Tell us about your role and responsibilities at Stanford Health.
As CHRO of Stanford Health Care, my primary role is the development and execution of a people strategy that identifies the workforce programs and solutions that allow us to attract, engage, develop and retain the talent necessary to achieve our vision. I help set the tone of our organization and how it feels—our values, ethics and integrity, and help to define what is our intended culture and how we make that a reality.
I am also accountable for ensuring we have a top-notch HR team and organization built around delivering a world-class employee experience so that our employees can focus on delivering a world-class patient experience. This involves the constant refining of HR services and processes, incorporating contemporary technology to make activities efficient and user-friendly, and using evidence-based HR practices to ensure our programs have measurable outcomes supporting patient care, productivity and employee retention.
What are some of the key initiatives you’ve been working on since joining Stanford?
When I first joined, I was focused on the HR function—measuring the current state of performance, learning about business requirements and developing a plan to close performance gaps. We partnered with Accenture to do a deep-dive assessment and gain a data-driven view of how the function was performing.
We conducted customer surveys and benchmarking of HR processes and activities—the cycle times, the process flows and the current state operating model. Accenture applied a standard assessment model to measure our performance and capability against various industry benchmarks.
Through our assessment, we found that our performance and capability was generally below what the business required—in some cases, significantly below. This exercise built the case for change and set the aspiration for the level of performance we needed to achieve. Since then, we’ve re-engineered our operating model, redefined roles, invested in new talent and rebuilt the function.
Our new operating model is designed to drive high-volume transactions through technology and a centralized service center, design and deploy leading-edge workforce programs through the centers of expertise and deploy business partners to directly support business leaders. We’ve started to see early results from the changes we’ve made, and I believe we have turned the corner and emerged from the disruptive impact of all the changes our staff has experienced.
"Now, the dynamics of business, competition, disruption and cost-consciousness require the workforce to show up differently. I’m no longer an HR person, I’m a business person. I’m thinking about business strategy, attracting and securing a workforce to deliver on our value proposition."
What are you doing to enhance employee engagement through this HR evolution?
As an organization, we wanted a sense of employee sentiment, and we realized our traditional survey tool and vendor were not producing effective results. We selected a new vendor and program that is evidence-based and very compelling. I’m excited about it for a lot of reasons. We went from an annual 70-80 question survey to a quick pulse survey of just eight questions. We are now offering employees “check-ins” once a week on an app. Leaders review the check-in and follow up virtually or in person. We are equipping leaders with tools to connect with the workforce and also adapt the practices the best leaders employ. Early results show a strong correlation between leader attention to the check-ins and improvement in employee engagement.
You’ve been working in healthcare for some time now. How are workforce challenges unique to healthcare?
I’ve worked in other industries, but I keep coming back to healthcare. It’s unique in that it’s a 24/7 operation built around healing and caring for people. Many other companies can close up shop and go home. We’re always open and staffed around the clock. It’s a unique burden on the workforce and creates operational challenges. We tend to attract people who have high empathy and are very caring. They come here for the meaning we deliver to our community, patients and families. We also deploy advanced technology to support patient care and operations, and employees are constantly having to learn new skills. It’s a rare combination of high-tech and high-touch.
There is also a high risk of burnout. We get the sickest patients, often at the most dire state of their disease. Our staff comes to work every day and despite their best efforts, sometimes their patients expire. They are caring for vulnerable patients and families, and so we need to care for our staff. We offer a lot of wellness activities, employee assistance and health programs that we hope can ease the stress, and support caregiver well-being.
Our medical staff is not immune to burnout, and we are focused on that as well. Being Stanford and being located in Silicon Valley has some distinct advantages. We are trying to help with physician burnout by piloting innovative technology such as Google home devices in patient rooms. They listen to the conversation between patient and doctor and document the physician notes for them. It is intended to take some of the administrative burden and pressure off of care providers.
How does the work at Stanford inspire you?
My whole career has been about leading change, and I have developed a reputation as a pioneer and change agent. Every organization where I’ve been invited to serve has been at the forefront of change. This one feels really special to me. I am inspired by the legacy and brand of Stanford, the pre-eminence we’ve established through our research and faculty and our world-class breakthroughs in precision medicine and leading the biomedical revolution. I am inspired by the vision we have here, and I think I am at the right place at the right time.
How can healthcare organizations use technology to support the workforce?
At the most basic level, we are putting in place HR systems that remove transactional work. Instead of having to call human resources to fill out forms or fax forms, we can automate these activities. We are working to provide employees and managers with access to tools and resources to manage many work-related activities such as career development and learning, staffing and scheduling, and automating business expense reimbursement.
We are evaluating the use of artificial intelligence in selection and hiring processes, and leveraging data to inform the use of more effective evidence-based practices.
We have many other projects which are developing the use of robotics, artificial intelligence and other digital technology to enhance the work of our caregivers. We are the leaders in many of these emerging practices, and we are always looking into better ways to support physicians, care providers and the patients they serve.
Do you feel human resources leaders today have a different role in healthcare than 10 years ago? In what ways?
The mindset has changed since the time I entered HR 30 years ago. I used to stay in my lane. HR leaders weren’t viewed as business leaders. I wasn’t accountable for how the organization performed.
Now, the dynamics of business, competition, disruption and cost-consciousness require the workforce to show up differently. I’m no longer an HR person, I’m a business person. I’m thinking about business strategy, attracting and securing a workforce to deliver on our value proposition. I am leading change and ensuring we deliver a competitive advantage through our workforce activities.
Change is here; things are moving quickly and no one can stop it. You can’t structure the pace of change based on your readiness. You have to recognize that if you don’t disrupt, you will be disrupted. Therefore, we have to operate with a higher level of change agility. Many have focused on making incremental improvements over time. But now we need to made radical improvements, quantum leaps to remain competitive in healthcare. These pressures are changing the business of healthcare and many traditional hospitals are struggling to survive.
What do you like most about your job?
My top strengths are being a pioneer and advisor. I show up always wanting to disrupt things and to push people beyond what they thought was possible. I never want to be predictable. I like to push new ideas, innovate and help lead the field. I like thinking about the impact of technology and understanding ways to deliver better outcomes. My goal is to point the organization’s attention in a way that helps us move forward in delivering the best results possible and achieving our strategic vision. At the same time, I enjoy the relationship aspect—leading a team, collaborating with peers and supporting all the members of our workforce.
What do you like to do outside of work? Do you have any special hobbies or interests?
Most important is spending time with my family—my wife of 30 years and my children. I love to cook. My mom instilled in me the ability to cook, the love for cooking, creating new meals and trying new recipes. Food brings people together, and I love being at the center of those events.