When consumer advocacy meets recruitment – The Royal Melbourne Hospital story

The Royal Melbourne Hospital Allied Health department’s decision to include former patients in its recruitment process has delivered impressive results. Desh Wheeler shares his experience.

This article originally appeared in The Nurture IssueMarketing‘s current print issue.

Desh Wheeler 150 BWThe Royal Melbourne Hospital Allied Health department’s decision to include former patients in its recruitment process has delivered impressive results in reducing staff turnover. As a marketer I know firsthand how the knowledge of consumers helps build better teams and foster better internal culture. As a former patient and now as a consumer representative in Allied Health’s recruitment process, I can see how consumers can not only help foster culture, but help foster employee talent, loyalty and retention.

When I first met Associate Professor Genevieve Juj, chief Allied Health officer at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, I got an immediate sense that this is a woman who not only knows the healthcare sector, but the business of running it too. Her vision was to turn the recruitment process of her department on its head and adopt new ways to recruit in order to reduce staff turnover. This new way was the inclusion of a former patient (or consumer as they are internally known) as part of the panel of interviewers.

Staff turnover in any business is a burden, but in the healthcare sector it causes significant financial strain. Making up more than 90% of running costs, staffing is the largest investment of an allied health department. This is coupled with the attrition or loss of healthcare workers, which speaks for an estimated 5.8% of the operating budget (a combination of direct recruitment costs and indirect costs from loss of productivity and training). So, you can understand why Juj saw it necessary to rethink the recruitment process. 

At Royal Melbourne, allied health includes physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology and audiology, clinical nutrition, pastoral and spiritual care, psychology, social work, prosthetics and orthotics, podiatry and music therapy. In other words, healthcare professions distinct from nursing, medicine and pharmacy, equally vital for patient care and recovery. With a workforce of more than 500 across the Parkville and Royal Park campuses, the finite nature of healthcare resources, the shortages of staff across many professions and the shortage of allied health care workers in rural areas, you can understand why the success of allied health at the Royal Melbourne Hospital depends not only on the capability of its staff, but its staff retention and recruitment strategies.

Recruiting clinicians who share behaviours and attitudes that align to the culture, values and strategic intent of a healthcare organisation is critical to sustainable development and retention of staff. Traditional interview techniques continue only to prioritise clinical skills and competencies, but not cultural fit. It is a known fact that person-to-culture fit enhances job satisfaction, organisational commitment and organisational efficiency. A new recruitment model helps nurture talent and focus on the development of staff, allowing all staff to play an active role in the supervision, coaching and development of more junior team members.

The new, behaviourally-grounded recruitment model for Allied Health includes a phone screening interview where the top three to five applicants are selected from a short list of all applicants and probed on their clinical competencies for the specified role. This list is further shortened to one or two top candidates for an in-depth face-to-face interview by a panel of three to four interviewers, including a consumer. In the face-to-face interviews, behavioural competencies are explored. These behavioural competencies are broken into three key areas:

  1. A chronological review of applicant’s career that adopts a narrative approach to explore and expand on clinical competencies and lived experiences,
  2. a values and behaviours assessment that explores values and behaviours in line with the organisational core values, and
  3. organisational capabilities assessment that digs deep into behavioural attributes across respective skill areas.

The inclusion of consumer advocates in care is well established. Including them in the interview process embeds the consumer perspective into the employment processes of Royal Melbourne Hospital. Consumer advocates along with allied health recruiting managers underwent HR training in the new recruitment model to facilitate the cultural shift from focusing only on competency, to behavioural based recruiting. Allied Health has identified that consumers bring several perceived and unique benefits associated with their inclusion on the interview panel, including an unencumbered and commonsense perspective to the recruitment discussion and demonstration to the candidate that Royal Melbourne Health takes consumer input into decision making seriously.

Allied Health also believes that consumers have something more to contribute as they’re not necessarily health professionals but can relate to the human side of patient care. With my background forged in corporate, I am no expert in the respective health field or in recruiting clinicians, but when I am on the interview panel I look for answers in a language I understand – honesty, understanding and the need to be listened to.

This new model, the first of its kind in the healthcare sector in Australia was implemented four years ago over a 12 month period and has shown a decline in staff turnover of five percent. Gaining the right staff for the right fit has broader implications for the quality of patient care which will improve even further over time as a result of enhanced staff-to-organisation fit. Allied Health under Juj’s stewardship has shown that behaviourally grounded recruitment over the traditional competency based recruitment models – along with the inclusion of consumer advocates on the interview panel – improves overall staff attrition rates, nurtures talent and builds commitment and loyalty, all with patient care at its centre. 

Marketers know how important knowledge and love of customers is to a brand and its success, and when I was approached by Allied Health at the Royal Melbourne to be part of this new recruitment process, the decision was simple. Customer advocacy in any discipline pays dividends, but to include former patients in the recruitment of healthcare specialists, speaks volumes to the forward thinking at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and genuine desire to keep the needs of the customer at the forefront of everything they do.

With an extensive marketing background in the FMCG and finance sectors, Desh Wheeler now utilises his skills volunteering at various organisations, including the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Image credit:Luis Melendez