For Hospital Board Succession Planning, Creativity Counts

Even the best hospital and health system boards are challenged to find new members. While traditional skills such as accounting and finance are still highly valued, boards increasingly need individuals who understand, for example, population health, evidence-based medicine, and even information technology and social media.

“Board members with proven clinical experience in quality measurement and performance improvement are especially prized,” Jim Gauss writes on “As the healthcare landscape and its financial incentives are transformed, board members are being asked to forge novel partnerships between care providers and insurers and navigate their institutions through complex consolidation decisions.” Hospital board members must also, for instance, have expertise in maintaining not-for-profit status and documenting the benefits of their organizations to the local communities they serve.

Jim Gauss

How to find such talented people? Some creative boards look to professionals in other industries who can bring with them fresh ideas. “These boards are willing to mentor new members in the nuances of a particular industry,” says Gauss, “but they prefer candidates who already have substantial governance experience and can contribute early in their tenure.” Another approach is for boards to look outside their local communities and conduct sweeping, national searches.

Compounding the challenge of finding new members is the fact that boards are faced with mounting responsibilities. “There used to be three to five people in established leadership roles on boards, and the thinking was that the others could be trained up, but that’s no longer the case,” Gauss explains to Philip Betbeze of HealthLeaders Media. “There’s a lot written on competency models for boards, and looking at those very carefully, they’re frankly looking a lot different than current membership.”

Finally, attracting people with new ideas and skill sets usually goes hand in hand with the need for boards to become younger and more diverse, Gauss tells editor Jane Jeffries of Trustee Magazine.

Getting younger usually helps boards achieve their diversity objectives as well, Gauss notes, since the younger generation of professionals better reflects the makeup of the current U.S. population. When a board becomes younger, he says, “the agenda starts to look a little different.”

The notion that the “pool is dry” and that boards can’t really find new members with fresh ideas is not valid, Gauss adds. Boards can look to organizations such as AHA and state hospital associations for search support, and can even go so far as to develop contacts with local organizations such as university fraternities and sororities.

Board service can also be made more attractive to young professionals. “Younger people are looking for more streamlined board processes than has been the case in years past,” Gauss says. “They are looking for boards where they can contribute, where there’s active debate and discussion, but where it’s still collegial.”

In conclusion, Gauss tells Trustee: “We need to get creative in how we bring the best and brightest to our hospital and health system boards.”

By Paul Thomas, Witt/Kieffer Senior Writer (@PaulWThomas)

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