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Moving Forward Differently

July 16, 2020

For Nikki Sumpter, senior vice president and chief human resource officer at Atlantic Health System, this is a time for organizations and individuals alike to reexamine their best practices. Some old habits and methods may have to be scrapped. At the same time, some new approaches should be adopted to ensure that both employers and employees are moving forward together in a safe, mutually beneficial way.

However, as Nikki discussed in a Community Conversation on June 11, 2020, long-term plans don’t have to be scrapped completely. But sometimes to move forward, you must first reposition yourself in the place where you are.

Achieving harmony in a time of chaos

Atlantic Health System is a team of more than 17,000 members, and one of the primary topics that Nikki covered in her Facebook Live event is the phenomenal job everyone has done in the past months. “In caring for patients, families, and each other through COVID-19. This has been a trying time… and we have rallied together. We should all be proud of the work we’ve done.”

As organizations like Atlantic Health System look to the future, plans made before COVID-19 must be adjusted. “That doesn’t mean that everything’s off the table that we’d planned,” Nikki stressed. “We just have to nuance differently.” Public health must now be considered in new ways, in view of the ongoing pandemic.

In Nikki’s professional opinion, as organizations look to get back on track, among the most important processes they can employ is effective communication, which means listening. “Make sure,” Nikki said, “to create environments where team members have an opportunity to voice concerns. Address any fears that may be there.

“And then once back in the workplace, check to make sure that people have what they need,” Nikki said. Organizations need to provide teams with all the appropriate tools, “including personal protective equipment. Keep your team safe so that they can focus on the patient.

“Pay attention to the need for decompression,” Nikki continues, “and the need for folks to step away and get rejuvenated.” Especially in an industry such as health care, allowing team members to rest when they can helps prepare them for surges that may come later. “Try to be prepared, get ahead of it, and use your time right.”

Even at a time of absolute crisis and frequent chaos, Atlantic Health System’s 17,000 team members pulled together and were able to work in unison to provide the care and services needed by their community. In part, this was helped by Atlantic Health System’s culture of listening and of providing for both physical and emotional needs.

Reimagining productivity

After methods are in place to ensure that time will be made for conversations, and that both physical and emotional needs are addressed, organizations must decide what’s important to their business. Focusing on those things, while keeping both customers and employees safe, is the path to success.

Redefine productivity and how it’s measured, and reimagine what work looks like. “Do you have an environment where team members can be equipped to work from another location?” Nikki asked. “And that doesn’t necessarily mean home.” Finding off-site locations – or even outdoor locations – that allow people to spread out or do their work differently are the kinds of strategies that organizations need to employ in a post-COVID-19 world.”

Supplying masks, sanitizer, and handwashing stations are necessary, but insufficient, steps. “Think about those precautions that have been drilled into us over the last few months, and incorporate them into the work environment … It’s not always natural for people to think, ‘Okay, we’re six feet apart.’” Barriers, signage, and other visual cues need to be included in the workspace to remind people of the new danger, and how they can avoid it.”

As the lockdowns end and the economy picks up, success for businesses and other organizations won’t look like a return to life before the novel coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Nikki said, “We have to think about what our next steps will be, and how we will move through that fluidly.” For organizations and people, the goals they’d set for themselves pre-COVID-19 “ can still be achieved. But a new level of focus has to be there.”

COVID-19’s effect on career placement

Nikki’s Community Conversation included many questions relating to finding work and career advancement, and one thing that she stressed is that not many things have changed in these regards.

One of the best ways to get noticed, Nikki said, is still to “create relationships. Reach out through LinkedIn … or stop by the human resources department and take your information directly” to the people who will ultimately make the decisions. “Call. Email. Visit their LinkedIn page. Send messages. Fill out applications online. Send your resume – and paper resumes still work! Send that information and continue to be in front of the talent acquisition consultant or recruiter.”

One thing to keep in mind is that many organizations now use technology to parse applications, so that the most experienced candidates are presented to recruiters. So, particularly for digital resumes, Nikki stressed the use of language that is appropriate to the field and the position, so that the algorithms measuring an application will rate it highly.

Among all the disruption COVID-19 has wrought, Nikki still finds some positives for prospective employees. “There’s a lot of free education out there from major universities,” Nikki said, “as well as tools such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, edX…”

To really take advantage of those opportunities, the first step Nikki advised is to discover “what your passion is. What is it that you enjoy doing? What do you value?” From there, look for online programs. Almost certainly, somewhere a university, technical school, or community college is offering courses on that subject for free.

Getting degrees, certificates, or even just being better informed in a subject is a great way for an applicant to stand out from the competition, or to advance in a current position.

But for Nikki, the most important aspect of career advancement is the culture of communication. “Leaders should always have conversations with their team members about what’s next,” she advised. “How can we cultivate your development?”

Those conversations can continue in the COVID-19 era. “That can be done virtually,” she emphasized. “But have the conversation.”

For individuals looking to do something different, Nikki recommended asking for special projects in an area that interests them. “Maybe you’re passionate about research. This is a time when many organizations are looking for other revenue sources. Offer to do some research. Offer up those skills that you have. Know where you want to go.” The key to getting where you want to be is working for it. Look for educational opportunities. Look for career opportunities. And if they don’t present themselves, reposition yourself so that you can move toward the place you want to be.

Health care is supporting patients

Throughout the pandemic, Atlantic Health System didn’t stop needing staff, and continued to hire roughly 100 people each week.

One thing Nikki stressed is that health care means supporting patients. Doctors and nurses are, of course, a big part of that, but patients also need people working in food service, supply chain management, and therapies of all kinds. Hospitals need architects and engineers. They need people working in human resources and marketing. “It takes all this and more to make patient care possible,” Nikki said.

“I chose the right field,” Nikki said, “because I’m able to support people to live their dreams. I’m proud of the work that I’m able to engage in, and to work with all the team members at Atlantic Health System. I can’t say enough about how great this place is, and I really have to thank our community for supporting us.”