Teaching hospital coaches its leaders

Program boosts communication and interpersonal, conflict management skills
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/10/2012

When the provincial government divested Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in 2006, it became a stand-alone public hospital. That meant the 1,200-employee organization underwent a huge amount of change, according to Karim Mamdani, deputy CEO.

Formed in 1919, the centre is a public teaching hospital that provides specialized assessment and treatment services to people suffering from serious mental illness and addictions. Located in Whitby, Ont., the centre has about 325 beds for people requiring specialized care.

As a new public hospital, it had to adhere to a variety of guidelines and accountabilities under the Public Hospital Act. It was also introducing a new model of patient care, new technology services and new scheduling processes.

In addition, the union that had previously worked directly with the government had to adjust to the new administration, which also meant changes for leadership, who had to be more hands-on in managing that relationship and grievances, says Mamdani. And there was a whole bunch of new players among the leadership team — Mamdani himself was recruited by the new CEO in 2006.

As a result, Ontario Shores put a number of supports in place for managers, such as labour relations education and team-building initiatives. With help from Deloitte, it also created leadership development program modules based on John Kotter’s book Leading Change and his eight-step process for implementing successful transformations models — from establishing a sense of urgency to incorporating changes into the culture.

But as the program developed, the senior leadership team realized the challenging part was making the training stick, he says.

“People were going back into the environment, if you will, with these tools we’d provided them and the supports we’d provided them, but they didn’t have anybody to really chat with, to bounce ideas off of. And, in some cases, given that a lot of them were new, they may have had a lot of reluctance in sharing that they were struggling with issues.”

As a solution, Ontario Shores brought in people familiar with the health-care system, such as facilitators and HR professionals, to coach groups of about eight managers, directors or members of the leadership team.

“They would work with them to try and develop, ‘What’s the key issue for the group?’ and ‘How do we go about resolving that issue or working together on that issue and holding each other accountable for the resolution of it?’” says Mamdani.

That process ran for about one year and, at the end, there were both positives and negatives, according to the feedback provided. On the plus side, participants liked having a safe place to discuss issues, liked having their concerns and those of others validated, and said it helped create strong relationships with managers.

On the other hand, they felt it was important to have the same coach meeting with the group each time, instead of substitutes, and the two-hour sessions were considered rather long. There was also a need for some kind of followup.

“They wanted a bit of help around solutions as much as the identification of problems, so it was a good way of surfacing problems but perhaps not as a good a way of resolving issues,” says Mamdani.

Individual coaching added to itinerary

Ontario Shores decided to hire a firm to provide individual coaching to 52 members of its leadership team after they took part in a two-day training workshop. The sessions would help people understand what coaching was all about and how they could become better coaches.

Ontario Shores was looking for a multi-pronged approach to support its managers and directors, and strengthen their coaching skills, says Melanie Hazell, executive coaching managing partner at Hazell & Associates in Toronto, which was hired to do the work in September 2010.

As part of the arrangement with Hazell & Associates, each individual had access to a pool of six hours of coaching and if the hours weren’t used up by one person, another person could use them. Typically, participants met for about one hour every couple of months, says Mamdani.

Part of the process involved 360-degree evaluations Hazell sent out to individuals identified by the candidate. The assessments were based on core competencies within the health-care sector, such as achieving results, leading effectively, thinking critically and personal effectiveness.

“We wanted to get coaching up and running and then hold the mirror up to the people, based on what other people perceived in terms of their overall people leadership, and recalibrate based on that feedback,” says Hazell.

The coach then discussed the results with the candidates, and the results were incredibly impactful, she says.

“They were very grateful for the feedback and it allowed coaches to tweak what they were doing or to reinforce what they’d already identified as key focus areas for the coaching.”

The leader and coach then jointly developed a plan as to what area or issue an individual wished to work on. Once they’d resolved that, they could pick another one from the 360-degree assessment or take on another issue, such as a new problem with a colleague or supervisor.

While the overriding rationale for providing the individual coaching was to help leaders strengthen their coaching skills, other issues that came up included work-life balance and finding time to coach people, so there was a lot of work done around the time management piece, she says.

Many of the participants mentioned they were time-starved, says Hazell.

“It is a very, very reactive environment given the nature of what they do. So if a half-hour (session) made more sense as opposed to an hour of coaching, fine — whatever’s going to be more impactful.”

Positive response

Overall, the response to the coaching program has been very positive, says Mamdani. Eighty-nine per cent of the individuals said the 360-degree evaluation was valuable while others believed the coaching program improved their:

• self-awareness (76 per cent)

• communication skills (48 per cent)

• conflict-resolution skills (43 per cent)

• interpersonal skills (33 per cent).

Seventy-one per cent also felt they were working closer to their goals while 92 per cent said they gained new insights or skills as a direct result of the program. In comparing the results of an employee survey before and after the program launched, engagement scores went from 45 per cent to 68 per cent, which is above the Ontario Hospital Association average of 63 per cent, he says.

And in looking specifically at management engagement results, back in 2009 they were at 61 per cent and by 2011 they were at 91 per cent.

“It’s hard to do causality on these things, but obviously something that contributed to that overall program was the coaching program,” he says.

The first year of the program just finished six months ago but there is support for it to continue so the contract has been renewed for another year.

“In reality, it’s now become a staple because it’d be hard for us to be able to back away given how positive it’s been received,” says Mamdani.

And the organization is now looking to marry the process with succession planning.

“That’s the next evolution of this, really, to start to see how that talent that we’ve been cultivating is starting to emerge and what roles do we need those individuals to fit into and what other experiences we can give to them,” he says. “As they become better, they become more capable through this program, we need to have a path forward for them.”

Add Comment

  • *
  • *
  • *
  • *