For a large company with thousands of employees, creating and maintaining a leadership development program that best serves both the employer and its personnel takes much more than just a daylong workshop retreat or motivational lunch-and-learn meetings. Often, an in-house team of training and leadership development specialists is tasked with running a program.

Such is the case at Tacoma-based MultiCare Health System, which operates hospitals, clinics, and medical centers — including Tacoma General Hospital and Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital — and employs approximately 17,000 people statewide, including approximately 7,700 people in Pierce County. 

The company’s leadership development program has many facets, such as an institute for learning and development, tuition assistance and reimbursement, a dedicated career development specialist, and a leadership development team that offers courses in executive coaching, team-building, and other forms of training. A year-long Leadership Cohort program invites a limited, select number of nonsupervisory staff to learn leadership and management skills through a blend of self-discovery, training, skill-building, and support. The goal? Develop future leaders within MultiCare.

Three MultiCare professionals experienced in the field of leadership development recently shared insights for fostering an effective workplace program. 

Courtesy Multicare Health System

Q: There is some debate over whether leadership development programs work. How do you gauge the effectiveness, or even the Return On Investment (ROI), of the program at MultiCare?

Justin Natali, culture & organizational development manager: For 20 years that I have been doing this, that’s always been the challenge: How do you measure it? What’s your ROI? How can you show the impact? 

It’s tough to do because so much of it is in the soft skills. With the many factors that go into performance, it’s hard to sort out what’s helping someone to be successful. If anybody ever figures that out, please have them call me, because we have been trying to figure out for a long time how to truly tie (leadership development) to the business outcome.

But there are two metrics we pay close attention to — employee engagement and retention. 

We can never claim that leadership development is directly moving those, that it’s the reason. I guess the good side of that is that we also can’t blame leadership development if it’s not. But we still keep those very closely in front of us, and we are able to compare and contrast retention and engagement numbers (in terms of) people who are actively involved in our courses and utilize our services, and seeing what their engagement is, and how that differs from those who don’t take as much advantage of the leadership development stuff. So, we do have some tangible metrics in those areas.

Also, the number of calls that we get asking for follow-up, or the types of questions we get, allows us to keep a pretty good pulse on it. We also know that through support services surveys and feedback mechanisms, our team is always at the top — or very near the top — of the resources internally that are appreciated, valued, and seen as an important part of the fabric of MultiCare. 

Q: What are some common reasons a MultiCare employee chooses to engage the company’s leadership development offerings?

Michelle Koven, executive human potential business partner – Behavioral Health, Mary Bridge Children’s Network and Pulse Heart Institute: Some people are looking to grow their careers. In nursing, being on the floor is a really tough role, and people are looking for the next thing in their careers, the next step. Where can I take my skills and still be a resource and an asset to the organization? A lot of people, especially at the front-line leader level, are also looking to grow, develop, and find that next opportunity.

Q: For a business of any size — whether it’s small, medium, or large — what are some suggestions you can offer in terms of starting or expanding a leadership program in the workplace?

Darci Gibson, culture & talent development director: Your development is yours to own. Set that mindset amongst your leaders. You can offer leadership development in a variety of ways to make it easier for leaders, but ultimately they need to own their own development. Create that initial culture that this is important, we value this as an organization, and we want to help you get there.

Koven: Leadership development doesn’t have to be a big, formal thing. Any time you can get out there, expand your worldview, and expose yourself to something new, it’s another growth opportunity. Don’t get into the traditional mindset that it has to be a formal class. Look for ways to kind of go outside your comfort zone, because that will grow your leadership skills. If you take on the mindset of small increments and a culture of coaching and growth, it’s something that can happen at all times.

Natali: Training isn’t a silver bullet. You can’t fix somebody by sending them to training, and you can’t expect training to just do it on its own. 

Also, make it your own. There are all sorts of classes, books, and training that you can deliver. But make it relevant to your business. Customize it. Design it to fit the language, culture, and needs of your organization, instead of just taking things off the shelf and running with them.