Navigating the Talent Crisis, ft. Alan Shoebridge, AVP, National Communication, Providence


Talent and people are the greatest assets we have. Whether we are talking about the great resignation or the great reshuffling, retaining and growing your team should always be a top priority for leaders. As we look into the broader staffing and talent crisis in healthcare, whether you’re on the business or clinical side, you’ve got to be thinking about your own teams and how to keep them motivated and engaged.

Alan Shoebridge, Chief Communications Officer at Providence Oregon, shares insightful perspectives for healthcare leaders challenged with growing their teams and retaining their staff. Learn from Shoebridge and Chris Hemphill, Podcast Host of Hello Healthcare, about strategies and real world application of navigating the talent crisis while building a solid foundation for growth.

This conversation is brought to you by Actium Health in partnership with the Forum for Healthcare Strategists.

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Chris Hemphill

Podcast Host
Hello Healthcare


Alan Shoebridge

AVP, National Communication

Logo - Providence Oregon

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Alan Shoebridge (00:00):
And so there is a real competition for talent. And I think that a top priority for people as leaders should always be retaining your team and growing your team. But right now, I think the consequences of not doing a good job of that are harsher now than they’ve probably been in the last 10 years, because if you lose three or four people off of a 10 person team, it might take you a better part of the year to find replacements. And frankly, a lot of the best talent might already be gone. So I think, there’s some real high stakes for leaders right now, and that’s why you need to think about refocusing on that development now, when you have the chance to do it.
Chris Hemphill (00:44):
Hello Healthcare. We are excited to be joined again with Alan Shoebridge to talk about building a team during a talent crisis in healthcare. This is a subject that Alan has spoken impressively on. It was extremely impressive when I asked Alan about how to manage the workforce during COVID and the first thing that he focused on, “As a healthcare marketer, what should we be focusing on as we’re navigating through the ups and downs of COVID?” The first point that Alan brought up was on the personal mental health of the team, on taking care of yourself. So I love it when we can get away from heady concepts and really focus in on everybody who’s fueling the progress that we’re aiming for and focusing on ourselves and on our teams and our people.
So I thought it would be a great conversation to have with Alan. Alan is currently leading as the chief communications officer for Providence, Oregon, and has a storied history at large health systems and small health systems. I love that kind of diversity and experience because it allows us to talk about this and think about it from many angles, but he’s been a director of marketing and communications at Salinas Valley health system. He’s been in leadership roles at Kaiser Permanent Intake. So, fantastic background. Also, is really studied on the generational differences in understanding people’s needs. Has actually written a book called, Don’t You Forget About Gen X. So, lots of background in history for Alan, but just wanted to give you the opportunity to talk about your background and why you’re here.
Alan Shoebridge (02:35):
Thank you. Well, I think you talked about it a little bit. Talent and people are the greatest asset that we have. The greatest asset that we have as organizations, as leaders. And we’ve really been in this crisis mode for two and a half years, and there’s been ebbs and flows. And I think during times when you get more of a chance to think strategically, or take a step back, that is where you really have to concentrate on developing yourself, developing your team. And as soon as we started stepping out of, I think the COVID crisis, and things got a little better. Now, we’re not out of the woods totally, you know that, but then we were hit with a really big staffing crisis. So we’re going through that. And I think it’s happening on a large scale in healthcare systems.
We’re seeing it with nurses and providers, and maybe not so much in the marketing communication teams themselves, but you always need to think about how you retain people, how you give people a good experience, how you work on their development. And so, again, as I think we’re looking at the broader crisis staffing throughout the organization and throughout the industry, you’ve got to be thinking about our own teams too, and how we get them motivated, engaged. And we really think about the retention, because I think right now, you don’t want to have to be scrambling to look for team members. It’s going to be hard. And so, really you want to look at the team you have, making sure you’ve got the right people doing the right things, that they’re engaged and they’re motivated.
Chris Hemphill (03:53):
So we’re talking about the staffing challenges on the clinician and nursing physician side, but I’m curious on the administration side too, with the great resignation. How would you say that you’ve seen a great problem with that on the administrative side as well? Or what’s your perspective there?
Alan Shoebridge (04:14):
Yeah, well, it’s interesting. I mean, people use the term great resignation, but I’ve also heard people talk about it as the great reshuffling, because even looking at my journey. Less than a year ago, I was working at a different healthcare system. I got a job somewhere else. I moved. I mean, I don’t know if you’d count me as a resignation. I think you’d count me as sort of a reshuffle. Going for a different opportunity to lead a different type of team, things like that. I think that is happening a lot. And so, you are getting a lot of movement. And I think even on the clinical space, you get people who, they’re leaving one system to go to another, or maybe they’re going to go work for a new intern, a startup into healthcare or something. So there’s a lot of movement.
