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I want to encourage healthcare management graduate students to explore Human Resources as a profession.  If you want to be different – I am talking about being different in a way that you can make a meaningful difference for the success of an organization – this is a leadership discipline where you can have a real impact. 

Human capital management is on the cusp of being the most essential part of the healthcare senior leadership team following finance. 

The only drawback is that I do not know how long it will take the cusp to become that essential part.  Currently, far too many human resource executives – from Chief Human Resource Officers, to Vice Presidents of HR and Directors of Personnel – are marginalized in terms of their role.  Far too many healthcare human resource professionals are buried in the organizational chart bureaucracy.  Far too few have a seat at the senior leadership table.  Fewer still are really taken that seriously. 

Several years ago, a CEO tried to make the argument that he was better served – politically and operationally – if HR did not report to him.  “There is just too much (controversy) and risk in dealing with the people issues, and I need the flexibility to make decisions regarding the best interest of the organization without worrying about the complications that invariably come when you deal with thorny people issues.” 

CEOs who are concerned about the impact of healthcare (read: payment) reform and a prolonged era of cuts in provider reimbursement should begin by building their business strategy around recruiting and retaining the best people.  They will not be able to do that without a top-tier human resource executive. 

The bad news is that there is a dearth of outstanding human resource executives in the healthcare industry, and given that healthcare leaders are traditionally loathe to go outside the industry for talent, that means that many healthcare organizations will not have access to the best and the brightest in the human capital field.

I want to encourage health system and hospital CEOs to overcome an industry-wide provincialism and recruit human resource executives from other industries.  Yes, I know there will be a learning curve, but if your organization is really committed to best-in-class human resource leadership and innovation, then your best bet may this approach.  For graduate students who decide to go into healthcare, consider a  HR residency or fellowship outside the healthcare industry.  It is a risk, I know, but I think there will be some enlightened hospital CEOs who will see enormous value in that approach and give you a chance.

As for that CEO who did not want HR reporting to him because he thought that it would give him more flexibility, he was right.  He now has a great deal of flexibility.

He is out of work.

© 2010 John Gregory Self