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Munson Healthcare Fosters a Community of Leaders

“Leadership is important in creating an aligned culture. We need to have strong leaders to be effective in having the right kinds of conversations and managing through complex times.”

Al Pilong, Chief Operating Officer for Munson Healthcare

Results

  • Leaders are embracing soft skills training and have become advocates for the program. 
  • Program participants report that they are regularly applying the lean healthcare skills they’ve learned. 
  • In a post-training survey of more than 200 participants in the Building and Sustaining Trust course, 97 percent of respondents say the techniques they learned would help them be more effective leaders.

Munson Healthcare is a system of nine community hospitals that serve 24 counties in northern Michigan. From its beginnings more than 100 years ago with the region’s first general hospital, in Traverse City, Munson Healthcare has steadily grown—adding five new hospitals in just the last three years. The 9,000-employee non-profit healthcare system is known for its strong community focus, says Mary Beth Morrison, Vice President of Operational Improvement and Project Management. “We’re caring for our friends and neighbors and family.”

One of Munson Healthcare’s key priorities has been to make sure that as it grows, all its hospitals are in alignment—using the same processes to deliver a consistently high quality of care to patients. To that end, the system has embarked on a lean healthcare transformation, which focuses on improving safety while increasing efficiency and reducing costs.

Supporting a Lean Transformation

Senior leaders at Munson Healthcare recognized early on that leadership development would be essential to a successful lean transformation, said Morrison, who leads the lean initiative. “Lean transformation is essentially about changing leadership,” she says. “It’s a deep, cultural rewiring, and leaders have to be at the center of that.”

Munson Healthcare partnered with DDI to create a leadership development program for assistant managers and above that would support the lean transformation—and at the same time foster employee engagement, another priority for the organization. “There’s a direct correlation between the engagement of healthcare team members and the quality of service we deliver,” says Morrison.

Tonya Smith, President of Munson Healthcare Cadillac Hospital, says that the leadership development program has been “the perfect opportunity to bring us into alignment and give us a common language. Culturally, everything is trying to come together. There’s a lot of uncertainty about, ‘What does it mean for us now that we’re a part of Munson Healthcare?’”

Developing Critical Leadership Skills

Munson Healthcare has rolled out the program gradually, beginning in the fall of 2016 with a pilot of the DDI course Communicating for Leadership Success, which helps leaders develop the foundational skills required to build positive working relationships. Mary Aurand, Senior Leadership Development Specialist, says that course was a good place to start because, “people can get success out of that immediately after the session, and then it’s the cornerstone of every other course we would offer through DDI.” The pilot had about 20 participants, with both clinical and non-clinical staff from the various system hospitals and entities.

And there were immediate results. In follow-up evaluations and anecdotes, participants said they were using what they had learned, says Aurand. Senior management gave the enthusiastic go-ahead to expand the program to all 350 assistant managers and above in the organization, and to increase the number of courses to five.

The leadership program is mapped to many of the key behaviors important to the lean transformation, such as leading with humility, building trust, and respecting every individual, says Beth Straebel, System Director of Organizational Effectiveness. “We’re going to arm you with some really wonderful tools and concepts and models to do those things,” she says.

For example, says Morrison, the program is helping people see themselves “not as almighty decision-makers, but as teachers, mentors, and coaches—to get people to go from saying, ‘I’m the best nurse on the unit,’ to, ‘How do I help my team become problem solvers, not just problem finders.’”

Leaders Training Leaders

All the courses are delivered by the health system’s own leaders, who completed DDI’s three-day program to become certified instructors. The 15 instructors include several senior leaders, such as Morrison and Smith.

“It’s been a great learning experience and bonding for us,” says Smith. As the instructors go around to the various hospitals to conduct courses, she says, they have the chance to interact with other leaders, and see how their hospitals are run.

The instructors work in pairs, typically alternating in delivering sections of a single half-day course. “We’re not professional instructors,” explains Morrison, “so when one of us gets tripped up, the other one can jump in and make sure things go smoothly.”

One of the program’s strengths is that leaders can get the necessary learning in half-day, on-site sessions—a major improvement over their previous leadership training, which sometimes required participants to go off-site to conferences. That can be difficult for those who work in hospitals, “where you’re literally taking care of people’s lives,” says Straebel.

Munson Healthcare decided to present its second course in the program, Building and Sustaining Trust, to all 350 of their leaders in a single event, as a way of generating enthusiasm and buy-in, says Straebel. This includes several months of reinforcing, reminding, sending out wonderful tools, getting stories, and then, ‘Alright, let’s look at what you’ve learned about trust,’” she says. Participants rated the course very favorably. Plans call for three additional DDI courses to be rolled out in three-month intervals: Coaching for Peak Performance, Driving Change, and Resolving Workplace Conflict.

The leadership development program is already having a significant impact, says Sue Peters, Vice President of Human Resources. For example, earlier this year leaders applied lessons from Communicating for Leadership Success in discussions with team members about their annual wage adjustment. “We’re finding ways of reinforcing the training, and having it continue to be front and center for people.”

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