I don’t think people are necessarily leaving the industry entirely. They’re just sort of reshuffling. And so, there is a real competition for talent. And I think that the top priority for people as leaders should always be retaining your team and growing your team. But right now, I think the consequences of not doing a good job of that are harsher now than they’ve probably been in the last 10 years, because if you lose three or four people off of a 10 person team, it might take you better part of the year to find replacements. And frankly, a lot of the best talent might already be gone. So, I think there’s some real high stakes for leaders right now, and that’s why you need to think about we refocusing on that development now when you have the chance to do it.
Chris Hemphill (05:34):
So I can imagine a lot of organizations, a lot of leadership, we know that folks might be leaving, but they’re going to another organization. So one loss is another’s gain, but there’s still a lot of training time, cultural integration that comes with that. And one thing that you mentioned earlier, is that retention should be a priority. So when it comes to, even in the issue of a reshuffle, where are organizations missing the mark that are causing people to reshuffle at a higher rate?
Alan Shoebridge (06:03):
Well, right now, one thing that I think is a challenge is this whole question of what kind of working environment do you offer? Is it remote? Is it hybrid? Is it everyone’s back in the office? And I know all industries are going through that, but I think for healthcare, for the better part of the year and a half, two years, a lot of administrative teams, marketing communications teams, people were all remote. And the staff really likes that. It does raise some questions about engagement and visibility and things like that. But no one’s really clambering to go back to the office full-time, in most cases. And we’re seeing this tension of a lot of leaders, and this does get to maybe a generational question that we can talk about, of wanting everyone to come back. “Well, I need to see everyone. I need to have everyone in the office.”
And you hear stories of people coming to the office and they go into their space and they sit on Zoom calls all day. And they’re like, “Why am I here?” So those are the sort of questions I think leaders need to ask themselves about, “What am I going to ask the team to do? What things do they enjoy that potentially might be a takeaway if we change our policy?” And if we make the working environment uncomfortable or something they don’t like, well, going to leave and work for a fully remote startup might look really attractive to that employee who’s enjoying working for your organization, but they want to keep their remote or hybrid role. So I know that’s a huge subject, but that’s a big one right now for that retention piece.
Chris Hemphill (07:23):
Yeah. And that’s a great point. Actually working in the vendor space and the technology space, I’ve seen migration because of those reasons. People are really interested in working for a company that offers remote opportunities, which makes me wonder what is the resistance at leadership levels to having remote or hybrid environments?
Alan Shoebridge (07:46):
I think there’s a few things. And one is frankly again, I’ll use the generational example. If you’re a leader and you’re probably going to be in the late Millennial, Gen X, early Boomer type space. How you grew up and how you probably rose, was in the office. I mean, you were probably very visible for most of your career when you received your promotions, you did it in the office environment. And so, there’s that piece of just, “That’s the way it’s done. And that’s the way I developed as a leader was through that thing.” So, that’s a bias that some people have. I think it can be hard to overcome that. The other piece is that there’s a goodwill thing of a development path does happen with a lot of in-person interaction. If I have an employee who’s fully remote, I could be losing a lot of opportunities to engage them, to have discussions, to really have that sort of impromptu time, which is valuable.
And there are some good questions that are being debated about, “Well, how does someone sort of put themselves on a path to promotion and recognition if you don’t see them that often?” So that’s kind of a good, safe effort. And then there’s a third category, which I think is not so good, which is just people who want to control the environment who feel like, “I need to see the staff. If I don’t see the staff, they’re not working. How can I trust them?” I’ve seen a lot of content on LinkedIn lately, of people, “You’ve got to be back in the office five days a week, and there’s no value to being remote.” And that’s a big disconnect from what employees value. More and more of people, and I think they are in my cohort of the Gen X, Boomer, “You got to be back in the office five days a week. You’re never going to get recognized if you’re not visible.”
And I think that misses that there’s been a shift in expectations for the employees. And they’re wondering, “Why do I need to come back if I’m doing a good job?” So, we’re going to have to meet in the middle somewhere. And this is going to take some time to play out. I think we’re still a good year, year and a half to figuring out, “What is the best way to run this? And how do we kind of balance all these different perspectives?” Because again, there’s some legitimate questions. Again, if you’re fully remote and your leader’s back in the office, and maybe some of your colleagues are back in the office, well, that might be more difficult for you to stand out and get recognized. So there are legitimate questions. I just think the worst aspect to approach it from is, “I don’t see people. They’re not getting work done.” That’s a bad perspective. And I’ll defend that as being a bad perspective forever.
Chris Hemphill (10:05):
And I did mention the people that come to us, like based on wanting remote environments. There’s actually the other side where people who might be younger in their careers and seeking that recognition and seeking that visibility, feel that they’ll do better in an office environment. So, I’ve seen it on both sides now. I don’t know the degree on both sides, but even in the younger age cohorts, I’ve seen it to where people have been interested in going to a space where they can be back in the office too.
