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It was shortly after 8:30 AM when the rumor of a key resignation began to spread through the hospital.  It was “hump day,” Wednesday, and as members of the senior leadership team wrapped up their morning operations council meeting, there was the hope that the ride into the long holiday weekend would be uneventful.

Letter of resignationFor the Chief Medical Officer, sitting in his office reading a letter of resignation, there was a deep sense of unease.  The upcoming holiday was now the last thing on his mind.  The news, that his star senior director responsible for quality and case management was resigning, and her last day on the job was 30 short days away, was devastating.  His assistant buzzed his intercom; the CFO was on the line.  “Is it true?  What’s our plan?  This is serious, potentially disastrous,” he said without waiting for a reply. “I just saw the boss, he has already heard.  Bad news travels fast.”

That this key employee was leaving was bad enough.  That she had been poached by a fierce cross-town rival added insult to injury.

The CMO felt a sense of dread.  It got worse when his assistant called to say the CEO would like to meet for coffee in 30 minutes.  Coffee was not the reason for the meeting. 

He was right.  There wasn’t a coffee mug in sight as he was ushered into the CEO’s office. 

The CEO allowed the CMO to share the bad news, and then quickly followed with a series of questions:

  • What’s the plan?
  • Who had the CMO been grooming to succeed the Senior Director?
  • Evaluate the bench strength; tell me how much will the department’s performance fall now that the driving force was leaving?

The CEO knew the answer when he saw the CMO wince.  Grooming talent had not been a high priority.  They had been focusing on reducing length of stay and enhancing the quality of care for the last 18 months.  This sudden departure of the CMO’s star employee was not even close to being on his radar.  In his job for two years, with a full plate of other priorities, the CMO barely knew the second-in-command in these two critical areas.

The number two in the division would be named the interim senior director, the CMO reported, but a national search would have to be conducted because that individual was not strong enough for the job, he told the CEO.

Six months later the search languished.  The national pool of talent was thin, and the competition was intense.  The hospital’s length of stay was creeping up and there were signs that the laser focus on quality of care was slipping.  The CFO was only too happy to remind the CMO that this resignation was inflicting real financial pain. (Disclosure:  we were involved in a similar national search and we were not successful).

This pre-holiday crisis did not happen because the CMO was somehow negligent.  It happened because the culture of the organization did not attach a high degree of importance to developing their talent.  An enteprise-wide talent mapping initiative was shelved several years earlier because it was seen as an excessive expense, not an investment that would produce measurable value.  

Consider this:  healthcare employees, particularly the up and comers in the Millennial generation, want to belong to an organization where they can make a real contribution to their community.  They want to embrace the organization, to know they are valued for the job they do today, and for the contribution they can make in the future.  They know that training and mentoring will enable them to step up when a sudden resignation occurs.