If employee recruitment were as simple as placing an ad, it wouldn't be a priority at most organizations. But any employer who wants a competent, motivated and productive work force knows that the recruitment program is at the heart of HR planning. At Falls Church, Virginia-based Inova Health System, the dramatic changes in the health-care environment made our facility-based, decentralized recruitment program more than just obsolete: It became an obstacle to effective recruitment.
For example, our facilities competed for the same external talent pool. At the same time, competent employees at Inova had no way of learning about the openings at our other facilities. (Inova—a regional network of non-profit health services—includes three hospitals, two long-term care centers, seven outpatient physical-therapy centers, and also offers countywide home care.) The economics of health care also dictated we cut costs in all overhead areas. Although Inova's individual institutions may have maintained reasonable recruitment costs, the sum of those costs for the system—about $500,000 in advertising expenses alone—seemed high, largely due to duplicated efforts. Hence, HR faced some very tough questions. Just how broken was the system? Could we make it work with just a few minor adjustments? Or had the time come for radical surgery?
No Band-Aids™ for recruitment.
To be effective as a 10,000-person multifacility, Inova required total change. With $700 million in annual revenues, Inova Health System faces the same hiring and recruitment issues affecting any large organization. Some issues also are specific to recruiting employees who will take other people's lives in their hands. The job pool includes nurses, respiratory professionals, physical therapists and support staff. In 1994, Inova hired nearly 2,200 new employees and processed 1,240 internal transfers, affecting more than a third of our total staff. We needed the most efficient system possible because we processed more than 29,000 applications and resumes and conducted 3,100 interviews that year.
Like many health-care systems, Inova was established two decades ago (as Fairfax Hospital System, named for the most prestigious hospital in its orbit) as a somewhat loose confederation of hospitals serving a definable geographic area. The units rarely worked together; they shared resources in very limited ways. But as managed care and health-care reform efforts put the squeeze on capital and operating funds, we recognized the immense advantages of coordination, resource planning and centralization.
On the basis of these factors, Inova's HR management decided to study our employment processes with an eye toward a complete overhaul. The first step was to investigate the health-industry market. We needed a thorough grasp of the special considerations faced by a large, non-profit, community health-care organization such as ours.
We proceeded by consulting our HR professionals and health-care managers, as well as reviewing all published recruitment and employment policies compiled throughout the system. We identified eight areas of concern:
- Meeting the special hiring needs unique to the medical field, such as verifying skills and credentials
- Ensuring that autonomous Inova units each receive an equal level of support from human resources regardless of their hiring authority
- Ensuring that our affirmative action and diversity goals are met
- Finding a central physical plant to serve all applicants and employees adequately while maximizing access for the disabled through the public transit system and other Inova resources
- Acquiring new technologies, such as computer-scanning equipment to process applications; voicemail telephone services to improve office communications; computer networking to allow information sharing; and internal messaging or E-mail to allow confidential communications and data transfer
- Addressing deficiencies spawned by our decentralized operations: low visibility of Inova's name, duplicated HR functions, difficulties in tracking and containing recruitment costs because of varied bookkeeping and report formats, a lack of adequate sharing of information about applicants, competition within the system for top external applicants and a tendency to let applicant profiles, rather than openings, drive hiring
- Reducing liabilities stemming from applicants' confusion about our processes
- Providing access to information about job openings and internal transfers.
Clearly, we needed to overhaul our piecemeal human resources policies. Otherwise, Inova wouldn't be able to better serve our employees and applicants. Although several individual units tailored their recruitment plans to meet their own needs, Inova didn't benefit as a whole. For example, many recruiters didn't hire for the long term. Instead of hiring those who could grow into other capabilities or who could be transferred down the road, recruiters only looked at the job at hand.
Inova establishes centralized employment center.
Based on our survey of internal HR recruiters, we decided to consolidate all of Inova's recruitment and employment policies. That meant redesigning the applications and forms that supported those policies. In addition to the hiring policies, we also included those policies affecting current Inova employees: internal transfers, employee reassignments, evaluation systems and health screening.
One of the outgrowths of that decision was a plan to establish a centralized employment center. With one centralized location to handle vacancy postings, recruitment and screening, current employees could move more easily within the system. Moreover, potential hires could be recruited and screened more efficiently.
