Executive Coaching Network, Inc. Helps
Health System Navigate Pandemic Year
St. Luke’s Health System Case Study
Executive Coaching Network®, Inc.
About the Company
St. Luke’s Health System is Idaho’s largest health care system, comprised of nine hospitals and more than 300 clinics and centers. Idaho’s largest private employer, it is ranked among the Top 15 health systems in the U.S.
In keeping with St. Luke’s decades-long tradition of thoughtful strategic planning, when then-CEO Dr. David C. Pate announced plans to retire in 2019, there was a careful and thorough search for his replacement. The hospital’s board of directors ultimately chose an internal candidate, Chief Operating Officer Chris Roth.
Summary of Circumstances and Challenges
Roth took his place as St. Luke’s new CEO in February 2020. During his tenure as COO, Roth had worked with Alyssa Freas, Ph.D., CEO and President of Executive Coaching Network, Inc., to develop his executive leadership skills. He asked Dr. Freas to return to the health system to coach him and his direct reports through the leadership transition.
“Alyssa is a coach who pushes in an appropriate way,” Roth says. “She has an intuition about issues you don’t even know are issues yet. She inspired the team and the board to think about things we hadn’t thought about. She takes her job and her commitment seriously, and she has an amazing ability to ask the right questions at the right time.”
The first issue to address was team alignment. Roth wanted to lead with intention, and he wanted to help each of the executives reporting to him to be the best leaders they could be. He also had a vision of an executive leadership team that worked together to drive the health system toward its goals. While the department heads at St. Luke’s excelled in their individual roles, over the years silos had developed that got in the way of frank and open communication. With several new roles and two new members on the executive team, the timing was perfect to calibrate collaboration.
“The team felt that they had an opportunity to improve open communication as a team,” says Executive Coaching Network, Inc. COO Arlene Redmond.
The second challenge was the public health crisis brought about by COVID-19. Roth took the health system’s reins only a month before Idaho recorded its first case of the virus. He found himself not only stepping into a leadership role at the state’s largest health care system but taking on the responsibility at the outset of a global pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic strained all of the health system’s resources. Space, equipment, and personnel were maxed out by the vast number of people seeking medical treatment. Revenue plummeted as elective procedures were canceled and ancillary facilities were closed.
The pandemic took its toll on employees throughout the system. Staff worked long hours and carried heavy psychological burdens, fighting for their patients while fearing for their own safety. One clinic was hit particularly hard, with up to a third of its employees out sick or quarantined at one time. One of St. Luke’s hospitals was essentially closed due to the virus’s impact on the staff and surrounding community.
COVID-19 impacted Roth’s ability to lead the way he had planned. The board of directors, accustomed to meeting in person, was forced to move its meetings to a virtual platform. The public health response to the virus was politically charged, and the state of Idaho took a hands-off approach to containing the virus’ spread. Freas coached Roth through the transition from meeting in person to meeting online. With her guidance, he used highly effective leadership skills to defuse the political situation.
Working with Executive Coaching Network, Inc.
Despite the challenges St. Luke’s was facing, Roth decided to continue with the coaching engagement. “It would have been very easy to push this to the side and say, ‘We don’t have time to focus on this right now. Chris didn’t do that,’” says St. Luke’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources Erin Simms. Simms and Freas worked with Roth to maintain the coaching momentum. “It was critical for the executive leadership team to be able to work together and trust one another and support one another. The team didn’t lose sight of that, based on Chris’ leadership. His coaching relationship with Alyssa was a big part of that.”
Freas evaluated Roth’s strengths and development opportunities as a leader. She surveyed board members and members of the executive leadership team to gauge their perceptions of him. Though the results were very positive, Roth believed there were opportunities to grow and worked with Freas to develop an action plan for improvement.
They carried out the plan in regular video meetings with the board and with Roth’s direct reports. They also checked in regularly with one another to discuss Roth’s progress and adapt the plan when needed.
