization's "Leadership Development Institute," which provides leaders with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful.
The second tool is an "Individualized Leadership Development Plan." It is designed to recognize skill sets of leaders and identify gaps between experiences and priorities. "We believe that to be successful, leaders must have a common platform and a set of core competencies," says Rahn. "By creating individual leadership plans, we can ensure that we have that platform."
The learning organization influences such approaches at the facility because Stash sits on the System Leadership Team, where she participates in the planning process. "When we go through our competitive business strategies and evaluate our strategic priorities, we often consider the amount of additional learning we'll need to be successful," says Rahn. "I think it's important to be proactive and to anticipate what the organization's learning needs will be before implementing a strategy. We will take strategies off the table if we don't think we're prepared, or extend timeframes for implementation to ensure that our leaders are trained appropriately."
Training at Memorial Health System remains heavily classroom-oriented, but e-learning continues to gain traction. Online video is also gaining in popularity and usage, while the use of e-learning courseware is expanding.
Outsourcing of learning activities is used sparingly for Memorial Health System. Among the outsourced events was the training needed to prepare more than 1,500 clinical staffers within a six-week period prior to taking the ClinDoc (electronic nursing documentation) application live. Staff support during the ClinDoc implementation was also outsourced since around-the-clock support was required for more than 20 nursing units and approximately 700 physicians.
Stash says that the facility has also been delighted to invite ASTD onsite each year to conduct the Training Certificate program for staff learning providers. "We currently have 104 individuals in our organization who have received the ASTD Training Certificate. It's a core requirement on job descriptions for everyone involved in training and development at Memorial and helps to ensure effective design and delivery of all educational offerings." t+D