This week we continue the Connex Executive Insights Series, produced in collaboration with Connex Partners, an invitation-only executive network that brings industry leaders together from the worlds of HR and Healthcare.

Connex Members are part of a cutting-edge community, finding actionable solutions to their most pressing business challenges via high-value peer exchanges and curated resources including tools, platforms, partners and c-suite networking opportunities.

Executive Insights Series features highly respected and engaging guests who share novel ideas and practices related to the latest leadership topics.

This week’s article features the work of Renown Health, the largest not for profit health system in Northern Nevada, and  Michelle Sanchez-Bickley, their Chief HR Officer.  It is a companion to her interview on the Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future podcast episode, Developing Your Culture, Communications & Pipeline in a Crisis, that aired on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.

The Importance of Engagement

Employers have quickly realized the outsize importance of engagement and experience in a world so now dominated by burnout, isolation, and stress. This goes double for any employer that’s public facing – such as healthcare – as the weight of working extra shifts amidst labor shortages, shifting employee expectations, and challenges at home is compounded by dealing with a populace that is itself short on patience. The variables behind the engagement question are many, but at their core, they all tie back to organizational culture, how that’s expressed through HR programing, and whether or not employees feel connected to and supported by their employer. Culture has always been a guiding force for organizations and a chief concern of HR leaders looking to cement their strategic place at the executive table, but it’s now a core business imperative for any organization looking to attract and retain the prototypical post-pandemic professional.

The Challenges

Michelle Sanchez-Bickley joined Maureen Metcalf to discuss these challenges, and in the process, shed light on a refreshingly authentic and unpretentious approach to defining and strengthening culture despite the looming Great Resignation. Michelle will soon be celebrating her 20th year as CHRO of Renown Health – a not-for-profit integrated healthcare network and ACO serving 17 counties in northern Nevada and northeastern California – and in that time, she’s seen more than her fair share of labor challenges, shifting employee expectations, and media trends. Rather than frantically pivot to conform to those outside pressures, however, her strategic recommendation to the rest of her C-suite has consistently been to ignore the hype and maintain course.

Renown for Their Commitment

Renown is, no pun intended, renowned for their commitment to the wellbeing of both their employees and the communities they serve. They are locally owned and governed despite how large their footprint is, with all earnings immediately reinvested into the programs, peoples, and equipment needed to safeguard and advance the health of the lives they touch. They’ve cultivated an employee-centric culture to match that’s reflected throughout their HR operations by staying true to that core ethos, so rather than try to reinvent the wheel for fear that the latest labor craze might be unmanageable, they intend to stay true to who they are, live their values loudly and proudly, and continue to be a compassionate force in employees’ lives. It’s an HR twist on the Field of Dreams approach: focus your effort on building a purposeful, warm place to work rather than split your focus on a buzzword, and employees will not only come, but begin to put down roots.

Altering the “Great Resignation” to the “Great Reengagement”

With a quick branding shift, the negative and toxically self-fulfilling “Great Resignation” becomes the “Great Reengagement”. Leaders are briefed on how the rise of virtual teams and home offices change the tactics of employee engagement, but not the fundamentals. They’re taught how to use the scheduling and Do-Not-Disturb features of their ever-growing tech stack to keep work within scheduled hours, both decreasing burnout and helping keep their own urges to reply to an email at 11pm in check. And they’re instructed on how to make the time in their hectic schedules to develop, refine, and guide the skills of their reports as a means of maximizing not only performance, but retention and loyalty. At every turn, they’re reminded and encouraged to lead with the same empathy and grace that got them named a “Best Hospital” by U.S. News & World Report for ’21-‘22.

Prop Up Employees

On the other side of the employment equation, Renown is further strengthening the programs and resources designed to prop up employees. A partnership with telemedicine providers is helping expand much-needed behavioral health resources to overburdened staff members and their families, incentivized with a $0 copay. New programs – such as those designed to target sources of financial stress by helping rebuild credit, refinance, or improve financial literacy, or those that use coaches to personalize wellness to target the specific lifestyles, needs, and life goals of employees – are being introduced to close gaps in their total rewards and offset the shortcomings of more traditional tools like the EAP. And uniquely, Michelle is looking into ways to emulate the highly democratic energy of their local governance within their employment model through gig-style shift selection. Employees needing to balance work with their many other obligations vying for attention would gain unprecedented flexibility in positions that have been always dominated by rigorous scheduling, and in return, the system would gain an adaptable labor pool that could travel or flex onto openings without the high costs of overtime or temp workers.

A Campaign of Kindness and Listening

Underpinning their Great Reengagement has been a campaign of kindness and listening: a reminder to organization and team leaders that they don’t always need to come equipped with answers and recommendations. Rather, that in times of crisis, what employees often need most is someone willing to listen and empathize with their struggles. By filling that role of attentive listener, living their values of “caring”, “integrity”, and “collaboration”, and holding steadfast in the face of uncertainty, Renown’s leadership apparatus is navigating around the media-driven flashpoint and executing on their mission to make a genuine difference in the health and wellbeing of those within and around their four walls.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 About the Author

Brandon Hicke at Connex Partners brings nearly a decade of writing, consultative, and market analysis experience to the table. He plays a pivotal role in developing and enhancing the Connex Membership model through engaging content pieces and synthesized industry insights. In his free time, Brandon loves cooking, competitive gaming, pedantic philosophic discussions, and exploring his new hometown of St. Louis with his loved ones.

Photo by Clayton Cardinalli on Unsplash


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