As chief learning officer and senior vice president at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System (North Shore-LIJ), Kathleen Gallo is responsible for the Center of Learning and Innovation (CLI), corporate human resources and service excellence, all of which directly impact the high level of care she demands.
Gallo is experienced with caring for patients. She began her career as an emergency room staff nurse. In between seeing her boys on and off the school bus each day and pursuing advanced degrees in business and nursing, she earned more than 25 years of emergency nursing experience in clinical and administrative roles in tertiary care in Long Island hospitals. Gallo has also held faculty positions at several Long Island colleges. Every career move has been a step toward her current position.
North Shore-LIJ is a 17-hospital network, which equals some 35,000 employees to educate annually. To meet the challenge of educating and synthesizing such a large and diverse medical system, Gallo and her team have created, virtually from scratch, a comprehensive learning strategy to help the health system culture emerge, transfer knowledge and best practices, and implement learning initiatives that support North Shore-LIJ’s strategic business goals and objectives. CLI was launched in January 2002 using a “teacher as leader” model that places senior executives at the helm of classroom instruction. Their job is to encourage mutual learning between the front line and executive leadership. “Outcome measures are developed in alignment with learning initiatives to make sure that we’re driving the business imperatives of the organization,” said Gallo.
CLI learning initiatives include separate tracks for different levels of management: middle management, senior management, senior executives and executive education for nurse and physician leadership. There are enrichment classes like stress and time management, leadership concepts and team building, available to all employees to enhance personal and professional development. And every Monday morning, Michael J. Dowling, president and CEO of North Shore-LIJ, hosts a foundations course for all new employees.
At CLI all health system managers go through the core management program, which lasts for 10 weeks and includes Myers-Briggs Assessment, human resources management, health care finance, quality management practices and certification in behavioral interviewing to aid recruitment of top new talent. For Gallo, the development and education of middle management is critical to the success of North Shore-LIJ because it’s the managers who run the business 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Developing new competencies for managers, empowering them and coaching (not supervising) their performance, are key elements of their education,” Gallo said.
The culmination of core management is an action-learning course called Capstone where each team gets a real-life project to complete for their hospital. They tackle the issues of the day hands-on, share best practices and develop networks as they interact with colleagues from other health system facilities. Teams are given five weeks to complete the project, while managing their regular workload, before they report in front of the CEO, senior leaders and hospital administration.
“We are driving decision-making down to the front line,” said Gallo. “If there is a process to be redesigned or a metric we’re trying to hit, we give it to the front line along with new skills, knowledge and support, then we get out of their way. Let them develop new solutions to old problems using tools they were taught in class. They implement solutions and many times hand them off to the next capstone team to continue implementation or conduct follow-up. We’ve uncovered an enormous amount of talent doing this that we might never have seen. We’ve begun some succession planning and taken people and put them on a leadership development track. We put a lot of strategy into making sure that what people learn at CLI changes the way they work. Coming to CLI is not time off. It’s learning new skills and recognizing opportunities to apply those skills.”
With an annual training budget of $2 million, Gallo is able to augment her energetic leadership and bring in outside speakers and partners like GE Medical Systems (GEMS) and the Harvard School of Public Health for some of the executive and senior leadership classes. North Shore-LIJ also has partnered with Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company to deliver customer service initiatives to employees at all levels of the organization.
Gallo values innovation and growth, and CLI and GEMS have created a Six Sigma Institute to ensure that North-Shore LIJ remains a leader in hospital care. The GEMS engagement ends this month, but Gallo said, “With our own Master Black Belts and Change Facilitators, CLI is more than ready to continue rolling out Six Sigma, change acceleration process and fast-track decision-making skills throughout the organization. Our Six Sigma and Capstone teams are making significant changes in the way we deliver services and patient care.”
Despite those strategic corporate and academic alliances, Gallo maintains that the best teaching comes from inside the organization. “Senior and middle-level executives are teaching the classes,”she said. “I don’t use trainers. Trainers wouldn’t serve our purpose. Intangible value is delivered when front-line managers and senior executives go through a mutual learning experience. At our facilities, these groups routinely interact and inform each other about how to improve day-to-day operations.”
She continued, “We also have an established structure in which senior executives serve as CLI deans. For example, the dean of finance is the chief financial officer for health system and the senior vice president of quality management is the dean of quality. The dean’s role is to evaluate the marketplace for changes and identify the knowledge and skills that managers and employees need in order to respond to those changes. A curriculum is developed, with measurable outcomes, based on the new business requirements.”
Things have been going so well at CLI, Gallo is looking for bigger facilities to house employees waiting to get into classes. “Often corporate universities in for-profit organizations tend to focus on the top 5 to 10 percent of the organization,” Gallo said. “Our CEO has charged us with having every employee experience learning at the corporate university. Logistics is the toughest piece because we’re not going to let increasing demand interfere with the quality of the programs. I’m not going to take a class of 25 and make it 50. We need more space, but the space has to be the right environment to encourage comfort and support learning and innovation.”
Unlike many corporate training programs, Gallo has deliberately not jumped on the e-learning bandwagon to deliver, track and measure learning. To preserve her results-oriented training style and ensure that staff members are using classroom knowledge on the job, Gallo relies on Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation to measure training and productivity and the effectiveness of Capstone and Six Sigma projects, both of which directly impact business results. “We purposefully have not gone to e-learning yet because we want the front-line learning from the executives and vice versa,” Gallo explained. “I’m starting to look at how we might benefit from technology, but I don’t want to remove the face-to-face interaction. When you see employee development, when you can take employees and move them from one level of the organization and advance them because of the new skills they’re applying and they become people in the organization who start to solve problems, that’s one way of seeing results. We see our organizational performance measures met and our targets hit because we have the front line of employees in classes and have empowered them to make a difference.”
The future of learning at CLI will continue successful programs such as the Administrative Fellowship Program, a national program aimed at recruiting top post-graduate candidates with masters’ degrees. “CLI went under the radar screen putting this program together last year,” said Gallo. “I thought, ‘Let me try it and put a good strategy and structure around it.’ And boy did it take off! At the end of the year the senior executives were actually competing with each other to get the first eight fellows to work for them. We have accepted 14 new fellows from top graduate schools for the 2004-2005 program.”
The future will also include performance simulation as an educational tool. Gallo wants to purposefully create stressful situations outside the norm to see how employees perform. “I’m looking to take that concept and build a learning performance simulator as it relates to business decisions and the delivery of patient care and safety,” said Gallo. “I always ask myself how can CLI continue to bring value to the organization. I never want our corporate university to become a commodity. We need to be innovative and take risks. We must link everything CLI does to help the organization achieve its mission through employee development. This job is never done, but we’re on the right track.”