In Performance Management, Nothing Replaces a Conversation

By Kara Kukulski, Senior Specialist, Organization Development, Spectrum Health

Kara Kukulski, Senior Specialist, Organization Development, Spectrum Health

Spectrum Health is an integrated healthcare system based in West Michigan. It employs over 25,000 providers and staff, and consists of 12 hospitals, 180 ambulatory sites, and a health insurance plan. Despite operating in a heavily regulated industry with many diverse jobs and specialties, they have successfully transformed their performance management process to be simpler, more agile, and better equipped for the future.

Spectrum Health’s performance management philosophy is that holding frequent, authentic conversations between leaders and their employees is one of the key tactics to drive engagement, productivity, and ultimately results. The performance process is designed to help leaders know their people and grow their engagement through in the moment coaching, celebration of accomplishments, and frequent conversations about performance, work expectations, development, and career goals.

When this approach was first introduced in 2014, the Organization Development team significantly reduced the complexity of the performance review process, enabling leaders to shift their time away from writing lengthy online reviews to leveraging calibrations and conversations with their peers to gather more meaningful performance feedback on their employees. Leaders are also encouraged to gather feedback from others at any level by asking two simple questions: What do you appreciate about the employee? What could he/she do to be even more effective? Based on this performance feedback from peers and others, the technology then allows the leader to simply place their employees into one of three performance categories: needs improvement, on track, or high performance. Comments are optional. Placement and related feedback are discussed annually, at a minimum. However, each leader has the flexibility to change an employee’s performance placement at any time throughout the year, and is encouraged to conduct regular, forward-looking performance and development conversations on a rhythm that makes sense for their area. A robust online Talent Profile, or “internal resume," allows both leaders and employees to track progress on work expectations and career goals.

"Spectrum Health deploys a quarterly engagement survey, serving up just-in-time employee feedback on their satisfaction with the organization"

Over the past few years, the healthcare industry has experienced significant disruption, far exceeding the typical pace of change. In addition to industry changes impacting Spectrum Health, there have been many internal changes. Within the last 12 months, Spectrum Health has transitioned to Epic, an electronic health record system, improving patient experience and consistency of care in all 12 hospitals. They also implemented GLINT for pulse engagement surveys. In the near future, a new human capital management system and intranet/collaboration tool will be rolled out to enhance the way Spectrum Health employees accomplish their work. Culture change efforts are also underway to emphasize the importance of putting people first, and leaders are expected to know, include, and empower their people.

Despite many changes, the performance philosophy has held strong. It has become a fundamental backbone to effectively lead change in this complex, dynamic organization. The recent Epic implementation, which impacted almost all providers and staff, was fully supported by an internal change management team, providing tactics and resources to help leaders navigate the changes. In the post-implementation surveys, employees rated 1x1 conversations with their leaders as the most impactful method to help them through the change, reinforcing that changes in the workplace require more timely and frequent conversations and related performance feedback to engage and retain employees.

Spectrum Health deploys a quarterly engagement survey, serving up just-in-time employee feedback on their satisfaction with the organization. Employees are asked about their experiences with collaboration, feedback, career development, and the like. Themes have emerged from the three surveys deployed to date which demonstrate employees’ desire to be known by their leaders and the importance they place on frequent feedback related to performance, development, and work expectations.

The reality of transitioning from a traditional annual review process to an agile, ongoing approach has been a journey and some leaders and departments were quicker to adopt the approach and recognize the value. However, employee comments on both the Epic post-implementation surveys and the quarterly engagement surveys affirm that the path that Spectrum Health is on is aligned to employee needs and desires.

Since 2014, Spectrum Health has been enhancing its performance management process. They initially focused on leadership skill development and improving available tools and resources for employees and leaders to personalize their experience. Certain populations, such as physicians, have additional customized education and tools to foster relationships and communications between physicians and physician leaders. This is a part of a larger physician engagement initiative to address the nationwide epidemic of physician burnout.

In 2018, performance management process enhancements have focused on empowering employees to take greater ownership of their performance and development and drive more active bi-directional conversations with their leaders. Like most healthcare systems, Spectrum Health has functioned as a traditional, hierarchical organization. The shift to empower employees to share feedback about their leaders and to own what they need in order to do their best work and stay engaged is transformational.

With more data available than ever before, from both a business and people perspective, Spectrum Health Human Resources has engaged in strategic partnerships with business leaders to interpret and maximize people potential and smoothly navigate the pace and complexity of change. In addition to ongoing consultation, HR business partners facilitate calibrations across the organization to help leaders collectively solve for strategic business needs through different ways of thinking. For example, leveraging succession planning, talent mobility, organization design, and leadership development to mitigate pain points and proactively prepare for the future.

As Spectrum Health looks to the future, it is exciting to be a part of Human Resources, leveraging new technology to highlight the critical importance of linking strategy and business challenges to people. However, thought leaders in this organization are mindful not to rely on technology to do the work of human beings. Spectrum Health has learned one critical lesson on this journey: nothing can replace a meaningful conversation between an employee and their leader, but technology can make it easier.

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