The Changing Role of the Healthcare CHRO

Margaret Lindquist | Healthcare Content Strategist | February 2023

A worldwide shortage of healthcare workers will leave more than 18 million positions open by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. Although the worst effects of the shortage will be felt by lower- and middle-income countries, all nations will face the challenge of maintaining a healthcare workforce sufficient to meet patient needs. Chief human resources officers (CHROs) who work for healthcare organizations will bear the burden of finding ways to overcome this challenge, and their success will be measured by their ability to hire and retain employees while helping ensure they perform at a high level. Nurturing and developing promising doctors, nurses, aides, and other employees and providing managers with ongoing training to help them handle the challenges of an evolving workforce are only some of the responsibilities of the modern healthcare CHRO.

What Is a Chief Human Resources Officer?

CHROs are responsible for developing a people strategy that positions the organization for success and informs key HR responsibilities, including recruiting, onboarding, training, employee engagement and retention, and performance management. It’s a relatively new corporate position that places an organization’s most senior HR person at the same level as other C-level executives, giving that person the opportunity to influence and shape the organization’s overall strategy and goals. Partnering with IT, CHROs are also responsible for corporate systems that align the workforce with organizational objectives—for example, payroll systems that connect salaries and bonuses to job performance. CHROs also oversee employee health plans and wellness programs.

Key Takeaways

  • Healthcare CHROs face huge challenges, in particular, hiring and retaining employees amid the industrywide worker shortage. The COVID-19 pandemic and the competitive labor market have made it imperative that CHROs focus on employee wellness issues such as burnout, mental health, and physical safety.
  • Healthcare CHROs are responsible for helping to create a collaborative, supportive work environment that’s conducive to attracting and retaining employees and ultimately delivering better patient outcomes.
  • Healthcare CHROs need to be able to step back from the crisis of the day and take a wider view of the organization’s long-term objectives. They anticipate needs, trends, and options rather than just reacting to them, and they communicate priorities throughout the organization to build consensus.

The Role of the Healthcare CHRO Explained

Thirty-five years ago, the head of HR at a healthcare organization tended to focus on basic workforce-related tasks—including record keeping, hiring, firing, and administering healthcare and retirement plans. Today’s healthcare CHRO faces huge hiring and employee retention challenges, and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, they must also focus on wellness issues such as burnout, mental health, and physical safety. Meanwhile, as healthcare organizations, payers, and tech startups begin to converge, industry CHROs will be responsible for recruiting and developing new kinds of talent and expertise. And like CHROs in other industries, those in healthcare need to use data analysis to inform every aspect of what they do, from recruitment and management to compensation and incentives—and communicate their findings to senior leadership.

Healthcare CHRO Skills

Every CHRO needs keen business instincts and strong communication skills. But healthcare industry CHROs need additional expertise and experience to handle numerous industry-specific responsibilities. For example, they may need to understand complex union contracts for select employees. They must be able to work closely with staff lawyers to ensure the organization is complying with myriad government regulations and laws. And they may need to work with IT to ensure that electronic health records aren’t being misused by employees or hackers. Here are some of the skills successful healthcare industry CHROs need to hone.

Business acumen

Healthcare CHROs need a vocabulary that extends beyond payroll and benefits, employee surveys, and holiday bonuses. They need to understand the major issues and the language of the industry so they can communicate effectively with everyone from the chief medical officer to anesthesiologists to orderlies. They need to understand complex healthcare laws and regulations, and they need to stay abreast of certification rules to ensure employees are up to date and able to work legally. They also need to understand the changing needs of their patient population and how those needs affect their workforce—for example, patients with Alzheimer’s will present very different challenges from patients in a pediatric practice. Although the top priorities for CHROs in 2023—including attracting talented medical practitioners and developing future leaders—remain firmly in the HR wheelhouse, the role of the CHRO is expanding into organizational design, change management, and other areas.

Ability to spot industry shifts

CHROs need to be able to identify industry shifts and determine how their organization should adapt to them. These may include generational changes, such as the rise of omnipresent personal computing devices, resulting in a more tech-savvy workforce that lacks the patience to navigate legacy software systems. Or the shift toward value-based care, which links payments to both the cost and quality of care. Or changes brought about by unforeseen events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated the adoption of telehealth consultations and increased the use of travel nurse services.

