HR is traditionally not considered a source of strategic organizational power, but HR teams within hospitals and healthcare systems are uniquely equipped to lead healthcare organizations through this unprecedented time of transition.

Whatever your role in healthcare, you’re keenly aware that the industry is experiencing great amounts of change right now. Legislative reforms and new regulations are pushing the business of healthcare forward at an unprecedented pace. In many cases, the industry is moving into uncharted waters, and employees are along for the ride, whether they want to be onboard or not. In such a situation, it is absolutely necessary to have strong leadership.

But who should be leading?

Human resources is uniquely poised for this role, being well-versed in employment law, and attuned both to the organization’s staffing needs and the needs of its staff as well. While HR is traditionally not the place organizations turn to for strategic ideas, HR teams within hospitals and healthcare systems are uniquely equipped to lead and to influence other leaders through the difficult transitions the industry is currently facing.

Not Just Paper Pushers

Long gone are the days when HR staff simply administered the hiring process, worked to get payroll turned in on time, arbitrated employee disputes, and made sure the cafeteria was a pleasant place to eat lunch. Since the early 00’s, however, HR’s job throughout many different industries has been moving toward a more consultative role.

“I think the HR role has really changed over the last couple years,” Tedd Trabert, Chief Human Resource Officer at Health Choice Network in Doral, FL. “We’ve become a partner to the organization. We’re like a rudder, guiding the organization and navigating the waters of policy. And who better to guide the ship than HR professionals?”

Lynette Walker, Vice President of Human Resources at Baptist Health in Lexington, KY., agrees. “This is an exciting time for human resources.” Today’s HR staff gets to blaze the path and set precedents for future generations of HR staff—how much control over an organization’s culture and workplace will an HR department have twenty years from now? This is especially true in healthcare organizations, where increased regulation and changing demographics are making someone with a working knowledge of employment law and [the] ability to work with a wide variety of people a valuable commodity.

HR as a Partner

“In years past, we were the enforcer—going to HR used to be like being sent to the principal’s office,“ remembers Trabert. But that’s changing. If an organization is being effectively run, human resources shouldn’t be seen as the disciplinarian within the group, he says.

“We shouldn’t be seen as an enforcer of the rules. Employees should see us as more of an aid than an enforcer.”

Walker echoes this. “I hope we’re viewed as a partner, considered collaborative with the rest of the business, helping them with new programs and business ventures. We want to be your partner to help guide you on things that you need to consider,” she said.

Some of the duties HR can take on include making sure all employees understand and can adhere to new laws, setting up trainings to bring everyone up to speed with new technologies, and coordinating internal transitions.

HR can also provide a reality check, explaining to the leadership team what is possible from both personnel and legal perspectives. Of course, while doing this, they also have a responsibility to the organization to ensure that the mission statement remains intact, and that the culture continues to be sound, healthy, and positive.

While these are important functions in any industry, it is doubly true in the healthcare industry. The reforms and mandates being implemented now will forever change the employee culture within healthcare organizations. “[There is] a lot of change happening all at once. It’s a stressor to most cultures,” Walker told me.

The Human Face of Reform

The new importance of electronic health records systems, the move from fee-for-service to value-based care, and the large volumes of new patients to treat are going to have a direct effect on all providers, to some extent. Someone needs to take charge in setting the right tone in the face of these changes.

Walker agrees that HR should take a proactive role not only in making strategic decisions and working to stick to new policies, but also in being the human face of reform and explaining the new ways of doing things in a way that all employees can understand.

“One of our jobs as HR professionals is getting staff members to understand why the changes are being made, and that it’s not because we’re trying to make them miserable. There’s a method to the madness,” she said. “This is another role HR can play a big part in. How do you maintain the culture that you have with all the changes going on?”

The human resources department is the first line of defense in helping to change a culture, Trabert says.

“We can totally influence how easily they will assimilate to a new policy. If you have a culture of telling employees both the positives and the negatives of changes as they come up, they will be more able to accept it. They look to HR as the policy makers and for guidance.”

Source: Lena J. Weiner, HealthLeaders Media, March 3, 2014