Leadership Tips

How to create effective leaders with manager training: A Q&A with Andrea Goodwin, VP of HR at Bridge Home Health and Hospice

About the author: Tim Mann is a seasoned sales leader, and heads up the sales organization at Blueboard as VP of Sales.

We’re guessing you don’t need another think piece on how hard it is to work in HR right now (you already know!). That’s why the recent conversation between myself and Andrea Goodwin, VP of Human Resources at Bridge Home Health and Hospice—named one of  Inc.’s fastest growing hospice providers in 2022—was such a breath of fresh air.

Andrea joined our sales team at a Blueboard manager training offsite to share lessons from her 25 years in HR. This conversation included what she’s learned in her current HR leadership role, where she’s responsible for an all-remote, distributed team of admins, managers, RNs, aides, social workers, chaplains, and more. 

During the discussion, Andrea opened up about the very real struggles to retain employees and champion L&D and recognition in the healthcare industry. But most importantly, she shared the wins (big and small) that she’s experienced as she continues her work to enhance the employee experience and empower great leaders every day.

This conversation was packed with actionable tips on how you can better support your employees and empower managers with the leadership skills they need while also taking care of yourself as a People leader and your HR team. 

In this Q&A, Andrea shared:

  • The specific actions she took to boost her organization’s average employee tenure by 75%
  • How to leverage manager training and leadership development programs to address skills gaps and improve the manager and employee relationship to reengage staff and increase retention
  • How HR leaders can get executive buy-in (especially from the CFO!) for recognition programs
  • What sales professionals can do to make their messaging more effective to best connect with HR stakeholders

Whether you’re an HR leader trying to move the needle on employee engagement and retention; a people pro looking for tips on how to build a good manager and set folks up for a management role; or a sales rep trying to cut through the noise—the insights and takeaways from this Q&A will equip you with the knowledge and tools to make an impact in your role and your organization.

Tackling employee retention hurdles with consistent manager training and leadership development.

Key takeaway/TL;DR: Improve retention by equipping your managers (who may be first-time managers, too) with the tools and training to improve communication skills and provide timely feedback to staff. Insufficiently trained people managers can cause employees unnecessary stress, and their ineffectiveness contributes to “quiet quitting.” But when managers practice active listening and consistent communication to stay connected to direct reports and their needs, know how to help direct reports explore competencies and find meaning in their work, and act as mentors, those employees are more likely to stay.

Tim Mann: Healthcare attracts a very specific type of person. What drew you to this industry, and in particular, to HR? 

Andrea Goodwin: Well, I thought I was going to be an accounting major, but I took my first accounting class and knew it wasn’t for me. My school had a couple of HR courses, so I figured I’d give it a try. Around that time, I also started volunteering at a nursing home, and I asked to be given anything that had to do with HR. 

While I was there, I made rounds in the building, and it was incredibly moving to see what an honor it is to care for people's loved ones. What attracted me to healthcare is the privilege of caring for people at their most vulnerable, but I knew I was not going to be a nurse or a doctor. So I had to figure out: How can I make an impact in this field? I decided my niche would be HR. And now, I’ve made a career in HR leadership roles for about 25 years..

Tim: You came in with a passion to do this work and serve people. How does that look on a day-to-day basis in your role?

Andrea: The nature of HR is no matter what your role is—whether you’re a generalist, work in benefits, or work in recruitment—you could go in with the best-laid plans that you have for that day, and none of them are going to happen. It's just the nature of the work; it’s unpredictable because you're dealing with people and all the issues they may bring into the work environment, and you, as HR, have to be able to handle that. 

No day ever looks the same. I could go in with a to-do list of 10 different things, but then I've got five employee relations issues that have taken up the entire rest of my week. I'm managing a completely remote team and all sorts of people and employee relations issues.

Tim: How is your performance as an HR leader measured? What are you accountable for on a monthly and annual basis?

Andrea: This year, we’re focusing on two major things: turnover and leadership development to create truly effective leaders. Part of that is making sure staff have timely, constructive feedback and regular performance reviews, so that’s a priority for me and for our company right now. I'm measured on that, and then there's a plan to trickle that down to the leaders, so now it's part of their bonus. If they don't deliver their performance reviews on time (and timely means within 30 days of their anniversary date), then their bonus is going to be impacted. I'm responsible for rolling out that initiative and making sure that the data is provided to each of our locations.

Rounding for outcomes: One-on-ones to understand what’s working well and what’s not to reduce employee turnover in the healthcare industry.

Tim: There are so many things you can do to tackle turnover. How do you approach boosting retention?

