How Cleveland Clinic Weathered the Storm

Leadership agility, caregiver development and more helped the organization adapt to difficult times

Conversation

Navigating turbulent times can wreak havoc on an organization. However, from the viewpoint of Cleveland Clinic’s Chief Talent Officer Gina Cronin, the organization was poised to pivot from its learning culture to enable leaders and teams to adapt to constant flux. Whether working across cultures, managing remote and virtual teams or taking on new assignments, caregivers have been required to be flexible, and they have more than met the challenge. She is proud of the organization’s resiliency as she guides leadership and learning for the 66,000 caregivers throughout the Cleveland Clinic health system. This includes the design and deployment for leadership development, recruiting and performance, and talent management.

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We met with Ms. Cronin in the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Global Leadership and Learning Institute (Mandel GLLI) to discuss how Cleveland Clinic is weathering the storm.

CQD: Cleveland Clinic’s vision is to be the best place for care anywhere, and the best place to work in healthcare. Yet how can caregivers find motivation and inspiration while trying to persevere during a global pandemic and economic crisis?

CRONIN: Go no further for inspiration than our CEO and President Dr. Tom Mihaljevic. He has guided the system and its caregivers through this remarkably well. He has also provided a constant stream of communication about the pandemic and our response—not only for our patients but for our caregivers’ families and their own safety. But this is more than just communication—it’s a commitment.

The commitment made to keep our caregivers whole and preserve their jobs during the early days of the crisis when many services were reduced was equally remarkable. Caregivers were redeployed where they could contribute, whether that was thermal scanning at an entrance or being cross-trained to ensure a robust staffing model to handle the increased need for acute care. This instilled a great connection and confidence from our caregivers.

As a result, the latest pulse engagement survey demonstrates the highest engagement ever in the history of Cleveland Clinic. This is enormous confidence in how we are being led by the leadership from Dr. Mihaljevic on down.

CQD: With a highly engaged and motivated organization, what have you learned from this time that gives you confidence in the organization’s ability to move forward successfully and sustain this strong effort?

CRONIN:  First, we have learned you have to have leadership agility. How do you adapt to a new situation? How do you take the lessons that you’ve learned from the past and contextualize them into leading your teams? That is the big pandemic leadership lesson.

Something we talk about a lot is learning agility. Learning-agile individuals have an ability to make meaning from their experiences. What we’ve learned through this is that there are leadership capabilities that can make a great impact. For example, we’ve placed a strong emphasis over the past four years on leader development and how we make an impact through Cleveland Clinic’s expected leadership behaviors to Drive Results, Lead Change, Inspire & Coach and Connect Teams.

When you refer to our leader behaviors, like Connect Teams and Inspire & Coach, you can understand how it is more important than ever before. Our coaching assessment and framework curriculum is really starting to pay dividends now.

Secondly, we have had to shift our strategy throughout the organization to a virtual platform. In a very quick manner, we developed compelling, contemporary and engaging learning experiences. So, our programs and focus on leader development is a hybrid. It’s partly online with your cohort, and according to the audience, we reserved the most important learning to in-person sessions–socially distanced.

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Just as Cleveland Clinic had to pivot from a small number of virtual visits to the largest numbers we’ve ever seen, we had to do that same kind of leap within learning and development.

Leader development is not a single program. It’s not a five-day course. It’s the mentoring and coaching experiences. It’s the stretch assignments. It is the environment they have been in. Then there is a component that is formal learning: understanding yourself via assessment tools and progressing in the four Cleveland Clinic leadership behaviors.

It’s that synthesis of all of those experiences—education, exposure and experience. We’re building pathways that are more focused on 12- to 24-month journeys. That’s where you get that meaningful change as a leader, over time.

CQD: For those who do not lead teams, are you able to help them develop in their work?   

CRONIN: It’s just as important to have caregiver development. We have 60,000-plus caregivers who are not in formal leadership roles, and each of them is encouraged to align to our six core values of Quality, Innovation, Teamwork, Service, Integrity and Compassion, as well as to have their own individual development plan.

Our performance management process ensures that every caregiver develops their own objectives and key results (OKR) so they continue to grow professionally. An exciting new offering is LinkedIn Learning, a vast repository of easy-to-access video microlearning that employees can tailor to their interests.

One of the more significant changes we have made is the curated pathways for caregiver development. Caregivers can do a quick assessment to determine their current pathway, then direct their learning more laterally for whatever jobs they want to pursue. Once they have completed those paths via formal and informal learning, they become part of a coaching community including a Mandell GLLI member and other caregivers that support each other and set each other up for success.

CQD: With the new OKRs, how do you evaluate caregiver progress and contributions? 

CRONIN: We surveyed our caregivers and leaders about the effectiveness of our performance management process a few years ago and learned that it wasn’t really valued. Instead, it was viewed as a check-the-box exercise. People were not having meaningful conversations—caregivers and managers—and were not actively setting goals.

Like many organizations, we wanted to reinvent that process. We wanted it to be as continuous as possible and to be more forward-focused and frequent. To kick it off, we set up check-in conversations with managers and caregivers with three basic questions: What’s going well with goals? What could be going better? What can I do to support you? These conversations are organized around OKR goals and are designed to build partnerships between managers and caregivers.

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This has been a huge success, with more than 90% percent of our caregivers committing to goals in the first year of introduction.

We need our managers to be really good at having coaching conversations—to be active listeners—to be challenging and also supportive. We have spent a lot of resources to support managers on how to do that well. That magic is going to happen in those conversations, and we expect those conversations to make a big impact.

CQD: How has the change to OKRs impacted the organization’s ability to reach its goals?

CRONIN: We talk a lot about reach and impact. We want to be able to reach as many caregivers as we can. And to that end, we have invested in collaborative learning software we call Connect Today. We have iPhones enabled with the Connect Today app, microlearning for annual compliance modules and offer LinkedIn Learning.

We measure the impact that we’re making and tie it to performance. What business outcomes did that training lead to? Can we measure a change in engagement or did a unit achieve its business goals? Ultimately, we tie it to strategic initiatives so that we are all working in alignment with executive team strategy.

CQD:  Due to exemplary approaches to leadership development by your institute, we understand congratulations are in order for an award.

CRONIN: I’m proud of the accomplishments of this team and can share that we were recently recognized nationally among the best in healthcare in the United States by the National Center for Healthcare Leadership. We are a top textile performer in leader development receiving the 2020 BOLD Award: Best Organization for Leadership Development.

If you think of the context of serving leaders, ultimately what we want to do is provide the best health care in the world, and be the best place to work in healthcare. How we provide the best health care in the world is to ensure that we have caregivers who we have selected, who believe in our six values, and that we have managers—leaders—who are engaged with those caregivers to remove barriers to help them to deliver the best care in the world. Ultimately, that’s how it all ties together and why we do it.

Leadership programs developed by Cleveland Clinic encourage innovation and create projects that have positive institutional impact. For more information on Cleveland Clinic Global Executive Education contact the team online at clevelandclinic.org/execed.