Cultural vision

Workforce culture is the mix of attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and traditions that define an organization’s work environment. CHROs are responsible for the cultivation and sustenance of a vibrant work culture and for instilling change if the culture starts driving people to leave. CHROs need to align the organization’s culture with clearly defined corporate strategy and branding. For healthcare organizations in particular, corporate culture affects more than employee satisfaction and customer loyalty; it also affects patient outcomes.

Talent assessment

Talent assessment is a key element of recruitment, performance management, career development, and succession planning. It’s particularly important in healthcare, where the talent is often very specialized and its quality affects patients’ lives. Finding the right talent often means developing current staff and redeploying them in new roles. Healthcare organizations often have different goals from other industries—HR managers may be tasked with curbing waste and reducing noise levels, for example. Assessing staff on their commitment to these goals is part of what makes the healthcare industry unique.

Adaptability

Adaptive healthcare CHROs are able to step back from the crisis of the day and take a wider view of the organization’s long-term objectives. To the extent they can, adaptive CHROs anticipate needs, trends, and options rather than just reacting to them, and they communicate priorities throughout the organization to build consensus. Adaptive CHROs are transparent in their decision-making process and open to challenges and feedback that might alter the plan. For example, an adaptive CHRO for a hospital system looking to hire more registered nurses would gather data about where the shortages are most acute, seek the advice of staff nurses, and expand the decision-making process to include third-party experts.

Empathetic leadership

Due in part to the stresses created by the pandemic, mental health issues are at a crisis level in the industry. One third of the frontline healthcare practitioners who responded to a 2021 Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post survey said they have needed some form of mental healthcare. A top priority for healthcare CHROs is to use their emotional intelligence to create an empathetic and supportive culture, one that removes the stigma around seeking help. Even programs that don’t seem related to mental health—such as flexible scheduling, childcare support, and work-at-home options—can improve employee well-being.

Leadership development

There’s truth to the notion that people don’t leave jobs, they leave poor managers. Savvy healthcare CHROs prioritize developing their organization’s leaders and managers at all levels through formal training programs and ongoing feedback. Healthcare leaders need all the qualities that every other leader needs—but they also need deep empathy for patients and a clear understanding of the roles of everyone involved in care teams. The ideal leader and manager is someone who inspires, engages with, and motivates employees and exemplifies the organization’s values.

Healthcare CHRO Key Functions

The best CHROs bridge the gap between the strategic goals of the C-suite and the needs of the rest of the workforce, combining savvy business and people skills with empathetic leadership. Here are seven functions of a successful healthcare industry CHRO.

Establish, uphold, improve, and communicate workplace culture

Healthcare CHROs, working with other members of the C-suite, help build and sustain a work culture that attracts talented people, keeps them engaged, promotes innovation, and is conducive to delivering first-rate patient care. In healthcare, culture means far more than just “a nice place to work.” Research by the National Health Service shows that dysfunctional healthcare organizational culture has resulted in increased rates of patient mortality. To promote a positive workplace culture, healthcare CHROs are creating orientation programs and ongoing mentorship programs that are designed to acclimate employees to their new surroundings and coworkers. They’re also offering employees opportunities to provide feedback to management through regular surveys and other channels.

Advise the C-suite and board

CHROs play a unique role in the C-suite: They’re often considered the most emotionally intelligent members of the group, and they also provide the “voice of the employee” in discussions with other C-level executives, who can be insulated from general employee concerns. CHROs need to take employee requests for changes to work practices—such as more-flexible schedules, better mental health support, and remote work options—to the C-suite for consideration. The CHRO is also involved in succession planning for C-suite roles.

Additionally, CHROs advise senior management on everything from physical security and environmental health and safety to real estate and facilities. Other C-suite members are beginning to recognize the strategic role the CHRO can play. In a 2023 Accenture report, 87% of the CEOs surveyed said the CHRO should play a role in ensuring their organization’s long-term profitable growth, but only 45% said they had created the conditions to allow the CHRO to do so.

Communicate the employee value proposition

The employee value proposition consists of everything an organization offers to attract and retain its people. The basics are competitive salary and benefits, but leading healthcare organizations also focus on other factors, such as providing employee wellness programs, helping workers improve their work-life balance, offering flexible scheduling, and creating more-transparent management processes. And they’re making sure current and prospective employees know about these initiatives.

