The integrity of a public healthcare system has a stake in the overall well-being of the society as well as its workforce.
In view of this, the Hospital Authority (HA) has taken a range of measures to improve the working conditions at public hospitals. This includes the implementation of a series of well-structured training and development to support the personal and professional development of the authority's 57,000 employees.
"Most of our clinical staff see a reasonable workload, structured training and modern equipment as top priorities. It is our role to cater to these needs," says David Rossiter, head of human resources, Hospital Authority.
Taking nurses as an example, Mr Rossiter explains that the authority responded to their concern about intensive workload by recruiting additional staff and investing in new equipment.
"For instance, we purchased 1,500 electronic hospital beds last year to help ease the physical strain of nursing duties," he notes, acknowledging that optimum working conditions for staff are a prerequisite to providing high-quality patient care.
The Hospital Authority also has a strong focus on opportunities for career advancement. A succession management policy is now in place to identify potential leaders, and training programmes have been tailored to equip such employees with the necessary skills to move ahead in their careers and lead the HA towards the future.
"Instead of recruiting from the outside, we look to our existing staff population, as we believe we have enough talented people to take up senior executive positions and management roles," Mr Rossiter says. Through effective succession management, the authority is capable of grooming its next generation of leaders through internal training programmes.
Five years ago, HA started to identify potential leaders in accordance with 12 core leadership competencies. These include the ability to act with courage and conviction, to help ensure that different parts of the organisation work well together, and good communication skills. The authority also looks for people with the compassion for others.
Senior executives are constantly on the lookout for potential candidates. Staff who possess the right leadership attributes and potential are invited to join the authority's 18-month executive leadership programme.
Out of 250 potential candidates, only 30 were selected for the programme last year. They underwent a stringent selection process, in which the HA's CEO and chairman, some of the HA's board members and Mr Rossiter actively participated.
"Most of these candidates were nominated by the hospitals they work for, while 10 per cent applied of their own accord," he explains. The authority makes use of a multi-input "360-degree assessment" approach and various interview techniques to review applicants' skills and suitability.
In addition to classroom training on general leadership skills and coaching, the programme also incorporates half-day visits to other organisations to meet with their leadership teams.
At one such meeting, Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman and chief executive officer Tom Mehrmann shared some of their leadership and management insights with candidates.
Potential executive leaders are given "stretch assignments", major projects that push them beyond their normal comfort zones, helping them to pick up new skills. One such assignment required two candidates to prepare a new vision, mission and value (VMV) statement for the authority over several months.
The outcome was so successful that the HA is extending the programme through a one-year HA leadership pipeline programme to include 50 more potential leaders. The key difference between the two programmes is that the HA leadership pipeline will focus less on coaching and more on building leadership skills.
The authority is also about to launch a new "management 101" programme to train future managers on core management skills. About 300 potential managers are expected to sign up.
"To facilitate mutual understanding, we spearheaded a 'learning contract' initiative between candidates and their supervisors. Progress is closely monitored by their mentors and coaches," Mr Rossiter notes.
HA's top management is passionate about its succession management. "Last week, our chief executive, Shane Solomon, attended our leadership pipeline programme and ended up spending three hours there," Mr Rossiter says.
In line with its succession management principles, the authority recently created new executive development positions to allow aspiring senior leaders to work in new roles and learn the different aspects of executive leadership. To further enhance the overall learning environment, all staff have access to a wide range of e-learning programmes including language courses like Mandarin and English.
One of the HA's aims is to keep staff happy, Mr Rossiter stresses. He remarks, "To achieve this, the senior team is focusing more on listening to their voices. We also adopt a more holistic approach in promoting staff wellbeing, for example, by organising a wider range of leisure and social activities like swimming competitions, basketball tournaments and Tai Chi classes."