Amanda Fox

Before her professional retirement, Amanda Fox was a partner with Spencer Stuart’s global Healthcare and Insurance practices and led the firm’s insurance industry search efforts. Amanda led a number of confidential CEO succession assignments for most of the top insurance companies and partnered with one of the largest national payers to restructure the senior leadership team following a CEO succession. She worked with regional and local health plans, specialty firms, and with new subsectors emerging as a result of U.S. healthcare reform.

Productivity and innovation in the healthcare industry

Our Discovery Expert Perspectives series brings you thoughts, advice, and opinions from experts across the healthcare ecosystem. Discovery maintains an ongoing partnership with these experts to enrich our understanding of the industry and shape solutions that deliver profound value to our clients. We are proud to share these experts’ unique perspectives with you.

3 out-of-the-box ideas to support your employees during the pandemic and beyond

I was recently thinking about how productivity in the healthcare industry has been impacted during this pandemic—and what healthcare leaders could do to help their employees. This extended coronavirus situation may well extend throughout 2021. This “new normal” calls for a completely different response from companies, one that recognizes what people’s lives are like now.

Parents of school-aged children make up a hefty percentage of the healthcare workforce. These employees are juggling work-from-home challenges on top of the demands of their children’s virtual learning schedules. Add to that a “pandemic fatigue” that is growing as the COVID storm continues month after month, and healthcare leaders need to consider innovative—perhaps radical—ways they can support their employers right now.

Radical idea #1: Employer support for virtual education

There are a lot of things healthcare companies can look at to help employees manage their productivity and balance their home and work life. I recently read about “learning pods” that parents are setting up to help educate their kids when they’re homeschooling and the parents are working. These virtual or in-person “learning pods,” according to a CNBC article, are small groups of students learning together with the help of a tutor or teacher.

How will leadership help stem the possible loss of women in the workforce?

Up to three-quarters of the healthcare industry’s workforce are women, many of them who are now juggling virtual learning with their other demands.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, more than one in four women indicated they may quit or scale back their jobs.

A staggering four times as many women as men have dropped out of the labor force, with many employers concerned that the coronavirus will undermine workplace equity and corporate effectiveness. This could have implications for companies’ productivity across a host of functions—and drives home the need for truly innovative and immediately beneficial solutions.

If I were an employer and had a lot of parents in my workforce, I’d be interested in exploring how this could help my employees and how I could facilitate bringing people together or even providing technology, corporate assets, scheduling flexibility, or assistance to run these pods.

How could you put these together so that your people could work more productively—and help retain staff and build loyalty?

When people feel like they’re part of a community, they’re more productive and committed to what they’re doing

People want to work for a company that cares, not only about their well-being but their children’s educational needs. This is how companies build loyalty and make people feel valued.

We now have to think about a very different kind of model, a model that recognizes where people’s lives are at right now. It has to be part of our business when you have employees dealing with a major crisis not of their making. To not try to be creative and flexible is a long-term formula for losing your best and your brightest.

I think this coronavirus is with us for another year, and in order to maintain any sort of productivity at all, we have to help these folks who are trying to balance work with virtual learning and running their households. That’s probably the biggest benefit we could ever offer working parents. You’d be embedding into your employee population that you care about children and you care about education. It’s really important right now to show that employers are willing to support parents. It’s a benefit that is incredibly timely.

Radical idea #2: Apprenticeship programs

I’ve been seeing a trend of employers offering apprenticeships, allowing workers the opportunity to develop new skill sets in another area of the company for a specific period of time. There used to be a mindset that you had to have a college degree or a Master’s degree to learn a new skill or to be qualified for developmental programs. But now employers are looking for new ways to improve productivity and provide ongoing career development to employees that also have a practical outcome.

An apprenticeship is designed for qualified, high-performing, and dedicated employees who want to learn a new skill within their company. It’s on-the-job education that exposes employees to a new discipline. Giving employees career development opportunities within their own company can be a very powerful thing. A company could also offer an online resource center for education within the company, with a “librarian” who helps with curriculum design.

Radical idea #3: Employee-driven facilities design

Hospital systems have had to figure out their onsite work situation and staffing during COVID, but health plans probably haven’t thought this through completely. A lot of the teams aren’t finding Zoom calls completely satisfactory, and some business-facing teams like sales and marketing may not be as productive as they could be. They’re not able to benefit from the energy of bouncing ideas off each other on a real-time basis. While some teams can work remotely with no productivity issues, other teams have been impacted by the work-from-home environment and could benefit from returning to working back at the office.

By surveying the groups most impacted by working remotely, you’ll get a clearer view of employees’ feelings about coming back, what they would want the office of the future to look like, and how a targeted and phased approach to working in a new onsite environment could work both for safety and productivity.

Bear in mind, overlaying all these employee considerations are health policy changes that are going to require more adaptation and change. Those changes could compel employers to accelerate a return to the office for targeted groups.

