The Wall Street Journal Recognizes Recruiting Excellence at HealthEast

From Minneapolis-St. Paul to Wall Street

On October 3, 2005, The Wall Street Journal profiled Ms. Knoepke Campbell in its Theory and Practice column, which appears in the Managing section of the paper (click here to read the column). The column is dedicated to looking at the people and ideas that are demonstrating an impact and influencing managers.

Ms Knoepke-Campbell, who tends to shy away from public recognition, says, "My jaw still drops every time I think about it. I was in the Wall Street Journal." Proud she should, be because we estimate, as external observers, that the changes that HealthEast's team have designed could have a positive dollar impact of over $23 million.

Stepping Up in a Time When Most Are Letting Down

Twenty-three months ago, this ERE column highlighted the efforts of HealthEast's team to embrace the new DNA of HR and implement practices senior corporate leaders would clearly view as demonstrating a positive impact on the business. That column detailed the efforts of Ms. Knoepke-Campbell's team to devise and implement best practices in the area of recruiting and workforce planning for the HealthEast Care System, a hospital system operating four hospitals, numerous clinics, home care, and medical transportation in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota.

Fast-forward nearly two years later, and you find a story worthy of the Theory and Practice column in The Wall Street Journal. The Trudy Knoepke-Campbell story is truly one about a professional stepping up to meeting the expectations and needs of the business during a time when most practitioners are letting their organizations down.

Survey after survey reveals that most corporate leaders are beyond being frustrated with their HR function; they're downright unhappy. The Watson Wyatt Human Resource Scorecard Alliance found that while 83% of senior line managers consider the major HR functions critical to the success of the business, only 34% rate the performance of their organization in those areas as being "good" or better. Contrast that rating with this one: 93.8% — the percentage of line managers surveyed at HealthEast Care System who stated that the recent work of Ms. Knoepke-Campbell and her colleagues to implement new selection tools and improve the processes were adding significant value to the business.

Behind this story, and everything that HealthEast is doing with regards to workforce planning, is a theme, one we all could learn from: Stop defending the status quo because it is how "we have always done it," and embrace new tools and processes that more accurately fit the current business environment.

As director of workforce planning, Ms. Knoepke-Campbell, is charged with developing and implementing tools that ensure the hospital system has access to the right volume of employees at the right time and in the right location. While many would accept this role as an administrative one, Ms. Knoepke-Campbell sees it as a leadership role, a job not focused on mere forecasting, but rather one focused on investigating the needs of the business and devising workforce and recruiting strategies to fit those needs.

The Background

Trudy Knoepke-Campbell joined HealthEast Care System in the fall of 1999 as their first-ever director of workforce planning after completing more than 15 interviews. Her primary motivation for taking the job was that it gave her the opportunity to once and for all prove that compensation was not always to blame for people leaving an organization.

At that time, the staffing situation at HealthEast wasn't pretty. Vacancies in several key areas were forcing the organization to contemplate cutting back on critical services, and temporary staffing service utilization was driving labor costs through the roof. The vacancy rate in radiology for nuclear medicine technicians was especially acute: 58% of the allocated positions were vacant. Using temporary staff to fill just this void was costing the hospital group an estimated $1 million a year.

Major Successes

Both the WSJ column and our ERE profile of excellence highlighted the major quantifiable accomplishments of HealthEast's team. Some of them include:

  • "Best place to work" awards. HealthEast was ranked number one within the large business category as one of the great places to work in Minnesota for 2005 by The Business Journal. HealthEast was the only healthcare organization to be recognized among the 175 companies nominated. The Minnesota Hospital Association also recognized HealthEast in 2004 as the Best Hospital Workplace.
  • Reduced turnover. Once a major issue there, today HealthEast's overall attrition rates have been reduced by approximately 40%. In the critical area of registered nurse turnover, the turnover of registered nurses has been managed to an excellent level of just 7%, roughly one-third that of the national average.
  • High employee referral rates. High employee referral rates are a true sign of employee engagement and satisfaction; hires made via employee referral at HealthEast have grown to nearly 40%.
  • Reduced time to fill. Improvement in the selection process and the organization's attractiveness as an employer have helped reduce time to fill by 22%, putting staff on the floor as much as 14 days faster.
  • Larger workforce planning staff. Two years ago, the workforce planning team was one person, but based on the early success of Ms. Knoepke-Campbell, today the team in this 6,400-employee organization has grown to three.
  • Line manager satisfaction. Possibly the most telling success statistic outside the best-place-to-work award is a line manager satisfaction rate approaching 94%.
  • Improved quality of hire. The data regarding the group's impact on quality of hire is just starting to come in as this piece is being written, but clinical directors did state that new selection processes have dramatically improved outcomes.
  • System-wide vacancy rate. In four short years, the system-wide position vacancy rate has been reduced by more than 61% and continues to hover at roughly one-fourth the national average.

