Indiana University Health (IU Health) has grown tremendously over the past decade to include fifteen hospitals, nearly three thousand beds, and more than thirty-five thousand team members. In the past two-and-a-half years alone, it has acquired hospitals and physician practices in five regions throughout the state.
This growth has provided tremendous benefits to the more than one million residents who receive care through the system. However, it has also presented internal challenges related to uniting discrete cultures, operating processes, and legacy systems.
Lauren Zink is IU Health’s vice president of human resources and total rewards. Her responsibilities put her in the center of finding solutions that will effectively integrate these many different factors.
“Many of the groups that are now part of IU Health have been connected to their local communities for more than thirty years,” Zink says. “We have to find ways to respect their professional legacies and simultaneously integrate them to serve the interests of the larger organization.”
One way she helps individuals open up to new ideas and address the uncertainty that accompanies all acquisitions is through her “Newco” exercise. Participants are asked to imagine their first day at a new company with no existing systems in place. That gives them a blank slate to design processes and procedures to accomplish a specific objective without preexisting restraints or limitations.
“It takes a minute for people to let go of what they know and what’s familiar,” she says. “But eventually, they free their minds, stop worrying about failing, and tap into a level of creativity that often surprises them. That’s how mind-sets shift and innovation occurs.”
Zink also focuses on changing the atmosphere surrounding compensation. She points out that while salaries alone are rarely the most significant reason employees leave an organization, the way in which compensation decisions are made contribute tremendously to how engaged and committed they feel.
She believes that much more transparency is needed around data on competitive market rates and how they impact the wide range of roles in healthcare. Practically speaking, this means clarifying methodologies and processes used to reach compensation decisions. It also requires acknowledging perceptions about the value of various positions. For example, nurses fulfill critically important responsibilities in delivering quality patient care, but market-based guidelines and limitations determine what they are paid.
“Being up-front about what market-based decision-making processes look like shows respect for the individual and instills trust and confidence,” Zink points out. “If you’re honest, team members will accept the information, even if they don’t like what they’re hearing. If they feel you’re trying to hide something, you can’t expect a positive reaction.”
Zink and the HR team work hard to engage with IU Health senior leadership. They diligently provide communication cascades that include face-to-face two-way dialogues and larger group-focused educational events. These efforts ensure that leaders absorb and process ongoing changes and can share them accurately and openly with their own teams. By offering a consistent message in a variety of formats, Zink finds that resistance to change is gradually overcome.
“The most common reaction to any kind of change is fear,” she explains. “We have to constantly remind everyone of the risks associated with not making the changes, and keep them focused on the progress we’re making toward getting to where we need to be.”
One new effort underway to nurture a culture of trust and transparency is a timekeeping pilot program in the HR department. Instead of managing vacation, personal leave, shift changes, and other time-related administrative activities through IU Health’s centralized timekeepers, participants in the program will personally manage—and be held accountable for—all schedule-related details.
Zink and her teams are also working on creating a simplified organizational structure with uniform job descriptions and compensation practices. This will eliminate different names for the same jobs in different locations and help clarify opportunities for career development.
“Clear job descriptions that are accurately priced to the market and associated with well-defined career options are very important details that help engage and retain the workforce,” she says.
Healthcare has to contend with a huge number of external factors that are outside its control. Zink points out that those factors add to naturally conflicting priorities that exist between departments. For example, financial teams focus on maintaining fiscally responsible practices at the same time that clinical teams are committed to offering life-saving care, much of which is exorbitantly expensive and, in many cases, is not fully reimbursed.
Zink believes her greatest contribution in that environment is facilitating engagement at all levels to help find solutions to move forward, no matter what the external factors might be.
“There is nothing more inspiring or motivating than seeing someone experience a breakthrough by contributing to a creative, innovative solution that couldn’t have been developed without them,” she says. “It’s a privilege to help make that happen.”
Taking the Right Risks
After twenty-five years as a consultant and HR leader, Lauren Zink is writing a book to share her insights and advice. She is combining existing research with her own experiences to help leaders learn how to take the right risks.
“Team members and colleagues have their own styles and motivators, so leaders need to be flexible,” Zink says. “That often means interacting in ways that don’t feel familiar.”
She contends that success comes from personal engagement and being willing to fail. “If you’re willing to be vulnerable, then you can truly inspire people,” she says. “That’s how you lead a team.”
Photos by Chris Bergin