Become a company that thinks about the challenges of your people

When it comes to exploring radical solutions to help employees, true leaders are willing to say “This is worth exploring. It might be messy, and never done before, but I’m willing to try it.”

There are some incredibly inventive things you could do. What a lot of companies don’t understand is that the cost of turnover is tremendous. When an employee walks out that door, the cost to replace them is not only significant, but you’ve also lost valuable knowledge. By showing employees you care about them, and not just giving lip service to it, you create a community that is more productive and more committed.

Amanda FoxProductivity and innovation in the healthcare industry
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The evolving leadership role in healthcare

Our Discovery Expert Perspectives series brings you thoughts, advice, and opinions from experts across the healthcare ecosystem. Discovery maintains an ongoing partnership with these experts to enrich our understanding of the industry and shape solutions that deliver profound value to our clients. We are proud to share these experts’ unique perspectives with you.

We’re all well aware of the many challenges facing our industry and our country right now. A perfect storm of a pandemic, political turmoil, economic stress, and current events have people feeling under siege. Add to that a healthcare industry that is continually under fire and buffeted by changes. Sheltering in place, working remotely while balancing both family and work commitments, and an extremely polarized country have created some truly stressful times.

But out of this chaos comes an opportunity to rethink how we in the healthcare industry do business. It’s an opportunity to create an inclusive corporate culture where people feel they’re doing something important. It’s also the perfect time to rethink how we bring people into the workforce who can work well remotely and independently, yet still add to the sense of community we want to maintain.

The impact on the workforce

I personally know many people who are feeling disconnected, stressed, and overwhelmed right now. It’s the job of the leadership team to make people feel good about where they are and confident that the company can navigate through the chaos. That’s a pretty challenging assignment for leadership!

Leading in the new normal

Evolving leadership in the healthcare industry is more than just being reactive. This could be the moment for companies to get it right, to turn the box upside down and try to put the puzzle back together in a different way. An opportunity for companies to become compelling places for people to work and add value. Recognizing that something like the coronavirus could happen again—how do we prepare for it in the future? The legacy of COVID isn’t going away in a month or two—we could be looking at a year or two.

We need to rethink our formula for success both short- and long-term.

Some things leadership needs to consider

  • How do we need to change talent recruitment and development to prepare for the future?
  • How do we recruit people who can work well remotely and independently, but who still want to be part of a group?
  • Are we spending our money on our employees in the right places?
  • What’s the profile of someone who can adjust to this new environment and thrive in it?
  • How do our systems support adaptability and flexibility of individuals?
  • How do we create a pipeline of diversity and make inclusion part of the corporate culture?

We need a plan B

Healthcare companies are beginning to grapple with the issue of how to create a sense of community and identification in a fragmented world. And that’s going to take some thought in terms of what is it that people treasure, what is it that they really value, and what is it about your company that they identify with. And if there isn’t anything they identify with, why not?

Corporate cultures have typically tended to minimize creativity and innovation individually and in teams. Going forward, I think the only way corporate cultures are going to survive is if they are committed to having the best ideas and developing new responses.

To understand the answers to these questions, we must listen to what our employees say. The new model has to give employees the tools they need and recognize their capacity for individual thinking and creativity.

Leadership needs to rethink what you need to accomplish as an organization—5 years or longer. Rather than look at efficiency—the most results with the fewest people—you will have to think about how to improve community productivity.

For example, in the past, you would have had people come to a meeting and work on a project together. You assumed everyone knew each other. But in this world, you will have to make a real effort to help them.

It’s the perfect opportunity for companies to reinvent how they get work done.

My personal trainer was forced to rethink his company because no one wanted to go to the gym. He now makes most of his money doing virtual training. He has scheduled a lot more people because now he doesn’t have to go back and forth to clients. He’s making more money than before.

He rethought how he did the work—which is what’s needed in companies large and small across the country.

We may be looking at several years of change. It’s no doubt a chaotic environment—but it could be a creative one if we rigorously review what works and what doesn’t and rapidly eliminate the latter.

Two books I recommend: Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin and The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson.

Get inspired by leaders who led through difficult times

True leaders offer people a sense of security and a sense of focus. They serve as a beacon for people. In The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, you see how Churchill allowed the British people to feel that they would get through this, that they were moving forward. He never lost courage and his courage bolstered the entire nation.

Another great read, Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin takes a look at four inspirational presidents who steered our country during chaotic and turbulent times. Lincoln had to deal with a civil war and social injustice that threatened to destroy a nation not yet 100 years old.

Both Churchill and Lincoln shared a quality of exceptional leaders—that sense of identification and connectedness with their people. Both of these leaders stayed close to their people. They also provided their people with a clear vision of the future as well as a realistic vision of failure.

People don’t look to leaders for specific answers, but they do expect and value integrity, principles, commitment, and courage. A frazzled employee who is balancing work and home schooling wants to know the person leading the company appreciates them and will be flexible enough to allow them to solve problems without unnecessary restrictions.

Amanda FoxThe evolving leadership role in healthcare
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