Rewriting the Rules of Engagement

At Northwell Health, Elaine Page’s inclusive HR strategies bridge gaps between leaders and employees

Driving performance in healthcare hinges as much on work culture as it does on building a strong team and organized management, according to Elaine Page. She has specialized in engagement and talent management throughout her thirty-year career in human resources, and building a company-wide dynamic geared toward professional development has been her primary focus since joining New York-based Northwell Health as its chief people innovations officer in 2012. “I wanted to earn the right to become one of the best places to work and to become a place where people would actually say, ‘I love where I work,’” Page says. “I ensure we’re creating a work environment where people can embody the qualities that we value.”

Since arriving at the company five years ago, Page has helped strengthen Northwell Health’s talent acquisition base. To do this, she has implemented progressive talent management strategies to drive performance and employee engagement while stepping up to the role of VP of human resources in 2015. For the past year, Page has been brainstorming and developing a new program through conversations with more than two thousand employees.

The new employee value proposition (EVP), which is coined “Our Promise,” is built around Northwell Health’s five core values. Additionally, Page notes that each value is now preceded by the word truly: truly compassionate, truly innovative, truly ambitious, truly together (teamwork), and truly ourselves (a spirit of diversity). Its mission, Page explains, is to articulate those values and galvanize action around them. “A strong EVP helps with your onboarding strategy and helps orient people to the organization. It gives them a road map of what we value, who we are, and what we expect,” Page says. “It allows you to make the right decisions for the organization, employees, and future employees to make their own decisions and choices.”

This new program is one of a series of improvements Page has instigated to improve engagement strategies, including talent evaluation and employee recognition programs. In the talent assessment program that the company deploys once a year with the HR department, Page focuses on working at the director level to evaluate individual performance along with potential for growth. Then, she creates development plans for each of these employees. This initiative, Page says, has yielded high mobility across the organization and has also allowed Northwell Health to build talent pools for critical positions.

“I ensure we’re creating a work environment where people can embody the qualities that we value.”

“The feedback has been strong in the value it’s had for team leaders and for employees who have had opportunities open up to them and to get valuable critique,” Page says. “It’s also made team leaders stronger at giving feedback.” Since the results have been positive, she adds, Northwell Health is now expanding the program beyond the director level down to assessment at the management and supervisory levels, in addition to integrating the process throughout the company. At a performance level, the mobility has also paid off. Of the ten thousand employees that Northwell Health hires each year, Page says, about three thousand have moved into new opportunities throughout the organization.

As the chief people innovation officer, Page has also focused on improving the workplace experience through recognition strategies, including building and customizing a platform that enables leaders to commend employees, whether for a major achievement or to simply let them know that they’ve noticed their work that day. The platform also associates points with different levels of recognition, which can be redeemed to collect lifestyle gifts. It’s also been customized to allow employees to notice peers in the workplace: any member of the company can use the program to praise a colleague for his or her great work.

“Thousands of employees have participated, and it’s driven home the value of engagement and quality assessment,” Page says. “It’s woven into the organization now to the point where people will start meetings with a thank-you or by reading out thoughtful letters from patients.” The value of using customized programs, she points out, is that recognition comes from the areas that employees work in rather than those passed down from on high. In addition to enabling employees to feel valued for their accomplishments, it allows mobility for employees on every level.

Along with launching the new EVP program, Page has several other goals for improvement over the next few years. One is developing a new cloud-based tech platform, which will enable leaders to input information and other insights about their work into a system that other members will then be able to leverage for decisions in their own roles. Another project she’s been working on is Northwell Health’s internal staffing agency, FlexStaff. Page aims to continue building new internship programs and building out talent pipelines in some of the company’s harder-to-fill areas.

From a business standpoint, Page notes, engagement strategies are valuable in pragmatic, notable ways. Getting the right recruit reduces the cost and stress level of the hiring leader and potential employees who receive clear expectations. “When you can develop people internally and get them ready and able to take on more responsibility, that has a much higher impact in managing a diverse workforce,” she says. In healthcare, employees who are prepared to step up can also be useful when a crisis occurs such as with Hurricane Sandy or the Ebola scare in New York.

Prioritizing workforce engagement is also extremely valuable in building a spirit of pride alongside teamwork, and Page enables employees to achieve both success and inspiration within their roles. She is particularly proud of how much the employees have helped shape the new EVP. “I spent this past year with people from all roles, all levels, and all positions, talking about Northwell Health,” she says. “What it really reinforced was the passion and mission of people. What I saw was the amazing resilience that healthcare team members have.”