Retain Healthcare Employees by Offering a Path to Leadership Roles

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

This blog post is written by Christine Buell, director of leadership development for Avera Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

While annual employee turnover is between 16% and 17%, first-year turnover at Avera Health is almost double that. Given the investment we make in a first-year employees, we are strategically focused on reducing that number. 20% of our nursing leaders will also be eligible for retirement by 2020, another challenge we are facing.

Our Aspiring Leader and Rising Nurse Leader Programs were built to combat these challenges Through leadership development, we are decreasing turnover, increasing retention, and positively impacting our bottom line.

To be eligible for participation in either of the programs, individuals must have been employed with Avera for two years, be in good standing within the organization, and have demonstrated leadership potential. Their managers must also agree, following a one-on-one conversation, that this is a good step for them. We send applications and nomination documents directly to our managers because we want to ensure those conversations are happening between managers and employees.

The Programs

At Avera Health, we have built two unique leadership development programs. Our Aspiring Leader Program began its fourth cohort in October 2017. The goal is to identify, develop, and retain Avera employees who demonstrate leadership potential and performance, creating a pipeline of candidates to support our future succession planning needs. The course offers a general overview as well as training for any type of leadership role an individual might wish to pursue.

High-potential and high-performing nurses participate in the Rising Nurse Leader Development Program, where they gain the knowledge and skills necessary to assume a clinical leadership role.

Each program uses a unique set of curricula based upon the goals and target audience of the program.

Both programs offer a blended learning approach, including classroom-based training and independent study. Participants have projects and assignments between classroom sessions. The Aspiring Leader Program runs seven months, and Rising Nurse Leader Program runs six month. Each program meets face-to-face monthly throughout that time.  

We rotate the classroom sessions among our six regional facilities, giving employees a snapshot of the whole health system versus just the facility where they work. This rotation helps build a pool of people who may become interested in a different facility because they’ve seen it and can visualize themselves working there.

Linking to the Bottom Line

It’s essential to link leadership development to the bottom line. For participants in our programs, we measure the percentage of participants retained, promoted to leadership roles, pursuing higher education or licensures, and moving to other roles. Being a good informal leader is also a strength, and we sometimes see just as many people move laterally to perform a different role as those who move up.

Of the 62 employees who have completed our Aspiring Leader program, 96% are still employed within Avera, and one in four has assumed a titled leadership role. Among Rising Nurse Leader participants, our retention rate is 93%, and 14% have assumed a leadership role. With fewer available nurse leadership roles, I would not expect a number as high as the other program. We can now say we have 43 nurses prepared to assume the leadership positions expected to open up due to retirement by 2020.

Leadership Development has transformed our healthcare system, helping us retain employees, engage current leaders, and ensure our mission will continue with emerging leaders tomorrow. While leadership development at Avera Health has proven to be beneficial to retention and leader succession, it has also served to engage our current leaders with the leaders of tomorrow, ensuring our mission will continue.

For more about building and fostering healthcare leadership from Christine, click here.