Sweeping federal reforms, budding advancements in medical technologies and an economy in flux are just a few of the macro trends that are shaping the nation’s constantly evolving health care industry. Banner Health, one of the largest nonprofit hospital systems in the United States, has risen to the challenge in no small measure by strengthening the pulse of its learning and development arm to meet the growing needs of its workforce and, ultimately, its patients.
Spanning seven states and based in Phoenix, Banner Health’s 35,000-plus employees work in facilities ranging from small community hospitals to large urban medical centers.
“If you’re adding everybody that shows up to help us accomplish our mission on a day-to-day basis, we have more than 5,000 volunteers who show up; we have more than 5,000 active students and interns, plus thousands of temporary employees that we bring on board as well,” said Ed Oxford, a senior vice president for Banner Health and the company’s chief talent officer.
Altogether, more than 45,000 people leverage Banner Health’s learning services, which Oxford oversees, each year.
Why Health Care?
Upon garnering a wealth of expertise at his preceding jobs — including serving as principal consultant on organizational transformation at PricewaterhouseCoopers and occupying various leadership roles in organizational development and human resources at Motorola — Oxford was poised for his debut in the health care field in July 2007, when he joined Banner Health.
“The health care industry is an exciting place to be,” he said. “Health care reform, new medical treatments, the need to attract more people in the health care professions — the list goes on, but it’s clear that a career path in health care, for me and for a lot of others, is stimulating and rewarding.”
As the health care industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace, it’s imperative that the learning function at Banner Health constantly adapt its learning needs and delivery methods.
“We have to have people know how to embrace change [and] to have leaders who not only have a passion for the complexity of our business, but also a tolerance for the ambiguity that occurs every single day as they try to accomplish their tasks,” Oxford said. “Having people who appreciate that complexity so that they can keep to the task of achieving our mission is critical.”
In addition to the allure of collaborating with distinguished leaders at Banner Health, Oxford said its nonprofit mission was particularly enticing.
“We exist to make a difference in people’s lives through excellent patient care,” he said. “It’s a touchstone for every employee in our company and the basis for every decision that we make every day.”
Oxford’s team-oriented and interactive approach to management plays a key role in the health system’s continued development.
“Ed appreciates collaboration and a healthy debate amongst his direct reports as we think about strategy, direction, philosophy or priorities for the organization,” said Janice Ganann, senior director of executive talent at Banner Health. “He’s very good at holding us accountable for deliverables.”
Oxford’s action-centered leadership style is a marked trait — and he holds his team to the same expectation.
“I’ve always valued philosophies that are action-oriented to reach organizational goals,” Oxford said. “Learning and development philosophies that don’t lead to or potentially identify actions fail to advance the organization’s goals.” This, he specified, is unacceptable.
Injecting Learning Into Banner’s Bloodstream
Banner Health employs myriad training delivery methods, including e-learning, instructor-led learning, self-paced materials, blended learning and social media.
Furthermore, the Banner Simulation Medical Center, one of the largest hospitals of its kind in the U.S., is also widely utilized as a learning tool to enhance care provider training.
“We bring temporary clinical folks in to [train] them on our systems — the electronic medical record or any other kind of application we have that they’ll need to use on the floor, [and] we can train them on that in the simulation center,” Oxford said.
The center is replete with 55 beds, including electronic intensive care unit beds, and can serve as a neonatal intensive care unit; an operating room; and a space that Banner Health’s clinical staff uses when experimenting with new clinical practices and procedures.
“We also have about 75 mannequins, and [trainees] can do everything from simulate delivering a baby to a heart attack to a bed sore,” he said. “We have the ability to watch, using video, how a team or an individual caregiver responds to a situation and then do a debrief in the classroom after the simulation.”
Future plans also include researching how simulation technology can enhance leadership development training, Oxford said.
One of the more creative, nontraditional mechanisms employed at Banner Health to help develop surgeons’ skill and confidence levels is a specialized Nintendo Wii game designed specifically for this purpose.
Additionally, the organization has recently raised the curtain on its PRIDE (People Reaching Individual Development Excellence) Academy, which allows individual contributors to take a variety of online and self-study courses.
“Over time, we’ll expand that offering and include other strategies for all of our employees to be able to identify how to use their strengths and how everything fits within Banner,” said Robin Hollis, senior director for learning and development at Banner Health.
Moreover, in the coaching realm, Banner Health leverages its “leaders as teachers” learning approach as a significant development.
“We have a strong coaching program, and it’s completely done by internal coaches,” Oxford said.
In the program, executive leaders are certified as coaches and are paired with employees to provide one-on-one coaching.
“We have executives coaching executives and peers coaching peers as well at other levels within Banner,” he said. “We take it all the way down to the individual contributor level with peer-to-peer coaching, where we’re giving feed-forward to each other. We have a culture [wherein an employee] can ask the question, ‘I want to get better at something; what ideas do you have?’ and have a fellow employee be responsive to that question.”
Making a Difference
Currently, Oxford is at the helm of two extensive Banner Health initiatives that span the entire organization: providing both a superior experience to patients and a “journey commitment” to employees.
“The patient experience encompasses everything that happens when a patient turns to Banner — the ease of accessing our services, the ease of navigating our services, the quality of employees’ interactions with patients and their families, and the quality of care they receive,” he said.
Oxford added: “In so many instances, the patient experience is judged by just the little things: Did we smile at registration? Did our tone of voice convey respect over the phone? Did we take the time to clearly explain a procedure? Did we notice a family that appeared lost, and did we help them with directions? Did we get the pain medications in a timely manner? Did we get a blanket quickly when a patient said he or she was cold? Those are things we try to learn from patients and patients’ families each and every day.”
Getting an entire workforce to contribute to superior patient experiences can be both challenging and rewarding, Oxford said.
“It helps me to understand how we can express the Banner brand internally through the behaviors and abilities of our people, which gives me insight into [their] learning needs,” he said.
The second broad initiative — referred to as Banner’s journey commitment — encompasses all aspects of an employee’s career with Banner Health.
ï¿½“If we’re able to make a difference in an employee’s career or life, then that employee will be more focused on the organization’s mission of making a difference in the lives of our patients and the patients’ families,” Oxford explained. “Journey is about the quality of a Banner employee’s career — it encompasses how we respect an employee, how we provide opportunity to advance, our learning and training programs, our total rewards programs and our programs that help an employee maintain the best possible health.”
Not even a recession could dilute Banner Health’s commitment to the continued development of its advanced learning initiatives.
“In the area of technology, we’re making huge technology implementations inside this organization, so there’s a need for learning constantly as we push out that new technology,” Oxford said. “That would be a key area where [learning] contributes to the success of the business as a whole. Given the health care industry challenges and changes, continuous learning is just the order of the day.”
In fact, in 2009, when many companies insisted on aiding their ailing budgets by cutting back on learning initiatives, Banner University was launched.
The virtual university currently consists of nine colleges — including leadership, clinical and innovation colleges — but is continually expanding and providing a vast array of learning opportunities to disciplines across the organization. Indeed, a new college on physician leadership is expected to open in the near future.
“It’s a new way, perspective [and] lens of how we’re bringing learning together in the organization,” Hollis said. “Our clinical teams do a lot of training; they focus on different types of specialized academies. Banner University provides a forum for learning collaboration and an opportunity to leverage best practices. This helps us begin to see how we can make sure all of our curriculum is aligned and moving in a direction of our strategic initiatives. This is going to move us forward toward our goal of industry leadership.”