HealthJune 27, 2023

Why succession planning is integral to grow nursing leaders

Webinar explores the importance of succession planning to offset nursing leadership turnover, reduce gaps and fill the future leader pipeline.

While the nursing shortage is sounding alarm bells, with clinical nurse turnover currently at approximately 22%, today's nurse leader turnover rate is equally troubling, estimated at between 10% to 37%. To avoid leadership gaps, which can impact engagement and lead to disruptions in continuity and quality of care, today's healthcare organizations must look within, identifying and nurturing potential nurse leader candidates to help fill their future workforce pipeline.

In a recent HealthLeaders webinar, Grow Your Own Nursing Leader through Succession Planning, sponsored by Wolters Kluwer, top nurse leaders discuss what effective succession planning looks like and how a healthy culture is integral to identifying and retaining top nursing talent. Panelists include Wolters Kluwer Chief Nurse Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, AGACNP-BC, FAAN; Rosanne Raso, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, Vice President, Chief Nursing Officer, NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center; and Jeanette Ives Erikson, RN, DNP, NEA-BC, FAAN, Chief Nurse Emerita, Massachusetts General Hospital.

The combination of staff and leadership nursing turnover is especially concerning, explains Woods, “because the people on your staff are the ones you want to grow to become your nurse managers, directors, and eventually Chief Nursing Officers (CNOs). If this turnover doesn't stop soon,” she cautions, “organizations won't have the right leadership to move forward and provide quality care. We must start addressing why our leaders are leaving and work to fix the issues.”

Along with addressing concerns such as work-life balance and nurse-to-patient ratios, organizations should also examine their culture, especially regarding listening and investing in people. Says Erikson, “if a nurse indicates that they want to grow,” organizations should be poised to provide training and support to help them achieve their career goals. “We spend a significant amount of time investing in our clinical nurses, but do we do that for people who want to become nursing directors or chief nursing officers?” She suggests that programs aligning with organizational values should be established and integrated into strategic plans.

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Reflecting on Magnet® Recognition Program, Erikson notes that the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) defines succession planning as “a strategic process involving identification, development, and evaluation of intellectual capital, ensuring leadership continuity within an organization.”

What should a review process for succession planning look like? Says Woods, it starts with crucial conversations on where people are at in their careers. “Where do you want to be in a year, three years, or five years? We must be courageous enough to have those conversations and help people create developmental goals to get there.”

Raso adds that succession planning should be a part of any organization's yearly talent review process, as is the case at NewYork-Presbyterian. Along with a formalized approach, Erikson encourages giving potential leadership candidates opportunities to participate in key initiatives to demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and communication ability, adding that both formal and informal approaches are “all about culture.”

What did the nurse leaders say they personally look for in potential leadership candidates? For Erikson, it's all about “shared values, unity of purpose, and embracing the mission. I don't necessarily think you have to have all of the required talents for the next job because that's the journey.” She references Patricia Benner's Novice to Expert model, which focuses on how nurses develop skills over time. “You can be an expert as a clinical nurse, and now I'm going to tap you to be an assistant manager. Now you are a novice again,” she explains, adding that, in the new role, “you have to be willing to learn and not be afraid to ask questions.”

Adds Woods, “I'm a big proponent of looking to people who have passion, want to make a change, and are not afraid to put themselves in a vulnerable position. They're not afraid to take risks.”

Informally, Erikson offers nurses seeking growth to join her for a “Day in the Life,” shadowing to see her job as Chief Nurse firsthand. She says this led to her identifying a “rising star,” to whom she also became a mentor. Creating a micro-learning environment is another way to cultivate and feed interest, providing learning opportunities in small chunks and getting people together to talk through problems that occur in their unit.

She also advocates for “creating a groundswell, bringing kindred spirits together” to discuss cultural changes that can be applied to your organization. She adds that “people start to notice” when you demonstrate that culture change is of value to retain and grow nursing talent.

Woods encourages current leaders to be “bold, courageous change agents" for succession planning, especially in organizations that haven't reached this level of culture change. “If your organization is not one that supports this type of change, go to the top and get management buy-in,” she says.

Watch the full webinar today.

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