Tools and Approaches Used

Following are some of the tools and approaches Ms. Knoepke-Campbell used to address the workforce issues present at HealthEast when she joined:

  • Retention training. A truly groundbreaking approach that should be copied by all was the adoption of mandatory "retention training" for all levels of management. Recognizing that preventable turnover was unnecessary and extremely costly, the HRD team developed a class on employee retention based specifically on the issues encountered at HealthEast.
  • Employee referral. Vacancies had proven to be expensive at HealthEast, so making the business case to up the reward for employees helping in the process from $1,000 to $5,000 was easy. While selling is still sometimes required with management, they agree with the logic!
  • Employment branding. With nearly 300 million people living in the United States, getting your employment message out by yourself to the limited percentage that are relevant can prove a challenge. Recognizing that employee and potential employee perception had been ignored for too long, the group set out to address the issues driving attrition and reestablish perception around the new organization. External recognition, combined with employee experience and employee referral, played a major role in altering the existing perception and in developing awareness in new talent markets.
  • Work redesign. Just because work had always been done one way, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done a different way. In response to a shortage of specialized healthcare labor, HealthEast looked at a new nursing model to redistribute work among its various positions. Job descriptions were then redesigned to communicate both requirements as well as expectations. This approach is similar to that seen at Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.
  • The selection process. In conjunction with redesigning work, HealthEast needed to find a way to improve outcomes and increase the offer closing rate. The process was redesigned so that candidates could have all of their interviews on one day, reducing the need for numerous visits. The structure of the selection interviews were also changed to increase both the quality of information abstracted and the overall candidate experience. The new process relies more on a team approach, where interviewers partner, with one focusing on high-level conversation steering and the other on probing for relevant detail.

What's Coming Next?

Like many healthcare organizations, HealthEast is facing some difficult challenges. The aging population, in conjunction with rapid growth in the Twin Cities area, will continue to put pressure on all of the area's hospitals with regards to service delivery. That increase in demand for services will come as the availability of talent hits an all-time low. HealthEast is already experiencing up-ticks in vacancy rates for physical therapists, pharmacy technicians, pharmacists, and radiology technicians. All of this comes at a time when the hospital system is expanding services to meet demand, new outpatient care providers are popping up, and a major discount chain is opening pharmacies throughout the area.

So to help stave off the competition for talent, HealthEast is looking into:

  • System-level staffing coordination (nursing). Presently, each of the four hospitals and 11 outpatient clinics and other sites that make up the HealthEast Care System are responsible for hiring nurses. A system-level staffing coordinator could help applicants make sure they are deployed to the right place within the company, based on their skills and desires at the time, by providing information on all the sites and helping the individual navigate the system. In addition, current employees could also be assisted with finding new positions that would meet their career goals. This model would enable HealthEast to improve retention both of new and current employees.
  • Further operationalizing best practices. While many of the best practices at HealthEast are already at play on an organizational level, the latest and greatest still need to be fine tuned for implementation across the system.
  • Applicant tracking. HealthEast currently uses a homegrown solution for applicant tracking and candidate support that no longer meets its needs. The company is already in the final stages of selecting new technology that most likely will require process redesign, further enabling the adoption of best practices.


Recruiting has never been a profession that sought out publicity. Most in the field have preferred to let their work speak for themselves. It is however, important to realize that the world of recruiting is changing. One only need to look at Donald Trump and his television show, The Apprentice, to realize that publicity and branding efforts can have a positive impact on both the volume and the quality of applicants a company gets.

In this column I have highlighted the best practices of great recruiters like Michael Homula of FirstMerit, Dan Hilbert of Valero, and the team at HealthEast to stimulate other recruiters to be more competitive and to think outside the box. This recent recognition by the Wall Street Journal is another building block in my campaign to get more recruiting functions to brag about and publicize their best practices — not for ego purposes, because most of the people I profile have to be talked into telling their stories, but instead to increase the sharing of best practices in our profession. This HealthEast story is especially compelling because it occurs in the field of healthcare, where almost everyone complains about unsolvable problems.

The time has come for great directors of recruiting to realize that publicity, PR, and employment branding are becoming essential elements of any great recruiting program. If you are one of the many recruiting functions or recruiters that has a compelling story, tool or best practice that you wish to share with others, send it to me at [email protected] and I'll do my part to share with others.

In addition, I urge everyone to submit their application to the annual ERE Excellence awards competition so that your organization can be recognized for its excellent work.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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