People Strategy through the Lens of Continuous Improvement

Joe Fournier

Advisory Board Chairman and Consultant

My first exposure to thinking about continuous improvement was in the U.S. Air Force. I was a regional legal counsel for several Air Force medical facilities. The medical center commander and chief executive announced that we were going to use LEAN to improve patient flow, among other things.

Since then, I've had the privilege of helping to develop management operating systems for three health systems. Each organization was focused on improving caregivers' daily work to provide safe, efficient, personalized and compassionate care for their patients, caregivers and communities. Additionally, these systems garnered greater engagement for the caregivers themselves. Caregivers, having seized the opportunity to improve their own work, made all the difference. With mentorship, coaching and learning from outstanding leaders throughout my career, I really came to understand the value of continuous improvement to a people strategy that truly engages people.

Embracing continuous improvement means living with change. When drafting your talent blueprint and defining the capabilities that your organization will need for its future, remember one of the guiding principles: "If the work doesn't change, the results won't change." Growing up, my dad often said, "those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail." When you think about the future of work in your organization and how your people will do it, preparation followed by crisp implementation is the key.

Rulon Stacey, Managing Director for Navigant and former President & CEO for Fairview Health Services, in his recent blog post titled "Hospitals and Health Systems Must Transform, but into what?", concluded that, "Transformed health enterprises will need strategic discipline, clinical and administrative rules, and radiant clarity on who is expected to do what [emphasis added] to manage the delivered cost and quality of care." I agree. I also believe that after knowing what people are expected to do, organizations must communicate how the work will be done in the future. Building on past success and improving the work of leaders and caregivers every day is the key to embracing your future.

As your team considers the capabilities that your people will need to deliver service successfully in the future, consider the following:

  • Clearly Defined Business Strategy = Clearly Defined People Strategy. Sound simple? It's not. There is widespread agreement that health care organizations must transform. In many cases, the work is underway already based on their local market environments. Whatever business strategy your organization adopts, it must be articulated clearly to define your people strategy clearly. Research indicates that most employees do not clearly understand their company's business strategy. Undoubtedly, this gap results in a drag on performance. Therefore, your leadership team must communicate well about its overall business and people strategy. There is much to be gained when people at all levels clearly understand the organization's goalsĀ and vision for the future.
  • Clearly Defined People Strategy = Clearly Defined View of Work in the Future. Anticipating and defining the work and how it will be done is forward looking and critical to developing your talent blueprint. Once you define the work, you can train and recruit the people to do it. Consider how your clinicians will care for patients five-years from now? What technology will they use? Will it be even more team-based? How will their roles and work be different than they are today? What new skills will they need? These questions are just a few that you will need to ask and answer.
  • Improvement is all about people. Meaningful improvement takes commitment, perseverance, patience, and courage from people at all levels. Change is inevitable, emotional and difficult; it impacts people personally and professionally. To produce the best results, harness and navigate emotion while improving the work. Include your change management experts as early and as often as possible. Remember, "If behavior does not change, the results do not change."

These are just a few of the key principles to consider as you start your journey to build a people strategy and plan for the future as part of a talent blueprint. To learn more about additional principles, or if you would like more information on developing a talent blueprint, please drop me an email at and we can exchange notes.