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Healthcare Talent Development Pivoting Their Skills to Help Human Resources

Monday, June 15, 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, has sent seismic tremors worldwide. Every healthcare organization, regardless of size, has felt a direct impact on their services and operations. Unlike other outbreaks in recent history, this pandemic has challenged each healthcare organization to adapt rapidly and live up to their missions to serve patients and deliver patient care. This is also an opportunity for each team and department to reflect upon and learn more about themselves.

What does this mean to talent development professionals in healthcare? Since the frontline leaders and operational leaders are busy meeting the COVID-19 challenges, many of our routine programs and face-to-face onboarding efforts are potentially on hold or being reimagined. This may be a great time to focus coaching and facilitation skills on looking within their own division and help the human resources (HR) team review their efforts in response to the virus. Are their efforts helping or hindering? How can they pivot?

A crisis is often the time to do a deep reset to establish stronger credibility, restore trust, and demonstrate value to your organization. This COVID-19 crisis is the same. There is hardly an organization not constantly working to building greater trust among its team members. So, why not work on rebuilding trust with HR and talent development? After all, trust is the cornerstone of a highly engaged workplace. You can work on adapting to the growing and emerging needs of frontline workers and your organization. One of the best ways is to listen. Listening, according to Siddhartha Mukherjee, scientist, oncologist, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, comes in three kinds. He elaborated on it during his University of Southern California 2018 graduation commencement speech, addressing the graduating class as the Generation-L (listening).

According to Mukherjee, the first form of listening is to have empathy, which is to abandon one’s identity and acquiring the identity or skin of another person. By being in the skin of the other person, we can better understand their suffering, joy, or what makes them tick. The second involves listening to the past or climbing into history to comprehend the parts that repeat or come back, but with a slightly different lilt, tone, or emphasis. The third is the ability to listen to nature and the natural laws of the universe or listening to the inner logic of anything.

How could we use these three listening skills as HR and talent development professionals to truly listen to frontline leaders?


Start with a few simple questions posed to your frontline leaders and team members and listen with purpose. Some suggested questions are:

  • What is happening in your world today?
  • What is different from the last crisis and what is new?
  • What HR processes are working well or not working well at this time?
  • What is one thing that I or my HR team could do to ease things for you at this time?

I wager that you will strike gold. If you master the art of listening and probing, you will be rewarded with a wealth of deeper information than your employee survey ever revealed. Consider asking open-ended questions about what functions, policies, and processes are helping or hindering in their war on COVID-19. You will likely uncover many rare gems of highly engaged team members, strongly aligned departments, innovative teams, and immense acts of heroism. At the same time, you will also uncover some stark gaps in leadership behaviors, dysfunctional teams, broken services, unnecessary red tape, and failed internal customer service opportunities.


Hospitals have had to change overnight and have become different places than they were four to six weeks ago. The leaders and frontline workers have been redeployed and working on different shifts, units, and departments to meet the COVID-19 crisis. In one situation, an organization uncovered that by eliminating the centralized onboarding process and letting the clinical and clinical support new hires go directly to hospital units they were being hired into, they were potentially placing the new hires into COVID-19 units on day one. By listening to frontline leaders, they were able to avert the poor experience to new hires and safely transition their onboarding to the site clinical education teams. Had HR not listened, it would have made an unpleasant onboarding experience to new hires to arrive at a place where the units they were hired into had been entirely dismantled to meet the COVID-19 crisis.

While many support department team members, including HR, work from home unless they invoke their empathy ability, they may not know the stark realities of their clinical counter parts have been facing. Hospitals during COVID-19 have been a warzone-like environment where teams have been working round the clock to fight an invisible enemy. The frontline teams have been grieving the deaths of their patients and even some of their colleagues. HR and wellness teams across the world have yet to uncover the extent of COVID-19 post-traumatic stress disorders that will likely unfold in weeks and years to come. As we continue to learn to deal with the virus and strive to get to the new normal (or abnormal), the three kinds of listening expounded by Mukherjee may be one of our best talent development and HR tools.

Don’t forget to close your conversations with a meaningful gratitude for the learning that been offered and end with an open invitation to contact you directly as soon as the frontline leader encounters any hindering steps. Then, promptly deliver on the promises you made. Your frontline leaders and team members will appreciate your service, and you will have strengthened some trust and enhanced the value your function provides.
Carpe diem, talent development professionals. Let us not miss this opportunity to make a difference.

About the Author

Medha Havnurkar, MBBS, MPA, FACHE, CPHQ, CPTD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP serves as the director of clinical education and professional development at Hackensack University Medical Center part of Hackensack Meridian Health network in New Jersey. She brings an extensive healthcare industry experience of over 25 years covering clinical medicine, performance management, talent development, organizational effectiveness, culture, and employee engagement. She has been actively involved in the covid-19 response at Hackensack University Medical Center located in Bergen County, New Jersey, which has been the epicenter of Covid-19 in New Jersey.

Medha is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives and holds many professional certifications. She received her medical degree from Mysore University, India, and later a Master's degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Health Policy and Management from NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She is actively involved in community service and philanthropy activities focused on education and health in New Jersey and India.

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