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Fall 2013

Investing in People

Date: October 1, 2013


Imagine this. You sit down with your department director for a performance review. But instead of getting an appraisal of your own work, you comment on your manager’s job skills, pointing out where he or she excels and where you see room for improvement. This might sound ill-advised, but here at Johns Hopkins Medicine (JHM), we believe that leadership benefits when feedback flows both ways. For that reason, over the next few years, we will be rolling out so-called “360-degree reviews” for employees at some levels. It’s just one of many initiatives to come out of our strategic plan—the roadmap that will guide our business decisions for the next five years.

If you read the plan, you will see that the first area of focus is an investment in JHM’s most valuable resource: our people. It may sound clichéd to say that our 41,000 employees are what make Hopkins great, but it’s one of those worn-out lines that cannot be avoided because it is simply true. If we want Hopkins Medicine to remain a world health care leader in the face of constricting budgets, mounting competition, and a heightened emphasis on quality and affordability, we need to chart a course that will help our employees thrive.

You may be thinking: An investment in people sounds promising, but what does it actually mean? Here are a few examples of what we are doing, in the words of the strategic plan, to “attract, engage, retain, and develop the world’s best people.”

First, we are ramping up opportunities for professional development. Johns Hopkins has always attracted the best and brightest scientific minds, but we also need to arm faculty members with the business savvy to be successful in the workplace. The voluntary Junior Faculty Leadership Skills Program aims to do just that by bringing in experts from around the university to teach professional skills such as public speaking, negotiation, and conflict management. (As a bonus, this nine-month program hits on another component of the strategic plan: By creating close ties among members of different departments, it fosters interdisciplinary collaboration.)

Along with providing job-skills training, we need to promote mentorship and outline clear pathways for advancement, especially for minority employees. Diversity is paramount in the health professions. Patients report higher trust levels when they see a physician of the same race, and studies have shown that students trained at diverse schools are more comfortable treating patients from a wide range of backgrounds. We are committed to boosting the number of underrepresented minorities on campus, and we have laid out specific benchmarks for the gender and racial makeup of our leadership.

We’re testing other ways to keep our staff satisfied and engaged through wellness programs and community involvement. One ambitious proposal laid out in the strategic plan is to expand Healthy@Hopkins to the entire JHM workforce. This initiative promotes healthy lifestyles by rewarding employees—think: bonuses—for good habits relating to nutrition, fitness, care management, and tobacco cessation. The goal is to bring down health care costs by creating a culture of health within the Hopkins community, an endeavor we hope to replicate in the larger regions JHM serves. The plan also calls for a measurable increase in community service through undertakings like our Henrietta Lacks school visits. This program brings Hopkins scientists and bioethicists into Baltimore schools to expose students to real-world lab work and, hopefully, stimulate interest in careers in science. Government and Community Affairs has built a website to aggregate these volunteer programs to make it easier for all to participate.

Most importantly, we must identify incentives—financial and otherwise—to show that employees’ contributions are valued. One quality that sets Hopkins apart from the average workplace is the level of dedication to the collective mission. Medicine is a caring profession, and here, the ethos of helpfulness extends beyond the clinic, permeating every office on campus. From the time I turn up N. Broadway in the morning, I encounter people who outperform their job descriptions. Kathy Grimes, an attendant in the Rutland Garage, asks about your family members by name and waves you through the gate with a smile. Our IT specialist in the Administration office, Don Harrison, reliably answers our panicked calls in the late afternoon when he’s off-duty. Our workdays can be frenetic, but we need to take time to say thank you for these extra efforts. Promoting a culture of gratitude is a vital part of the strategic plan, even if it’s not a quantitative metric.

Over the next decade, we will encounter unprecedented challenges in the health care landscape. It’s natural to feel apprehensive about this uncertain future, but thanks to the caliber of people at Johns Hopkins and the plans we have in place to support your work, I am confident we are positioned to lead the way through these uncharted climes.