Alan Shoebridge (10:38):
I think it does vary and it varies by the individual. And the challenging thing for leaders is to figure out, “How much structure do people need? How much do I want to mandate versus letting people kind of figure out on their own?” And again, how prescriptive do you want to be about it? And that’s where the shaking up piece comes. Because my worst fear is saying, “Oh, everyone has to be in back in the office three days a week,” but then they get there and house people aren’t there, or they’re still stuck on the Zoom calls. And they’re wondering like, “Why am I here?” So, you got to figure out the right environment.
But I just think we have to acknowledge that the landscape has changed. People were able to work for more than a year and a half remote, and the productivity was higher than ever. So we don’t have a productivity problem, but we might have an engagement challenge and a career development path challenge, that you’ve got to work harder as a leader to engage a remote team and find opportunities for people. And as an employee, I think you’ve got to figure out a way to stand out a little bit too, if you’re totally remote. So there’re some challenges there on the engagement front, but I think we are seeing that people value being able to have more flexibility in their schedule and hardly anyone misses their commutes to work. And so that part, people like. They want to keep that life balance.
Chris Hemphill (11:49):
I will say this though. Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of rhetoric lately around people feel like the only way to move up is to move out. And I mean, that’s a shame to hear. And it kind of leads to a… we’ve been talking about remote work and things like that, but what are some other aspects that you’re thinking might be causing this reshuffling?
Alan Shoebridge (12:10):
Well, probably a little bit too, is just the assured amount of opportunities that are available. I mean, right now, this is an employee’s market. So as someone looking for a job, you have a lot of opportunities to choose from. There’s a lot of openings, there’s a record number of openings. So there’s more opportunity than there’s ever been. So, I think that probably leads a lot of people to look too. And in our industry, in healthcare, there’s more entrance in the field than ever. So, you have your traditional health systems and clinics things you can work for. But now you’ve got a lot of startups. You’ve got a lot of capital being invested.
There’s more opportunity in our industry. There’re more jobs just in general and that’s going to drive a lot. Why not look, if you’re thinking about it now? Some people might be passive lookers where they enjoy where they enjoy where they’re working, but they want to take a look at what’s out there. And again, right now, this moment of time, there’s never been more openings. And that’s another risk I think, for leaders to think about. Again, why you want to make the environment good. Why you want to focus on retention, because your team’s got a lot of opportunities, even if they like you, if they like the organization, they might get recruited away. So, you got to be got to be cognizant of that.
Chris Hemphill (13:21):
So I’d like to zoom in and just hit on a personal level and we’d be okay if you don’t want to answer or include this question, but your previous employer, is there anything that they could have done to prevent your shuffle?
Alan Shoebridge (13:33):
Yeah, well, I don’t think so. Again, I really liked where I… and I won’t even narrow it down to one player. But every time I made a move from place to place, I really haven’t had a bad experience. I just want to get out of there. But I’ve been focused on thinking about, “What is the next growth opportunity for me?” And certain organizations just have more paths. They’re larger. There’re more places you can go. So, you might find yourself in a position like I’ve had a few times, where I like where I’m working. I like the people, it’s a good environment. But there’s just not the future path.
And also, depending on people’s own comfort level, I’ve been comfortable with moving locations too. Even though, I think my wife’s about ready to kill me. She’s like, “Let’s stop moving around.” But if you’re open to that, that opens up a whole new world too. And so, often if you can find the right blend of a great place to live with somewhere that as an employer, you’ve got a lot of opportunity for you. That’s perfect. And I think that for me, was what kind of motivated a few of my moves over the years, just marrying that up. Great environment, great place to live, and a great path for future development.
Chris Hemphill (14:40):
So we’ve talked about future development, career paths, remote versus hybrid environments, things like that. Knowing that these issues are coming into the fold, what are you seeing healthcare leaders doing to address the turnover and reshuffling?
Alan Shoebridge (14:54):
Well part of it is just acknowledging. I think we have to step back for one second and just acknowledge what people have been through for the last two years. So again, I don’t think there’s been time where people have been more stressed out, worked harder, had higher productivity dealt with more crisis’ in healthcare, in the last few years. And so for me, going in and lading a new team was actually encouraging people. Like, “We’re in a little bit of a lull here, take vacation. Take time of. Take Fridays off.” Simple things like that. Making sure like, “Let’s recharge a little bit because we don’t know how long this is going to last.”
So I think leaders should encourage their team to do that. of course, you got to balance your staffing needs, but encourage people to use their time off now while they can, encourage people to spend some time thinking about education and opportunities they want to pursue, because we’re going to, at some point, get thrown back into another crisis of whatever and so, use this time and maximize it. And I think that self-care piece is really important. And even I did something just small, but I stopped scheduling meetings on Fridays, unless they’re an emergency. In my line of communication, is there can be an emergency and we have to have meetings. So that happens, but I don’t have staff one-on-ones. I don’t have department meetings. I don’t ask people for meetings.
