Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Introduction to the CHRISTUS Academy

Although the availability of the latest technologies and efficient and effective designs of both inpatient and outpatient facilities are significant factors for health care success today, the most critical factor continues to be the quality of leadership. Recognizing this as a critical success factor, when CHRISTUS was formed in 1999, the Senior Leadership Team worked with our Organizational Development department (a division of our Human Resources function) to put together programs which would identify and develop future leaders for CHRISTUS Health that were comprised of ethnic, gender and age diversity. A key program as a result of this effort was the introduction of the CHRISTUS Leadership Academy in the U.S. in 2001 and the introduction of the same activity in Mexico in 2005.

Although during the first year of this program the Academy candidates could be self-nominated, they now need to be nominated by the Senior Team of the region or business unit in which they work or by the leader of the global corporate services division where they are employed. Over 50 potential candidates are identified each year, and 30 are chosen to participate by a selection committee which includes representatives from a cross-section of CHRISTUS leadership.

The successful candidates must have a bachelor’s degree or sufficient experience in health care to serve as a proxy for the college experience. Candidates are also encouraged to be pursuing post-graduate degrees at the time of their selection and are usually at the director level when they enter the class. Once selected, the class begins a 12-month journey which consists of five two-day sessions in various locations throughout the CHRISTUS global system, with one shared session always held in Mexico. In addition, since the Mexico class was formed, two bilingual Mexican Associates are accepted into the U.S. program and two bilingual American Associates participate in the CHRISTUS Muguerza Academy.

This process has added a multicultural dimension to our leadership training and provides an opportunity for the significantly younger population of leaders in CHRISTUS Muguerza to not only be exposed to the U.S. CHRISTUS programs, but also open the doors for the possibility of bilingual leaders working in countries that differ from their birthplace.

During these five sessions, the leaders are addressed by predominately internal faculty, covering all areas of leadership including strategy, business development, finance, advocacy and philanthropy. In addition, the leadership competencies identified by the CHRISTUS Health leadership team (which hopefully will guarantee successful leaders into the future) are all explored and taught through various learning sessions including workshops and panel discussions.

Two significant learning journeys, however, in this year’s program include a significant exposure to the governance process in addition to team participation in one of four projects selected by system and regional leadership, which always takes place before the start of each class. The projects center around current challenges within CHRISTUS with the expectation that the teams from the classes working on each project will come forth in May with significant recommendations to address these challenges with solutions that can be implemented throughout the CHRISTUS system.

Three such projects that have been utilized fully from past classes include
1. How to develop programs and seek that support Magnet status for nurses. This has been fully implemented and has been successful in one of our regions and is now being explored in multiple regions throughout CHRISTUS.
2. The Center for Management Excellence. This project was based on the fact that often the weakest link in leadership is at the management level, and this project team designed a four-day course which is now given to every manager during the quarter that they enter their management role within CHRISTUS.
3. Associate innovative ideas for improvement. This project set forth a process for Associates to submit to their regional leadership or business unit leadership ideas to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the workplace. (If an Associate’s idea is selected and implemented, the Associate will then reap a percentage of the cost savings.) This program has been implemented in several regions and also is being explored throughout the CHRISTUS system for possible future implementation.

The class is divided each year into four teams, each assigned a critical topic similar to those outlined above. They are provided an opportunity to do research, both within and outside CHRISTUS to learn as much as possible about the issue and are expected to prepare a professional paper which is publishable not only this research, but more importantly, their recommendations for solutions to the problem or challenge which was assigned to them. With a graduation of the sixth class in May of this year, 24 projects have been completed, all of which have contributed partially or totally to improvement initiatives within our health system. In addition, the students have learned how to work in teams and to utilize both virtual and real learning tools to advance their knowledge. And finally, they have developed analytical skills which have given them the ability to take the data from their learning and derive recommendations that can be implemented system-wide. Each year, the presentations of their projects are heard by the Senior Leadership Team and regional leaders, who give real-time feedback as to both the benefits of their recommendations as well as constructive input as to how their projects could even be further strengthened.

The learning opportunities from these processes are immeasurable and have increased in value each and every year. The governance exposure the experience affords participants is critical, because the one weakness that many candidates who present themselves for leadership positions within CHRISTUS have is a lack of knowledge about what is involved or the importance of the governance process at both the local and system level. Therefore, incorporated into this Academy experience is a requirement that each of the students participate in a board meeting in the region or business unit in which they work. Their participation is preceeded by a three-hour didactic session on governance presented by the Senior Vice President for Legal Services and the CEO of CHRISTUS Health. In addition, those students who are from corporate global services areas attend a system board meeting in January prior to their graduation. It is interesting to note that the graduates often indicate that this governance exposure is a highlight of their learning journeys.

In closing, I believe we would all agree that developing leaders with the competencies required to transform the present into the future must be a key area of focus for all present leaders in health care and therefore must be a high priority for CHRISTUS Health leadership. The Academy process supplemented by system-wide coaching and mentoring as well as the CHRISTUS Center for Management Excellence and now the Center for Nursing Management Excellence provides a unique opportunity for the up-and-coming leaders in CHRISTUS Health to perhaps even provide better leadership in the future than those of us are providing today who learned much of our leadership skills by on-the-job work experience dotted with many failures as well as successes.

In several future blog posts we will review specifically the four projects completed by the CHRISTUS Academy in the U.S. from this most recent class and we will specifically discuss how these support the strategies for CHRISTUS Health which we have in place for the next several years.

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