Rod Githens, Ph.D.

Giving Up Control to Build a Learning Culture in a Healthcare System

photo of a woman releasing a heat balloon in the nightA case of strategy development through participation in a large, complex organization. 

Few other industries have the potential to impact life and death as much as the healthcare sector.  Healthcare organizations that don’t provide sufficient attention to learning, improvement, and growth put their patients’ safety and well-being at risk.

A team I led facilitated an 18-month process to enhance learning within a 40-location healthcare system with over 12,000 employees that faced unprecedented changes due to internal and external pressures.  The CEO wanted to make learning “everyone’s business,” as opposed to trainer-centric.  The goal was to have “perfect alignment” between overall systemwide strategy and the learning occurring in the system.  To help achieve this goal, the Chief Learning Officer (CLO), who reported directly to the CEO, hired us to facilitate engagement across their system.  He tasked us with helping build a results-oriented mechanism to achieve alignment between strategy and learning.

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Dreaming of the Perfect Marriage: Learning and Organizational Strategy

chocolate chip cookies with a glass of milk

Data suggest that leverage points exist to change employee perceptions.

Few chief learning officers (CLOs) disagree they have a mandate to ensure that learning initiatives align with organizational strategy.  A great deal of research exists about how to align the two.  However, what does it look like for employees to connect their learning and development with an actual organization’s strategy?

The term “line of sight” refers to how well an employee can see and understand the connection between their work and organizational strategy.  If employees can see a connection between their daily work and strategy, they can better make decisions about the direction of their individual work and learning.  In particular, it helps employees know where to put their energy when competing priorities exist.  Frankly, strategy doesn’t matter if it doesn’t filter down to employees to affect their daily work.

What We Attempted to Find

We led a process of facilitating a system-wide vision and direction for organizational learning within a 40-location healthcare system with over 12,000 employees.  As one part of a larger 18-month engagement, our client wanted to understand employee needs for their learning, as well as the climate for learning within the organization. In other words, we wanted to find out how employees viewed the alignment between learning initiatives and the organization’s overall strategic goals.

The executive team had an aspiration of attaining “perfect alignment” between learning/organization development and systemwide strategy.  We measured that alignment with a survey instrument called the Strategic Human Resource Development Alignment Index (SHRD-AI). 

What We Found

We surveyed 2062 employees at all sites, both through email and deploying a team with tablets to capture folks in high-traffic areas who don’t sit at a desk all day.  Over half of the employees responding were in clinical roles (e.g., doctor, nurse), which we considered an accomplishment given the fast-paced nature of those jobs. 

In addition to providing really helpful information for use within the organization, we analyzed the data to see what insights other organizations could use from this new instrument we created. Here is what we found:

  • Awareness is Key.  Simply knowing what learning opportunities are available strongly related to employees’ perceptions of (1) having a positive organizational learning culture, (2) alignment of learning initiatives and organizational strategy, and (3) organizational investment in employees.  This finding suggests that both formal internal marketing of learning and strong word-of-mouth awareness can have a positive effect.
  • Employees Need to Perceive their Employer Invests in Them. Employees who perceived the organization invests in their development reported that (1) their managers supported their learning, (2) a more positive organizational learning culture existed, and (3) a more positive performance climate existed (i.e., they perceive their work to be meaningful, allowing for positive self-expression and contribution).  This finding suggests that CLOs need to ensure employees have an awareness of the value of the organization’s investment in employees.
  • Manager Support is a Key Leverage Point.  Employees who reported higher levels of managerial support for their learning also reported (1) higher levels of alignment between their learning and organizational strategy, (2) positive organizational learning culture, and a (3) positive performance climate where their work is personally meaningful.  Managers serve an essential role in connecting employees with the overall direction of learning and strategy.

What’s It Mean for CLOs?

CLOs need employees to understand the connection between learning/change initiatives and the strategic direction of organizations.  Our results suggest CLOs need to ensure continual communication on how the organization is investing in employee development and how that development connects with a culture of planned, strategic learning.  The need for repeated communication can’t be emphasized too much. 

Based on our findings, managers need to work individually with employees to support their learning goals and articulate how their learning and growth aligns with the organization’s strategy.  These conversations should occur regularly and should be part of a larger, recurring theme of emphasizing the connection between everyday work and strategy.  CLOs have a key role in educating other executives and mid-level managers on the importance of this recurring communication.