As COVID-19 upended projections and expectations across the health system, Freas helped Roth keep a laser focus on his action plan. The coaching discussions gave Roth the sounding board he needed to stay ahead of leadership challenges and manage internal and external perceptions of the health system’s virus response.
As the health system emerged from crisis mode, Roth’s vision for the team moved to the forefront. The pandemic, he says, only strengthened his belief that aligning the people reporting to him was key to a bright future for St. Luke’s.
“That year would have crushed any one of us,” Roth says. “We are stronger as a team. In any high-pressure work, you need a team around you that is strong and aligned and up to the challenge.”
While Freas worked with Roth and the team as a whole, other Executive Coaching Network, Inc. coaches worked with the St. Luke’s executive leadership team one-to-one. The coaches helped the executives discuss and provide candid feedback on topics they once considered taboo. They broke down unspoken social boundaries that had inhibited open discussion. The candid dialogue that resulted built trust and accelerated the team’s ability to execute on priorities.
Under the guidance of Freas and Simms, the executives developed team commitments and accountability structures that were formalized in a written discussion guide. With the counsel of their coaches and the support of their leader, the executive leadership team opened new channels of communication, built trust, and supported one another in upholding individual and team commitments.
“The coaches helped each person develop an individual action plan,” Simms says. “One thing I’ve noticed that seems like a small thing but is a big deal, is the team has a lot more fun together. People have moved on from frustration or concern and the conversation flows more easily. There aren’t unspoken things weighing down the team.”
St. Luke’s was an outstanding health system before working with Executive Coaching Network, Inc. Today, facets of the system that had previously been identified as “effective” are rated as “excellent.”
“We have a quantitative analysis that shows an increase in every measurable area,” Roth says. “We are stronger going forward so we can take on any issues.”
Surveys of the executive leadership team taken at the beginning and end of 2020 showed improvement in all target areas. Team members are fully engaged with one another and committed to leadership of the entire health system, not just management of their own role. Job satisfaction has increased; Roth says team members who reported feeling frustrated prior to the coaching engagement are now fully committed to St. Luke’s.
This alignment has trickled down throughout the system. While the financial toll of the pandemic caused many health systems to lay off or furlough employees, St. Luke’s remained fully staffed and committed to providing employees with the support needed to navigate the pandemic. Not only were no employees laid off or furloughed, pay increases were carried out on schedule. The difficult decisions that made it possible for the health system to protect its employees’ jobs could not have happened if executive leadership were unwilling to engage in candid and even contentious dialogue. The commitment and alignment of the executive leadership team has strengthened confidence and culture throughout the organization.
As Idaho emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, St. Luke’s is positioned to be a strong influence in shaping the state’s future public health policies. “Working with the government to influence public health is our next challenge, and it’s a monumental task,” Roth says. “But our leaders are so well positioned and so well prepared that we are up to the challenge.”
St. Luke’s overcame incredible challenges in 2020. As the new CEO, Roth put his reputation on the line by insisting on executive and team development while the health system contended with an external crisis. His risk paid off. Under St. Luke’s partnership with Executive Coaching Network, Inc., the team thrived as individuals and as a collective. Its newfound alignment helped the executive team to make difficult decisions that advanced the health system despite a pandemic. The executive team’s commitment has been noticed by the rest of the health system, contributing to a culture of growth and engagement throughout the organization.
About Executive Coaching Network, Inc.
Executive Coaching Network, Inc., was incorporated in 1997. Its founder, Dr. Alyssa Freas, has effectively coached C-suite executives around the world in a variety of industries. She has a reputation for honesty and accountability and holds the professionals in her network of coaches to the same high standards. Executive Coaching Network, Inc. is known for its rigorous process, effective method, and authentic care and concern for its clients. Client data spanning more than 20 years show that Executive Coaching Network, Inc. clients maintain outcomes long after their coaching engagement has ended. For more information, visit www.excn.com or www.executivecoaching.com. If you have questions, call 714-278-9399 and ask for Susan Adams or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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