Andrea: Turnover is a huge issue for the healthcare industry in general. Not everybody can deal with death and dying every day. When I started this job almost three years ago, the tenure for clinicians was about eight months, and now we're up to a year and two months. It's not where I would like for it to be, but it's getting better. 

When I look at retention, I’m asking questions like:

  • Why are people leaving? 
  • Where are they going? 
  • What are we doing wrong? 
  • Why can we not retain them longer?

Right now, we’re addressing turnover by doing 30-, 60-, and 90-day check-ins. I have a director of employee experience who’s responsible for checking in with all of our new employees, and we do another check-in at the one-year mark. 

We also do stay interviews and exit interviews to gather as much feedback as possible at different checkpoints throughout somebody's time with us. Based on data from these conversations and from surveys, we’ve found that these are the reasons people are leaving:

  1. They're not getting feedback. That’s why one of my goals is getting people their performance reviews in a timely manner. 
  2. They have no communication from their leader.
  3. The management training is poor. 
“Looking at the reasons people leave, you’ll notice one thing: not one of them was money. It's not always about money. It's about: How can I be recognized? How can I be communicated with clearly? And how do I get feedback that I need and want to do my job effectively?” - Andrea Goodwin, Vice President of Human Resources at Bridge Home Health & Hospice

We’ve started a new practice we call “rounding for outcomes.” The leaders have to meet one-on-one with their staff (it can be virtually, but we prefer for it to be in person) and ask them the same questions every month, including:

  • What's working well for you?
  • Do you have the tools and resources to do your job? 
  • Who can I thank that's gone above and beyond? 

And every month, those leaders are expected to ensure any issues mentioned the previous month have been resolved, and to ask: “Have we gotten that resolved for you?” That one question alone means a lot to an employee because they know that they were listened to, and that their manager is communicating with them and following up. These are essential ingredients to build trust and become a good leader.

Get more expert insights on cultivating effective employee connection

Explore our platformTake me to the hub

Never underestimate the power of regular communication touchpoints in the manager and employee relationship.

Andrea: Managers communicating with their employees really does matter. We're hoping that that's going to have an impact on retention because staff are going to feel more connected and more engaged. As we all know, replacing employees is expensive. And if the average tenure is only a year and two months, that gets very, very pricey for an organization to continue to have to replace people.

Tim: As you mentioned, your organization went from an average tenure of eight months to a year and two months—that’s quite the jump. What specific actions contributed to these improved retention outcomes?

Andrea: What got us from eight months to a year and two months is really that the HR team has grown. When I first came on board, there were about two people to handle 800 employees, and so I had to build a team to support the rest of the staff. Rounding for outcomes is more recently rolled out, so we haven't seen the true impact of that yet, but from my experience doing so at other companies, I’m optimistic that the program will contribute to increasing that tenure number.

The other thing we did was roll out the Leadership Development Institute. Historically, leaders in my organization were promoted or put into new roles that they did not yet have the skill set and specific management skills for. The ripple effect of that is, one or two years down the line, we saw performance deficiencies in leadership, and that was coming up in our exit interviews: people were leaving because of the lack of effective communication with their leaders.

So now we're empowering leaders to develop their leadership style with training courses specific to HR. Many of these people have never had any management experience before, so to be thrown into running a branch without any new manager training—that's a big responsibility. To better support them, we now give  new leaders dedicated leadership training on communication, decision making and problem solving, dealing with workers’ comp claims, handling leaves of absence, and team building to help them succeed as leaders.

Related insight: A 2023 McKinsey survey identified three areas where organizations can better empower managers to support them in their role and to accomplish more. A key component: time management, and reevaluating how they spend their time to free them up to focus on the critical work of actually managing. According to the report, surveyed middle managers spend almost 50% of their working time on non-managerial work like admin and execution rather than strategy and coaching employees and supporting their development.

A screenshot of a LinkedIn post announcing the leadership promotion of two healthcare employees.
A LinkedIn announcement celebrates the commitment and recognizes the promotion of Bridge Home Health and Hospice employees.

We did eight leadership training program courses in 2022, and that was part of the improvement in retention that we saw. We're consistently sprinkling in some of this motivating leadership training on our leaders, and then we hold them accountable to it. We check in with them every month and ask what they learned in their last LDI, and how they’ve applied it. We ask them to share the challenges they’ve had in their branches, and then we give them feedback to help them. All of this has led to that jump from eight months to 14 months.

Tim: Congrats on that increase! What are your next retention goals?

Andrea: Our next goal is to get to at least three years tenure for clinicians, and for leaders, at least five to seven years. 

Getting CFO buy-in: How an HR leader prioritizes what to champion for recognition program budget and why.

