Your most important staffing challenge? It's probably not what you think

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

When you ask people in this sector about the biggest staffing challenges ahead, responses often pour into familiar buckets.

Some will say administrators need better training and incentives. Others will insist that greater clinical abilities will be paramount. Some will add that frontline workers need fairer compensation and treatment.

These are all valid concerns. But focusing on the so-called worker bees ignores a larger challenge: the importance of finding the best future leaders. Here the stakes could not possibly be higher. The right people at the top can help open new doors and opportunities that currently don't exist. The wrong choices will at best hold back operators — and in worst-case scenarios crash their firms while spreading ill will.

This observation is hardly an epiphany. Progressive steps are in fact already being taken. For example, NIC has become extremely proactive about identifying and grooming future leaders. So, too, are some of the nation's top universities. And quite a few of the larger firms are well on their way to figuring out what kinds of services and leaders will be needed over the horizon. But so much more needs to be done.

And the work ahead won't be easy.

First and foremost, our future leaders will be tasked with thinking through – and perhaps dramatically altering – their organization's mission. Put another way, these executives will need to determine the answer to this two-pronged question: What is our business and what should it be? Has there ever been a less certain time to contemplate such foundational matters?

Moreover, many current CEOs in this sector are nearing the end of their tenures. So it's fairly apparent that CEO succession will soon become an increasingly common challenge.

For an excellent primer on how to proceed, you can do far worse than Ram Charan's article in the December Harvard Business Review, titled “The secrets of great CEO selection.”

Charan argues that good judgment will be critical here. He notes that successful board directors should identify the two or three distinct capabilities their next CEO must have in order to thrive. He calls this the “pivot,” as the succession decision turns on it. Boards should also do a deep dive in order to understand which person is the best fit vis-a-vis the pivot.

He adds that directors should stay flexible when considering the best candidate's origin. Just as important, they should allow for flaws in the chosen candidate, with the idea that competence gaps may be filled by other executives or corrected with coaching.

Of course, Charan's guides won't ensure that your next CEO is a huge success. But they can certainly help you find the best possible hire. And from the looks of things, many firms in this sector will need all the help they can get.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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