I’ll go to them if someone sends me something and again, it’s important. But I’ve noticed that one action of just not scheduling that day, has reduced my stress level. It’s reduced the team stress level. When I first came in, I realized there was two kind of one-on-ones set on Fridays. And I just stepped back and was like, “Why am we’re doing this? I don’t want to have a meeting on Friday. They don’t want to have on meeting. Why don’t we just concentrate on getting some work done or just recharging ourselves?” And that simple step again, took the pressure off some of the team, took pressure off of me. And I think that’s the kind of thing the leaders can look at and just ask themselves, “Why am I doing it this way? And is there some way that I could do it that would have a lesser impact on me or the team?” That’s a simple step I think everyone could do.
Chris Hemphill (16:51):
Earlier, you brought up the differences by generation on response to remote work. And we’re talking about these other things such as career path development and other aspects that might influence people’s desire to stay, to influence retention. I’m just wondering, especially having written the book on Generation X, which was more broadly about addressing generational differences in healthcare. What if we apply that same lens to our employee relationships? What would you see as far as what should we be aware of by generational guidelines?
Alan Shoebridge (17:27):
Well, I think going back to a few points you talked about earlier too, is respecting what experiences people have had. So again, we’re seeing sort of Gen Z enter the workplace. Now, they’re 25 and younger, but they’re starting to come into the entry level roles. Well, they may have only had an experience working remotely. They may value that really highly. They probably do. So, that’s something you need to be thinking about with those employees. With people who have been in the workforce a long time, your Gen X, your Boomers. They have a different approach to working and their environment.
So, I think a lot of it is just thinking about the experiences they’ve had. And the most important thing though, generations are kind of a guide, but you need to have an individual conversations because I found that when I returned to Providence, I didn’t really know what people were going to want in terms of working environment. I had an individual conversation with everyone in my team and you couldn’t really put it in a box and say, “Well, all the Gen X and Baby Boomers want to come back into the office and all the Millennials and Gen Z don’t have any interest.” Well, that really wasn’t what I found. I found it’s much more nuanced. It’s much more kind of catered to the individual. So, it’s very likely that you might have again, a Boomer or a Gen Xer on your team, who prior to COVID they worked in the office all the time.
They started working remotely and they liked it. So again, it’s a lot of flexibility and I’ve found if there’s any place where I think generations do have a lot of consistency and similarity, is in what they want in their work. They want respect. They want somewhere that they can align to the goals and vision of an organization. And they want a boss that listens to them. Those are the things that matter. And they really are very consistent. I’ve seen this in research, very consistent from generation to generation. So you have to focus on those things. And then I think you need to, again, kind of respect where the individual members of your team have been and what their generations have seen, but then have those individual conversations to find out what really matters to people.
Chris Hemphill (19:20):
That’s a good point because if we could just peg it down by generation, then that would be a very massive, easy button. Like, “If you’re born in this age range, then you automatically like that.” But obviously, not the case.
Alan Shoebridge (19:32):
Well, and I think we often use the generation as far as broad guidelines and not very specific because you’re going to say, well again, Baby Boomers and Gen Xer’s, they had similar experiences coming up in the workplace. And that will probably inform that that group might be harder to move to a different approach to work than say the Gen Z or really younger Millennials. There might be more resistance. So you have to go into it thinking about that, but you do need those individual conversations. Because you’re going to find individual members of a generation who don’t always fit the larger narrative so you do have to have those personal touches and again, that’s what a good leader would do. You need to go in and talk to people, and then you need to kind of balance your philosophy as a leader with what the team wants and needs and come up with a good approach.
Chris Hemphill (20:20):
Well, I think that this has been a really excellent look into just a lot of things concerning, how to build these teams, how to navigate this environment, where there is a talent shortage, but there’s also the opportunity to retain people by making certain types of changes. We’ve talked about a lot of things in the past. We’ve talked about response to crisis marketing and how to get started on certain activities. For the folks that want to continue to have those kind of conversations, where can they find you?
Alan Shoebridge (20:53):
So, I post a lot on LinkedIn. So, look me up on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter fairly often. Those are the best places. Also, have a website, just my name,, where I have blog posts. So, I’m pretty easy to find, and I love having conversations and getting reactions and hearing from others, because that’s how you learn and develop. So I enjoy that part of it as well.
Chris Hemphill (21:13):
Well, fantastic. And again, appreciate you coming to the show and being transparent about your journey. So, for the folks who stuck around with us and enjoyed this conversation until we see you next time, hello.
Speaker 3 (21:29):
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