CLOs should advocate for including measures of organizational alignment in annual engagement surveys, to track success in linking learning and strategy, from the employee perspective.

CLOs who connect learning to strategy have the opportunity to ensure talent development remains a key priority. The good news is that CLOs have key leverage points to increase the “line of sight” connection between employees’ daily work, learning, and organizational strategy.  It requires focused, consistent messaging from CLOs to senior and mid-level leadership.  Internal marketing and word-of-mouth campaigns for learning initiatives provide a direct link for increasing employee awareness.  

This persistent attention provides the best opportunity for increasing on-the-ground employees’ connection of learning to overall organizational strategy.

Rod Githens, Ph.D. and Ann Herd, Ph.D.

Photo by Christina Branco on Unsplash

How to Respond to Employee Activism

girl on someone's shoulders at a rally with a sign that says "protect kids not guns"Many employees want to do meaningful work and they want their employer to either support or align with their values and identities.  When that doesn’t happen, employees generally have three choices: leave the organization, try to bring change within the organization, or just shut up and deal with it.  The last option is probably the worst  for the employer because it leads to lowered employee engagement.

I recommend providing a relief valve that allows for employees to express themselves when they rise up against a decision or organize themselves to advocate for change within the organization.  In this article, I outline two models employers can use to address employee activism.

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Picking the Perfect Location for an Off-site Retreat or Meeting

photo of serene-looking conference room

Leaders oftentimes delegate the role of handling logistics for an off-site meeting.  However, selecting the right location and ambiance can directly impact the success of the event.  Those in charge of logistics can select an optimal space and room setup to increase the likelihood of the event’s success.

I recently co-facilitated a strategic planning session at a beautiful location in the Sonoma Region of California.  When I arrived, the venue appeared to be perfect: serene grounds and attractive well-maintained facilities.  However, the venue had never been used for a business retreat or meeting.  It normally serves as a wedding venue.  When I walked into the large room for the meeting, I thought “this is perfect.”  The room had expansive windows with lots of natural light, high vaulted ceilings, and hardwood floors.  It looked like an ideal location for a retreat.

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Needs Assessment as a Learning Tool: Three Findings

Neeinnovative looking office with notes pasted on windowds assessment can be used to determine what factors are causing a problem. Can it also be used to improve organizational learning?

With my colleague, Dr. Denise Cumberland, I was involved in a project that sought to understand if needs assessment could be used as an organizational learning tool, in addition to identifying causes of a problem.  We worked with a Fortune 200 quick service restaurant chain and their “broken” new product development process.  Data were gathered from multiple stakeholder groups using interviews and a survey questionnaire.

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Organizational Change in Franchises through Advisory Boards

large board tableHow do franchise organizations build momentum around change and an atmosphere of trust? Franchising brings a unique set of challenges in achieving organizational change.  The main challenge is that franchise organizations actually consist of various firms (called franchisors and franchisees).  One solution is fostering a healthy relationship with franchisees through franchise advisory boards.  At their best, franchise associations and advisory boards help ensure that franchisee voices are heard and that collaborative relationships exist between the franchisor and franchisees.

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Online Learning & Centralization of Commuity College Systems

Workforce development training is an important part of the mission of community colleges.  Increasingly, students need and expect online courses to be an option for some or all of their programs.  I conducted a study looking at why some community and technical colleges offer more online programs than others.  Read More

Professors’ Impact on the Real World

For many professors in leadership and organization studies-related fields,  a big part of our job is thinking seriously about how organizational leaders can address the world’s problems and opportunities. However, it’s fair to say that the for a good number of professors, the extent of their real world impact doesn’t go beyond an indirect impact through their teaching. Read More

Expanding Apprenticeships in the U.S.

Although common in other countries, apprenticeships are not widely known in the U.S.  Despite their lack of widespread use, they provide a cost effective training model that leads to middle-class jobs.  Apprenticeships provide cost advantages to employers utilizing these programs as a source for developing skilled talent.  Many other methods of attaining or developing a skilled workforce are more expensive or less effective. Read More

Four Lessons from The Toughest Leadership Job(s)

Where is it hardest to be a leader?  A major company attempting a comeback… a huge conglomerate like General Electric…leading major government agencies?  In an article in Forbes, Rob Ashgar claims that the toughest leadership job isn’t being head of one of America’s major companies, but rather being the president of a major university. Read More