How to Craft Adaptable HR Policies

Dignity Health’s HR strategies have evolved along with healthcare’s demands

Managing human resources in healthcare presents many unique challenges. A 2016 projection by the GW Health Workforce Institute at George Washington University stated that, by 2022, almost one-in-eight US jobs would be in healthcare. This is a significant prediction, when you consider that most of those positions are expected to be in nonhospital settings. That means the shortage of inpatient registered nurses and physicians would continue, but other highly skilled clinicians and staff will be in limited supply as well.

As such, the squeeze on the available talent pool shows no indication that it will be ending any time soon. Respondents to the 2017 Healthcare Recruiting Trends Report from Health eCareers indicated that the time to fill positions has increased nearly 50 percent over the past year. Additionally, 64 percent of respondents said they were also paying more for new hires, while 72 percent were offering signing bonuses and 60 percent were paying relocation expenses along with other perks and benefits.

Darryl Robinson, EVP and Chief HR Officer at Dignity Health

Dignity Health, which operates more than four hundred hospitals and care centers in twenty-two states, is no stranger to these kinds of HR pressures. In response, its executive VP and chief human resources officer, Darryl Robinson, has adopted what he says is a simple people strategy that emphasizes human kindness. It revolves around personalizing the HR and work experience and making direct, human connections.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the person, how we treat them, and enhancing our relationships and interactions,” Robinson says. “We have to remember that every applicant and hire is a unique individual. Where we can, we need to customize solutions and develop appropriate options that provide broader boundaries that reflect how dynamic the world is inside and outside of the healthcare environment. We are highly selective in our external hiring process and strongly committed to retaining great people.”

Robinson believes that quality supervisors are essential to a great organization and providing resources and programs that enable staff to develop their own leadership skills creates an enriching work culture. “Management leadership at every level is pivotal to our success,” he says. “We have developed a series of programs and tools that help our already capable managers and supervisors learn about their strengths and areas of development. Whether it’s through survey feedback, learning cohorts, performance evaluations, or coaching interventions, HR is ready to assist.”

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the person, how we treat them, and enhancing our relationships and interactions.”

To help put that strategy into action, Dignity Health offers a variety of internally developed, instructor-led learning programs, as well as an annual twelve-month administrative fellowship. The fellowship provides recipients with exposure to a range of strategic issues and specialties through a six-month corporate office rotation, followed by six months working with day-to-day operations. The organization’s goal is to grow and expand this valuable program.

“If we don’t provide opportunities for our employees to develop and grow here, they’re going to find great opportunities elsewhere,” Robinson says. “Our focus is on attracting, hiring, developing, and retaining great people. Our ultimate goal is to help people find great opportunities inside Dignity Health, but when that does not happen, it can create a lot of new challenges for HR.”

Many HR leaders have joined the growing trend of using data analytics to find patterns in employee engagement and care outcomes. This can include information from sources like the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, the patient satisfaction survey required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and results churned out by the increasing use of internal data-crunching applications.

Robinson sees HR information systems as one of the significant developments in his thirty-five-year career. He readily admits that it has become essential to the overwhelming volume of information and regulatory requirements that have flooded the practice of both modern healthcare and HR.

As a large employer, Dignity Health is required to capture large volumes of employee data throughout the employment life cycle. Robinson assures that when used thoughtfully, the organization is able to learn what is important to Dignity Health employees. “Are we communicating effectively, providing enough career opportunities, or supporting their education and learning needs?” he asks. “These are just a few of the things we’re learning. Our data analytics practice will undoubtedly pave the way for improving the health and attractiveness of our organization.”

With paper files and manual processing, it wouldn’t be possible to capture all the data Dignity Health needs to collect, Robinson says. This information includes approximately sixty-five thousand monthly applicants or compliance requirements for reference checks, background screening, certification, licensing, EEOC issues, and payroll.

Even with the insight and solutions that technology and statistics are able to provide, Robinson is careful to stay focused on the right solutions and statistics for the organization. When faced with industry benchmarks, for example, he doesn’t just look at how the organization’s turnover rate compares to the industry. “It’s about what’s most appropriate for our specific circumstances and if we’re comfortable with that,” he says. “We evaluate what’s relevant for us and then reassess and set the bar for ourselves every single year.”

Robinson, like many other healthcare HR professionals, wrestles with traditional challenges, along with specific challenges unique to healthcare: ongoing transitions to value-based population health, new specialties needed to achieve its goals, the increased demand for highly technical training to address everything from patient satisfaction to patient portals to telemedicine. But no matter the challenges, he feels fortunate to be part of Dignity Health’s mission and the community of caregivers across the organization. “After all, we’re all working together to support patients and their families on the best days and worst days of their lives,” he says. Finding the right people to support Dignity Health’s mission, whether that’s at bedside or behind a desk, is a challenge that he and the organization approach with both patients and employees as people first.

“My background has been primarily in the private sector in enterprises focused on how their products and services impacted profitability,” he says. “Here, I get to be part of helping to serve communities in need. I get to be with an organization and sixty thousand great people that makes decisions based on a real mission and a strong set of values—and that’s pretty cool.”


Willis Towers Watson is at the forefront of helping healthcare organizations adapt to a rapidly changing landscape. As a global advisory, broking, and solutions leader, we help clients turn risk into a path for growth. We work with more than 430 of the largest US hospitals and healthcare systems to design and deliver solutions that manage risk, support their business strategy, optimize benefits, and cultivate talent. willistowerswatson.com