Key takeaway/TL;DR: When evaluating a recognition platform, HR leaders have to get buy-in from multiple stakeholders—with the CFO making the final call. Making the case for recognition means removing the “fluff” and narrowing down the information to three key points stakeholders care about: overall benefit to staff, ease of use (especially for all-remote teams), and cost. 

Tim: Where do rewards and recognition fit in here, from an individual contributor and from a leadership perspective?

Andrea: ​ We don’t have a formalized program, but I would like to see us get there, so I'll just speak to what we have right now, then what I would like to see. 

What we do is very informal. Traditionally, our branches have been free to do what they want and spend what they want, which created inequity in our staff. Some branches were doing something—maybe it's service awards, maybe it's birthdays, maybe it's anniversaries—while others weren’t doing those things. And staff from different branches would talk to each other, and they’d try to figure out why Walnut Creek was doing something that San Diego wasn’t. 

In terms of rewards, when someone's been here a year, we may give them a gift card. Anything that we can do is better than nothing at this point in time. Now, gift cards don't work for everybody. A gift card is probably going to mean more to hourly wage employees than maybe it would to a salaried manager. So we do try to tailor recognition to be meaningful to the level in the organization. And then we give the branches parameters for what they can do to celebrate work anniversaries and birthdays. 

Tim: We hear in our conversations that a main trigger event for people seeking out an employee recognition platform is that, as the team grows, they have time to focus on that. We also hear about inconsistent recognition efforts and HR teams wanting a more streamlined program. How do you think about prioritizing how you tackle these problems and where this fits into your overall plan and approach at your organization?

Andrea: My director of employee experience is all about rewarding and recognizing staff. Not all organizations and HR teams have someone who's dedicated to this, so I recognize I’m in a very unique and fortunate position. 

I've been here almost three years now, and I’ve seen the results of not giving staff feedback, not being able to recognize them for what they’ve done out in the field for patient care, anniversaries, birthdays, anything like that. It does make a difference because it all ties to communication and just feedback with staff. So it's a priority for us.

A screenshot of a LinkedIn post that recognizes healthcare professionals and champions employee experience in the workplace.

Tim: An HR leader, what is your process of evaluating an employee recognition vendor? 

Andrea: If we were to evaluate a new recognition platform now, we’d look at:

  1. Overall benefit to staff. Is it going to be something that's going to be tailored to our multigenerational workforce with different pay levels? Will it work for us geographically, since we have staff all over the country?
  2. Ease of rolling it out virtually. Is it something that can be done virtually for an all-remote staff?
  3. Cost. What can we afford to do as an organization and make sure that everybody has the benefit of a program like this?

Tim: Where do you get involved in the process? What’s the next layer of involvement?

Andrea: To do our due diligence, we typically look at three to four different platforms. Then my two HR directors look at the platforms as well to make sure that it's going to work for their regions, and they’ll send me their top two. That’s where I get involved. 

And then I'll just ask them some questions about the pros and cons of it and give my input. But at the end of the day, my director of employee experience is the one who decides on the platform.

Tim: What does the approval process look like? Who do you have to get buy-in from?

Andrea: I have to pitch it to the executive team, which is our Chief Compliance Officer, Executive Vice President of Operations, CFO, and CEO. It’s really the CFO’s decision because of the cost. The CFO is looking at the bottom line and wants to make sure that we can fit it into a budget. So that's who I would pitch it to, as well as the CEO, who will make sure that it's a program that represents the company well, too.

Tim: In terms of all your other priorities, there’s a lot of problems you can solve on a day-to-day basis. How do you think about ranking the problems you’re trying to solve in the business? 

Andrea: I go back to the data and the findings we have around communication and retention. Our challenge with getting a formalized program up and running sooner is that I was still building the HR team to make sure that we could service every employee. Now that I've got the right people on board, it’s about delegating. So it may not be the top item on my list, but it's now going to be off of my list entirely and be the top item on his list because he's the dedicated person to run this to the finish line.

Sales rep PSA: To best connect with HR leaders, remove the fluff, and get right to the point of what you'll solve for them.

Key takeaway/TL;DR: For sales professionals trying to cut through the noise and connect with HR leaders: be succinct. Post-Covid, HR is burned out and pressed for time. Avoid bloated slide decks, and show them how you can make their jobs easier and breathe new life into the work they once loved.

Tim: What’s something you brought to the CFO for approval, outside of employee recognition? What kinds of questions did you face going into that meeting?

Andrea: We’re getting a new HR system, and it’s been a time-consuming process. I’ve been involved from the beginning, given it’s our people platform, which is a really big deal. I went to the CFO with the four solutions we evaluated and gave him my top choice, with the slides to focus on. These slides showed the overall benefits to employees and the company, plus the cost. References are a big deal, too, so I asked the sales rep for two references (including one in healthcare) to share with the CFO.

