Holistic Thinking: A Prescription for Health Care Recruiting

By:  Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr., author of From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership

The health care industry today is balancing two powerful and, to some extent, opposite dynamics. On one hand there is tremendous growth in demand. The aging of the large baby boomers demographic, the oldest of whom are turning 65, will translate into increased consumption of health care resources. On the other hand, there is the need to control costs.

Regardless which way the political winds blow on health care reform, there remains the undisputed fact that health care costs are already 17 percent of US GDP and on track to reach 20 percent in the next few years. 

How can health care companies handle such challenges of increasing growth while managing costs? To respond, employers need to recruit, retain, manage, and develop people who are able to think holistically.  Instead of focusing only on their specific business unit or function, holistic thinkers take into view the overall organization.

Holistic Thinking and Values-Based Leadership
Having a holistic perspective is a highly-valued leadership skill today. Holistic thinking goes hand-in-hand with values-based leadership, which uses tools such as self-reflection and gaining a balance of perspectives to look at issues, challenges, and opportunities from all sides. Holistic thinking and values-based leadership are needed now more than ever as companies face competitive challenges to deliver results while remaining committed to doing the right thing.   

People who embrace values-based leadership demonstrate these qualities in how they think, speak, act, and perform. For the values-based leader, it is far more important to demonstrate what the organization had achieved, than what she personally accomplished. Values-based leaders at every level take pride in their teams, whether they have three people reporting to them or they are responsible for thousands of people.  Values-based leaders develop and mentor others and take ownership of their responsibilities beyond a “check the box” approach.

I define values-based leadership in the context of four principles: 

  • Self-reflection – being able to step back and ask the deeper questions of yourself, such as weighing the impact of your decisions and actions. 
  • Balance – looking at issues, opportunities, and circumstances from multiple perspectives, instead of seeking to convince others that your view is the “right” one.
  • True self-confidence – being comfortable in your own skin and having the conviction to do the right thing instead of needing to be right.
  • Genuine humility – able to relate sincerely to others, regardless of their job title and never forgetting where you came from.

Recruiting Holistic-Oriented Employees
How can employers find people who are both holistic-thinkers and values-based leaders?

The first step is in the recruitment process is reviewing resumes — in other words, looking for indications of a holistic, values-based approach on paper. For example, does a candidate demonstrate that he has completed assignments successfully across multiple functions, units, or geographies? Such accomplishments show that a candidate is capable of relating to the overall organization instead of just a particular unit or function.

To illustrate, I use the image of a circle inside of which are several parallel lines. All too often, people view their jobs as being part of one of the parallel lines. They are so focused on that “line” they can only see how to advance along it to reach a higher level. What these narrow-thinkers fail to see, however, is that there are actually multiple lines, each representing a particular unit, function, or geography. Surrounding all these lines is a circle which represents the entire organization.

Holistic thinkers are not limited by their particular line. Their resumes show they have been involved in multiple lines, whether with different assignments or as part of cross-function teams.  A holistic thinker may not necessarily have had jobs in several divisions. Someone who has volunteered for cross-functional assignments and projects also demonstrates an awareness of the goals and objectives of the entire organization. A candidate who is a holistic thinker is able to explain how his particular responsibilities or accomplishments benefited the entire organization, such as streamlining processes to improve efficiencies across the multiple departments. 

Interview Questions that Prompt Self-Reflection
Once you have identified holistic thinkers through your screening process, now the interviewing process begins. Through face-to-face meetings, you will be able to determine if and how people demonstrate the four principles of values-based leadership. This will require some thought-provoking interview questions – and listening with discernment. 

The foundational principle of values-based leadership is self-reflection. People who are self-reflective tend to give more thoughtful answers than just reciting information that’s already on their resumes. They can explain the impact of what they did on the entire organization. A self-reflective person acknowledges lessons learned — not just what she accomplished — and also gives credit to the team.

Hand-in-hand with self-reflection is balance. An individual with balance seeks to understand problems, opportunities, and circumstances from multiple perspectives. The objective is not to be right, but to find the best approach by seeking input broadly and exploring several options.

For example, in an interview you give a candidate a hypothetical problem to address. A person with balance will always mention gathering information broadly before making a decision. In contrast, a person who gives a knee-jerk response without first reflecting and then mentions only what he knows is probably not someone who values having a balanced perspective.

True self-confidence is revealed in attitude, that a person is comfortable in his own skin. People who are truly self-confident know what they know — and what they don’t know. Instead of speaking only as “I,” a truly self-confident person talks about “we.”  When asked what they are most proud of, these people can share credit with their team members. They speak with pride about helping to develop their team, instead of just showing how irreplaceable they are as individuals.

An insightful interview question to reveal true self-confidence is to ask a candidate about the people she has mentored. Does she mention proudly what others achieved and where they are now? Or is she eager to get the conversation back “on track” — that is, discussing her accomplishments? 

The fourth principle is genuine humility. The revealing characteristic is the ability to relate to everyone, regardless of position or job title. A person with genuine humility never forgets where he came from, and carries with him the lessons learned from previous positions. A person with genuine humility is able to inspire followership, because he respects everyone and doesn’t treat people differently because they have a higher rank or a bigger title.

Today’s economically and politically challenging times call for values-based leaders at every level, from within teams to the heads of department and divisions and among senior executives. With a purposeful approach to recruitment, retention, management, and development, companies can elevate the performance of their teams, with an emphasis on holistic thinking and values-based leadership as demonstrated by all.

Author Bio:
Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr.
is the author of From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership (Jossey-Bass, April 2011).  A former chairman and CEO of Baxter International, a global health care company, Kraemer is a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, an executive partner with Madison Dearborn Partners, and a member of several boards of directors of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.