We dedicated six experienced HR recruiters from Inova's largest operating units (in Fairfax, Fair Oaks and Mt. Vernon) to a Recruitment/Employment team, and charged them with developing an overall strategy to implement these decisions. The team's first task was to establish benchmarks that would help us avoid any hidden pitfalls. With 90-days to define the scope of the project, our team initially surveyed 21 companies with central employment structures. Based on articles we read or material provided by Washington, D.C.-based The Advisory Board (a think tank of human resources, health care, and financial specialists), we looked for companies that improved their efficiency, reduced recruitment costs and secured long-term staffing. In the course of the team's research, our representatives also learned about planning and development functions, communications systems and training programs. The survey also asked the organizations to share the obstacles and deficiencies they encountered, as well as the strengths and results of their internal recruitment methods.
After the initial survey, we benchmarked five companies in more detail: Louisville, Kentucky-based Alliant Health System; Norfolk, Virginia-based Carillon Health System; Washington, D.C.-based Giant Food Inc.; Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic; and New York City-based Phillip Morris Companies, Inc.
Using our internal survey and the data gathered from our benchmark organizations, we outlined what our redesigned systems might look like. We simplified our earlier list of concerns to six areas:
- Simplifying procedures and eliminating or reducing redundant tasks within and between units
- Increasing the satisfaction of applicants who use the process, measured by the quality of the applicant pool and by the availability of expert employment services
- Using technology to increase efficiency and expedite the consideration of candidates for specific positions
- Reducing costs through consolidation, redesigning space and cutting redundant expenditures, and accurately monitoring, recording and analyzing routine spending
- Redirecting the focus of individual positions to their most productive ends
- Achieving a measurable improvement in the quality of external hires, and the transfer of internal staff, as they are incorporated into the organization.
With these broad targets in mind, we took the required steps to change. The process affected policies and procedures. Although our evolution is far from complete, our experience so far has validated the importance of each step we took. If we hadn't gathered information internally and benchmarked other organizations, we might have fallen prey to our own preconceptions—preconceptions that were formed under a system that no longer worked.
For example, we may have belittled the relationship between recruitment and internal transfers. By improving our recruitment overall, we would be more likely to promote from within, rather than relying on external recruitment. In other words, we would recruit outside only when we knew we didn't have the talent pool inside. Hence, it was critical to establish a single employment center to gain the best chance of getting the right people into vacancies wherever and whenever they occurred.
Subsequently, we designed a new job-vacancy information system, which maximizes the possibility that high-quality candidates will learn of our job listings without increasing our already strained advertising budget. The new system provides our employees and the community with up-to-date information about job openings through a 24-hour job line, a toll-free 800 number, weekly job listings on internal E-mail with paper-copy postings and a staffed telephone information desk.
Reengineering serves employees and customers.
Beyond getting the word out about vacancies, we have vastly improved our document-handling procedures to help us better document compliance with government regulations and affirmative-action requirements. HR also has streamlined the methods used to identify and screen applicants, with improvements to our testing procedures, resume and application processing, identification of qualified candidates and managing of references and credentials.
In addition, we established a strategy for attracting the best candidates by improving our advertising, distributing and producing, increasing job fair activity and producing and distributing recruitment literature for external hires. Current employees also will be able to attend internal job fairs and career seminars. In addition, we have also targeted improvements for our employee-orientation programs.
One of the most positive efforts has been to improve the way in which each Inova unit operates and helps each other. We have cultivated partnerships between operating units by establishing liaisons to handle correspondence, coordinate interviews and transfer information between job candidates and individual hiring managers. Our current situation is a vast improvement from the time when operating units duplicated efforts by competing for the same applicants while posting large advertising costs.
It would've been futile to reengineer the total employment process without making sure that the changes would benefit the job candidate. Viewing the improvements from the applicant's perspective became a key component in shaping our current employee program. Applicants now have a "one-stop shop" in which they can assess all current job opportunities at Inova and place their names in a comprehensive pool that all hiring managers will see. In addition, because we are doing a better job of communicating with the community, potential employees come to us with greater knowledge of Inova and its mission.
Current employees also benefited from the reengineering of our employment process. They now have better information about job transfers and career-development opportunities. Moreover, they have better opportunities to advance professionally because of our improvements in the retraining and evaluation procedures.
The reengineered employment process helps Inova as well. We decreased our vulnerability to potential litigation through better recordkeeping procedures. By a total reengineering of our recruitment process, we at Inova have achieved success by reducing the number of resumes we screen and the number of interviews we conduct. But the most important gain is the number of transfers within our organization. By devoting time, energy and thought to our total recruitment process, Inova is a healthier place for our employees, our applicants and the surrounding community.
Personnel Journal, June 1995, Vol. 74, No. 6, pp. 109-114.