When Customers Help Select the Staff

At a Florida children’s hospital, patients’ parents conduct interviews.

By Rick Kennedy Dec 1, 2012

1212cover.gifSelecting qualified professionals with the dedication and compassion required to perform pediatric patient care requires a sophisticated approach. As a result, I was recently challenged to examine recruitment from a new perspective: Though I have served as a human resource executive for more than 25 years, I recently explored for the first time the opportunity to include external stakeholders in recruitment. As human resource professionals and leaders, we are keen to consider how each candidate will affect our organization's operation and leadership, but do we ever consider the opinions of our customers? Do we involve our customers in selecting key employees?

At Nemours Children's Hospital, we now involve the parents of our patients in many candidate interviews.

Following its October opening in Orlando, Fla., this is the second pediatric hospital in a network of two hospitals and 19 pediatric specialty clinics and primary care sites operated by the Nemours Foundation of Jacksonville, Fla. From the beginning, our leaders made a promise to members of the Central Florida community—customers we have served for 16 years through clinics—to deliver a family-centered patient care model that values open communication between health care providers, patients and their families.

To achieve this promise, we formed a Family Advisory Council made up of parents, many with children who have chronic medical conditions and extensive experience within the pediatric health care system. With the help of this council, we shaped the design and operations of the 95-bed hospital, thereby empowering these external stakeholders who will ultimately decide how well we're performing.

Laying the Groundwork

Our family-centered patient care model is a cornerstone of the Nemours culture. Every one of our 5,100 associates must consider family members as partners in treating patients. Physicians and clinicians engage parents in decision-making, nurses involve parents in bedside care, and administrators create an environment that ensures communication will flow openly throughout a patient's treatment in our hospital. Our commitment to this approach to patient care requires buy-in from associates at all levels.

During the second interview, the candidate meets with the hiring manager, several department leaders,HR representatives and two parents.

We began hiring the majority of our 600-person staff for the new Orlando hospital last February and are currently training them in our effort to ensure a smooth opening. In September 2010, our Chief Nurse Executive Barbara Meeks challenged human resource professionals to involve the Family Advisory Council in hiring administrative and clinical leaders as well as physicians. It was difficult to imagine how we would create a legal, practical and meaningful way to interpret parents' feedback on prospective hires.

The parents represent a spectrum of our local population. They include small-business owners, stay-at-home parents and working professionals. Some had never served as interviewers. Our HR professionals decided we would get back to basics. We would properly train the council members with best practices that made our team effective as interviewers, supervise their work and integrate them into hiring processes.

Each council member "is fully invested in ensuring that Nemours Children's Hospital is built to provide the absolute best patient care possible," Meeks says. Parents' feedback "opened our eyes to so many possibilities from patient room design to care coordination. I was confident they could provide a new perspective on recruitment, and that perspective would help us select and retain high-performing new hires."

Talent Acquisition Manager Melissa Beckler and her team designed and delivered a new process and training for the Family Advisory Council. "We knew the interviewing skills training presentation we provide to new managers has proved effective in introducing hiring managers to behavioral interviewing," Beckler says. The team revised that presentation for the council, reviewed employment laws that affect interviewing and explained "how to provide fair, defensible assessments that we could ultimately use as part of our hiring decision."

Parents' Feedback Counts

The time came to introduce the Family Advisory Council to prospective new hires. Candidates who apply to work at the $397 million hospital first meet our recruiters, who screen them based on skills and experience. First-round interviews are conducted by hiring managers, and those managers determine whom to bring back. During the second interview, the candidate meets with the hiring manager, department leaders, HR representatives and two council members. The parents initially conducted interviews in pairs, as we felt this would boost their confidence. A representative from HR was present to provide support and guide questioning, if necessary. It became clear early on that the council members were skilled and comfortable while conducting these interviews and sharing feedback, so we soon stopped sending HR folks to these sessions.

Parents' questions include the following:

  • Tell us about a memorable experience you had working with a team. How did your communication together as a team affect the patient's care?
  • Can you give an example of a time when you weighed family input on a patient's treatment?
  • What are some recent examples of how you used feedback from patients' families in delivering care?
  • Describe how you handled a challenging situation when it came to explaining a diagnosis or treatment to a patient's family.

Feedback from parent interviews is invaluable in selecting the best physicians and associates for our hospital. I am confident we have avoided the potential pitfall of hiring an associate who may meet our organizational needs from a technical perspective but who lacks behavioral qualities aligned with our customers' expectations. I am often asked how much weight the Family Advisory Council's advice has in hiring decisions. We take their counsel seriously. Our chief administrative officer was selected over other finalist candidates based on comments provided to our chief executive officer from the council.

"It was exciting and a valuable experience" to be interviewed by the council, says Randall Hartley, chief administrative officer. "I always strive to keep customer needs at the forefront of operations, and this interview helped me to realize the critical leadership role our patients' families can play at the hospital. Unless you have personally experienced navigating a child through the health care system, you wouldn't think of many of the things that they think about and value. They provide tremendous insight into what we can do each day to make health care better for our patients."

Nemours Foundation

Ownership: Nonprofit, charitable organization.

Top executives: Dr. David Bailey, president and chief executive officer; Terri Young, vice president of human resources.

Employees: 5,100.

2011 revenue: $609 million net patient revenue.

Locations: Two hospitals and 19 pediatric specialty clinics and primary care sites in Delaware, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla.


Involving the council in our hiring process "complements our family-centered patient care," says Roger Oxendale, CEO of Nemours Children's Hospital. "Listening to their feedback on each candidate interviewed has only strengthened our commitment to recruiting the best possible health care providers, and even challenged my own opinions in ways that will ultimately have a positive impact on the service we provide."

Enhancing Recruitment with Customer Feedback

Follow these tips:

  • Rally senior leaders to support the idea and ensure buy-in throughout the organization.
  • Create a comprehensive training program and invite hiring managers to participate alongside customer volunteers identified to assist with interviews.
  • Monitor interviews at first and be prepared to help redirect questioning, if necessary.
  • Follow up with customer volunteers for their feedback on candidates and the interview process.
  • Develop a methodology to evaluate and use the feedback as part of decision-making.

I have been surprised to see how our families' participation in the hiring process sparks interest in careers with Nemours. Innovation awards from the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission and the Florida Hospital Association for creativity in diversifying health care have also helped generate high-quality prospects.

I look forward to seeing more HR professionals involve customers and external stakeholders in recruitment. Think about the day-to-day interactions you have with educators who teach your children, police who keep your streets safe or financial planners who manage your investments. Imagine if you had a voice in recruiting those people, helping to select candidates who have your best interests at heart. Bringing this recruitment technique to more organizations empowers HR professionals to build a new level of trust between customers and organizations, cultivating loyalty and creating a community of highly invested stakeholders guiding your organization to a profitable future.

"We are an important part of the team," says Lynda Griffin, co-chair of the Family Advisory Council. "Interviewing prospective candidates helped me build an even stronger trust in Nemours Children's Hospital. I know when I voice my opinion, it will be considered."

The author is senior HR business partner at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, Fla.


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