Engage the workforce

Creating a culture of employee engagement is one way healthcare CHROs can reduce turnover rates and improve employee satisfaction. Engagement starts with listening to what employees have to say. Methods range from “rounding,” whereby senior leaders and managers walk the halls, talking with staff and patients, to developing surveys that ask for employee input on work schedules, patient and family relations, new directives, and other issues. CHROs need to strike a balance between intrusive, repetitive requests for feedback and surveys that are so infrequent that workers discount the impact they might have.

Improve overall performance

Before healthcare CHROs can drive performance improvements, they need to understand what strong performance means for their organization. Higher productivity segmented by role? More surgeries? Higher overall patient throughput? Higher revenues and profits? Better patient outcomes? Higher patient satisfaction scores? And how are all the performance indicators going to be measured—what data will be needed? Some indicators, such as patient satisfaction, are harder to measure than others, such as revenue.

Develop teams

Healthcare CHROs inevitably have many positions to fill at any given time, and they know they can’t recruit for every one of them. They need to identify employees who are able to grow into certain positions, identify what kinds of skills and experience they need, and help chart a career roadmap for them, which includes getting them the required training. According to the AI at Work study by Workplace Intelligence, 83% of employees want to make a career change but face obstacles such as a lack of opportunity for internal growth and a lack of confidence in their ability to make a change. It’s up to the CHRO to help remove those obstacles, and technology can help. 85% of the employees surveyed said they want access to technology to help them identify skills gaps, recommend ways to upskill, and provide next steps for career progression.

Advocate for technology

Most healthcare organizations use basic HR technology to manage payroll, benefits, recruiting, and training. But many aren’t taking advantage of capabilities in the human capital management (HCM) application suites they already pay for. 66% of CHROs who responded to a 2021 PwC Pulse survey said a top challenge is implementing HR systems and tools, and 63% said they’re hiring digital-savvy HR professionals. Prospect Medical Holdings, which operates 17 hospitals and 165 medical care clinics across five states, is taking full advantage of their new cloud-based HCM system—which replaced myriad unconnected systems—to quickly access information about all 17,000 employees. In addition to many other capabilities, the system supports flexible scheduling, sends employees notifications when it’s time to take a break, and allows management to send out regular communications to help workers feel more connected to the organization.

Excel as a CHRO with HCM Technology and Oracle

Among the many features of Oracle Fusion Cloud Healthcare Human Capital Management is its intelligent recruiting application, which helps employers promote hiring events, identify the best candidates, start conversations with select ones, and guide prospects through the job application process.

Success! You’ve hired the right people, and now you want to make it easy for them to onboard. Oracle Cloud HCM provides new hires with personalized guidance to help them ease into the organization. And when the time comes for them to start exploring new or expanded opportunities, Oracle Cloud HCM provides them with tools to build a personalized career development roadmap, complete with goals, tasks, and target outcomes, to help them prepare for the next step in their career.

Reinforce the good decisions you’ve made around hiring and professional development by tracking, measuring, and improving organizational culture. Oracle Cloud HCM helps healthcare employers facilitate two-way communications with employees and analyze their feedback to hone that culture.

The pace of change in the healthcare industry is fast and furious, and CHROs must be prepared. New disease breakouts, an industrywide worker shortage, new government regulations, new digital and physical security threats, and increasing competition are only some of the challenges they face. The healthcare workforce is changing as well as older clinicians and support staff retire and are replaced by digital natives with different attitudes toward work-life balance. Preparing the organization and its people for such changes is the CHRO’s greatest responsibility, one that ultimately is critical to saving lives.

See how Oracle Cloud HCM delivers the most complete and unified cloud HCM solution.

Changing Role of the Healthcare CHRO FAQs

What is the CHRO responsible for?
The CHRO is a member of the C-suite—the highest level of executives within an organization. The CHRO oversees human resources and labor relations, and they’re responsible for developing and executing HR strategy and communicating workforce issues to the executive management team and board of directors.

What are the qualifications for a CHRO?
The qualifications a CHRO brings to an organization vary. Some have a master’s degree in human resources management. Some have moved from other parts of the business, such as sales, consulting, and business development. Some work their way up from lower-level HR positions.

How long does it take to become a CHRO?
It generally requires at least 15 years of experience, with a minimum of five years of executive HR experience, to become a CHRO, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

See how Oracle Cloud HCM delivers the most complete and unified cloud HCM solution.