The questions I’ll most likely get from the CFO are around cost and contract length. How long do we see this software being used by the company? Do we look at a one-year contract or a three-year contract? And most importantly, how will this save us money so we don’t have to hire another recruiter to fill another position?

We had one situation where a vendor sent me a massive deck with 30 slides, and I really had to pare it down and tell the CFO the key pieces of information to focus on. The CFO won’t care about the history of the platform we’re evaluating, for example. So when I need a quick answer, I tell him exactly what to focus on.

Tim: How can a potential vendor help you in that process to be a good partner to you and help you accomplish what you’re trying to do?

Andrea: The partner for this HR system was very good every step of the way. We met about the process, the implementation, the cost, and the specific language to use with the CFO. And his book of business has a lot of healthcare, so he was able to help me make the case for the HR system and really be that internal sales champion.

Tim: What’s one piece of advice you would give to people who want to reach out and work with people in your position?

Andrea: First and foremost, HR is stressful, especially in healthcare, and that’s without a major event like Covid. The burnout factor for healthcare and HR has grown exponentially since 2020. HR had to become “Covid experts” because no one else could take it on, and we were the ones who had to roll out everything. Now, we’re dealing with a lot of fatigue and limited time. People are tired. 

When you approach healthcare professionals, be succinct. Know that you’re talking to people who are burned out and whose staff is burned out. How can you offer something that helps reengage people who loved what they do but are tired now? Build a partnership that shows you will take some of the extra items off of their overflowing plates. 

4 actions to improve your employee experience that you can take now based on Andrea’s HR expert advice.

Andrea shared a lot of heartfelt experiences and actionable advice. For HR leaders pressed for time (which is all of you!), we’re surfacing the key themes, plus actions you can take this month to start making an impact on your employee experience and organization’s bottom line.

1. Weave employee recognition (even small moments) into your operations. 

Feeling valued is crucial to employee wellbeing. Don’t wait until an employee’s one-year anniversary to celebrate their efforts. When recognition is built into your everyday operations, you can chip away daily at regrettable turnover. Take the onboarding process, for example: Andrea’s practice of checking in at the 30-, 60-, and 90-day marks is a great opportunity to weave in rewards for those milestones and help new team members immediately feel valued. 

2. Check in with your managers, and have your managers check in with their staff. 

As Andrea discussed, manager training can make a huge impact on engagement and retention, which is why her organization started a Leadership Development Institute. That’s in line with one of our top HR predictions for 2023: renewed investment in manager L&D.

But before you dive into something as involved as a full-fledged training program, a simple check-in can make a big difference. Every month, Andrea’s managers ask their direct reports: “Do you have the tools and resources to do your job?”

Start by asking that of every one of your managers and make a note of their answers. From there, figure out how you can equip them with what they need to succeed, and focus on getting those resources to them over the next month.

3. Foster connection at work by cultivating your employees to meaning.

This includes in their job and the ways they’re rewarded. Checking tasks off a to-do list doesn’t necessarily equate to meaningful work, just like receiving a gift doesn’t necessarily equate to meaningful recognition.

As Andrea told Tim, even giving her employees gift cards (a kind gesture!) sometimes backfires. When her organization started taxing employees on gift cards for compliance reasons, some people pushed back.

“We’d reward them with a $25 gift card, but they wouldn’t even get the full value because it’s being taxed. So it's not always effective. It minimizes what you're trying to do. So we're going to have to look at something else that's going to be more meaningful,” she said.

In work and in rewards, employees feel fulfilled when they can see how it’s linked to the positive difference they’ve made. Explore ways to reward employees with experiences, not things, and give them the power to choose their gift to help them find meaning in the reward. 

4. To get CFO buy-in, link proposed solutions to cost savings. 

When making the case to your CFO about a new recognition program or platform, there’s a lot of information you could focus on. But if you want to get buy-in quickly, simplify your messaging to what the CFO truly cares about: How is this going to save the company money? Ask your sales rep for details on customers’ cost savings. If you can show how implementing a new software solution will keep employees engaged, decrease turnover, and ultimately prevent the costliness of hiring a new recruiter to fill an open position, you’re on your way to winning them over.

And speaking of getting CFO buy-in: have you read our guide to knowing your recognition ROI? This blog post is an in-depth preview to the recognition ROI guide is a great place to start regardless of where you are in your recognition program journey.

Join our community and receive must-have recognition tips straight to your inbox.

Share this article:

You might also like

Blueboard Logo White

As of March 12, 2024, Blueboard has ceased its operations. To everyone that supported us over the years, thank you. 🙏