Henry Ford Health System fosters a whole-employee approach to learning and development with Content Anytime
Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) has served the people of Michigan with pride since its founding in 1915 by famed automobile pioneer Henry Ford. Its perennial focus has always been on the welfare of its employees as well as on the diverse people within the communities it serves.
Today, HFHS is one of the nation’s leading healthcare providers — as a matter of fact, the fifth largest in the Detroit metropolitan area. Its workforce of 33,000+ (and growing) spans various organizational functions and more than 40 medical specialties — many of which are recognized globally for their clinical excellence.
Having such a large and diverse workforce comes with several highly specialized or function-specific learning and training challenges. Unfortunately, until partnering with Cornerstone in 2019, HFHS relied on an outdated “patchwork quilt” of learning tools and resources that simply could not scale with the organization’s growth.
So the organization embarked upon what Jason Sheffer, HFHS’s director of learning and development, called it “one of the largest vendor RFPs that the health system had done within HR in five years.” With more than 70 stakeholders involved across the entire health system, uniting around a common vision and clearly defined learning goals was critical.
“What we knew going into the RFP was this: We needed to have the right training for the right team member at the right time,” expressed Sheffer.
This training goal came on the heels of a two-year journey that saw the health system overhaul its mission, vision, values, and overarching organizational structure, which encouraged HFHS to reinvent and build an entirely new learning culture aligned to its strategic objectives. “It's a complete ‘180’ from where we were at a year ago and a significant departure from the work we’ve done in the past,” explained Sheffer.
In the end, it became clear to HFHS’s stakeholders that Cornerstone could check all the boxes, especially in terms of the features that were “non-negotiable” for its learning administrators.
Staying focused on building a dynamic culture of learning
The organization’s strategic changes had a broader impact beyond learning alone but nonetheless allowed HFHS to address a number of pain points head-on:
- Learning was entirely compliance-based, not growth-based
- There were minimal opportunities for self-directed learning around skills development
- Many learning resources were not optimized for a remote working environment
- There was limited system-wide visibility around training assigned and completion rates
- Content was being developed in a decentralized and reactive way based on the in-the-moment training and compliance needs of different departments
- The existing learning platform offered a negative, uninviting user experience
- Running custom reports was time-consuming and costly
1) Striking a balance between form and function
“When a product looks fresh and modern, people are simply more forgiving about its potential drawbacks,” expressed Sheffer. But a sleek user experience is only one part of the equation; the vast majority of learning management systems see this as “table stakes” today.
What set Cornerstone apart was its unique ability to blend form and function: Not only does it offer a dynamic, user-friendly learning interface that encourages employees to invest in their own development and growth, but it also is backed by powerful features that enable system administrators to optimize the learning experience for even greater impact over time. “At the end of the day, we didn’t want to end up with a solution that would not be favorable for our administrators and team members,” reiterated Sheffer.
2) Helping system administrators be more productive
“Running reports [prior to Cornerstone] was a real nightmare,” explained Lamya Gorgees, one of HFHS’s learning management system (LMS) administrators. “I would have to step away from my computer, sometimes for hours, while the report processed because it would basically render my computer useless until it was done.”
But the inconvenience of this paled in comparison to the fact that system administrators couldn’t manage custom reports alone. Often, they would have to request these from a very non-responsive customer service team and then end up paying thousands of dollars extra to get the data they needed. It was not an efficient way to work.
Fortunately, this changed completely once Cornerstone came onboard. “With Cornerstone, everything is there for you right within the platform. You never have to ask for anything,” cheered Gorgees. “Plus Cornerstone’s ‘Office Hours’ is a really great way to get all of your questions answered — they always are there when you need them most.”
HFHS’s team of learning management system administrators can now run reports on their own — quickly and easily — and get dedicated and reliable support whenever they run into issues they don’t know how to resolve. And because Cornerstone offers a wide range of security features, system administrators now can ensure that the right people have access to the right parts of the platform.
