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Dome - All the Right Hires

Dome April 2010

All the Right Hires

Date: April 1, 2010

General Services turns to innovative hiring practices and sees employee retention skyrocket.


Tierra Wright
Tierra Wright survived the new panel-style interviews to celebrate her one-year anniversary as a Materials Management clerk.

For Ken Grant and his team, it’s business as usual to make sure that 45,000 fresh linens are on hand daily or that hospital rooms are cleaned thoroughly, yet quickly, between patients. But two years ago, Grant faced an even tougher challenge—keeping the employees who provide these services.

In 2008, Grant, vice president of general services for the Johns Hopkins Health System, noticed a high rate of employee turnover in his division. To get a better grasp on the issue, he asked Antoinette Hodge, the inventory and training supervisor for Materials Management, to look more closely into the situation. Her analysis showed that the division had an annual turnover rate of 41 percent—mostly among recent hires—and was spending up to 40 hours interviewing each candidate. Grant quickly realized it was time to overhaul the hiring process.

That March, Grant convened a committee that included Alisha McGowan, a career services specialist in Human Resources, and managers from each of the division’s areas—Environmental Services, Linen Distribution, Mail Services, Materials Distribution, Materials Management, Nutrition and Patient Transport. By July 2008, they’d arrived at changes centered primarily on streamlining the interview process and adding a share day, whereby handpicked employee prospects would spend time on the job they might eventually land.

Just one year after the changes, General Services has seen its turnover rates plummet to 14 percent. One big difference is the simplified interview process. All seven General Services managers now simultaneously interview prospective employees, regardless of where the job position resides. Then they individually score the candidate’s responses and, based on the collective outcome, decide whether to move the applicant to the next step—the share day.

Here, candidates get to demonstrate the skills they tout during their interview. Managers watch closely to see if they measure up. Each one is looking for something different. Linen Distribution needs to know if candidates can hack hauling a cart—piled with linens and weighing about 800 pounds—up and down a steep hill eight to 10 times a day. The Nutrition manager is watching to see whether a potential employee can cheerfully visit several patients six times a day and accurately take their meal orders at bedside.

“After the share day we can say, no, they just didn’t cut it,” says Hodge, who estimates that happens 20 percent to 30 percent of the time. On the flip side, candidates can walk away from a position if it doesn’t feel right. The panel interview and share day also present the opportunity to learn whether candidates are better suited to positions other than the one they applied for.

Tierra Wright, who just celebrated her one-year anniversary as a clerk in Materials Management, says the panel-style interview session is a bit unnerving— “they all fire questions at you”—but now she’s grateful it happened that way.

Wright was initially aiming for an opening in Patient Transport. But when the manager for Materials Management realized that Wright had customer service experience, she steered Wright to a vacant position in her department, where that skill set would come in handy.

Asked how the job is going, the serious look on Wright’s face turns into a smile. “I plan to be here a long time,” she says.

—Elizabeth Heubeck

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