Supporting Leader Development in Healthcare

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

This blog post is taken from a recent Webinar featuring Christine Buell, director of leadership development for Avera Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

My personal leadership goal is to create an environment where leaders can effectively proclaim they can lead themselves, their teams, and Avera Health. We design and provide a variety of growth opportunities for our employees, deploying a blend of learning approaches and standardized leadership processes.

Lay the Foundation

Before embarking on an initiative of this magnitude, it’s extremely important to lay the foundation for your efforts. A big part of this is getting leadership buy-in. Everything we do must align with our mission, values, and strategic plan. Increasing retention is a primary strategic initiative for our organization. Our goal is to increase our current rate of retention by 10%.

Define Targets

We target three groups in our efforts to support retention and succession: aspiring leaders, rising nurse leaders, and new leaders. For new leaders, we have a nine-month curriculum, required as part of their leadership orientation. For our current leaders, we offer the Avera Day of Development twice each year, emphasizing a different leadership core competency at each session. We also offer a voluntary leadership challenge, which commits individuals to accumulating 60 hours of development over the course of a calendar year.

To sustain an initiative this large, we support the programs in three ways: a learning council, team coaches, and an online learning platform.

The Learning Council

The Avera Learning Council includes five to ten leaders in each of our six regional facilities. Participation is voluntary, but these individuals must be in tune with their own leadership development and be willing to see the best in others. We meet with these folks on a quarterly basis. The learning council helps us brainstorm ways to execute curriculum and address any challenges.


Team coaches help us connect our frontline leaders directly to the programs. A team coach can be a clinical or a non-clinical leader who serves as a director, a vice president, or a supervisor. Each is assigned a group of participants, and the coaches attend the programs with them. They also provide input on curriculum and serve as advisers.  Our team coach approach has been incredibly effective as a means of creating buy-in. One of our team coaches is the chief nursing officer of our largest facility, and we couldn’t ask for a better team coach and advocate. We also invite past graduates of our program to be mentors to new participants.

Online Learning Platform

The Avera Learning Center platform is essentially HealthStream’s My Connections page, where we’ve created a leadership development node, accessible only to leaders and participants. The curriculum for each program resides on this node, making it very easy to find resources, information, and communications.

Leadership development has proven to be beneficial to retention and leader succession, but it has also served to engage our current leaders with the leaders of tomorrow, ensuring our mission will continue.

For more from Christine, click here.

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