3) Offering employees an unlimited supply of truly great content
“The depth and breadth of the Cornerstone Content Anytime (CCA) library is one of its biggest advantages,” shared Ryan Brown, HFHS’s organizational effectiveness consultant. “There’s always a solution for whatever learning needs arise, and the platform can be scaled up and down at the drop of a hat.”
With so many different types of learning content available within CCA, the HFHS team has had a hard time choosing the “best” content to promote at any given time. But knowing that different people learn in different ways, having access to a variety of content styles—from instructor-led courses to gamified training to micro-learning modules—is a real benefit, giving employees a more personalized way to chart their education journey based on how they learn best.
“When employees ask us for our recommendation for the ‘best’ content for them to take on any given topic, there’s this unspoken expectation that we’ve gone through and taken every course within the CCA library ourselves,” joked Sheffer. Therefore, content curation is a big goal for the HFHS team to tackle in the near future. “We’d love to create a ‘best of’ list for different courses and topics,” said Chelsea Polette, HFHS’s learning and development consultant. “Or even crowd-sourcing content by gathering employee feedback at course completion or promoting ‘topics of the month’ to shine a spotlight on the courses we find most timely and relevant.”
4) Building a transformative culture of self-directed learning
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, HFHS’s team was busy “roadshowing” CCA across the entire health system. This included 10–15 large “show and tell” leadership meetings, 60–80 smaller one-on-one meetings, and a massive pre-planned marketing push to encourage adoption before launching the platform. But the arrival of the pandemic put those marketing efforts on hold.
“We wanted to be intentional across the entire health system around why we implemented CCA and how it would benefit employees and teams once it launched,” explained Polette. “Unfortunately, most of our learning-related communications got disrupted as much of the information that went out to employees at that time was COVID-specific.”
Nevertheless, the team rolled out CCA across the organization in the midst of a pandemic and a tremendous amount of social unrest. Now, HFHS’s employees had a central place to go for self-directed learning. Little did the team know that it would be such a huge success and deliver on the system’s broader learning strategy to give employees the tools they need to combat racial injustice, microaggression, and unconscious bias at every turn.
“We were blown away by the instant cultural shift around learning that has taken place in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and various protests around social and racial injustice,” said Polette. “Within the first month of launching CCA in June 2020, we had hit our six-month engagement goal because people were actively going into CCA to take self-directed learning on topics like stress management, diversity, unconscious bias, and racial injustice.”
HFHS quickly learned that employees had a hunger for learning, especially at a time when so much was still unknown and uncertain, and so they looked to learning as a way to cope with the stresses caused by global events occurring at that time. “We never taught people how to make playlists in CCA,” added Polette. “But employees started building playlists on their own around topics like communication, diversity and inclusion, leadership, mindfulness, and safety — topics that reflected the pain points and fears rippling through the world at that time.”
For better or worse, the COVID-19 pandemic created a new opportunity for HFHS employees to think about development and growth in a way that allowed them to take action on it. “CCA has given us a new way to improve the overall employee experience,” Brown concurred. “We’ve given employees a way to develop their personal and professional lives, and they’re really enjoying taking advantage of these new learning resources available to them.”
5) Helping employees bridge professional and personal development
The COVID-19 pandemic created a clear need for new skills and competencies like mindfulness, leadership, resiliency, and well-being for many of the system’s employees — topics that may not have ordinarily been up front, and center under more “normal” circumstances.
“It became clear, soon after launching CCA, that our employees were trying to establish a sense of balance amid a lot of uncertainty,” explained Sheffer. “We were thrilled to be able to offer our people a new way to take care of their ‘whole’ selves and focus on personal development as well.” The free and unlimited licenses to Cornerstone Cares content, like “How to weather the pandemic” and “How to lead teams remotely,” really helped drive awareness and boost engagement around CCA content.
This engagement goes hand-in-hand with the growth-minded culture that HFHS has set out to build. “We’re constantly encouraging our employees to brush up on their skills and remain agile in an ever-changing professional environment,” continued Sheffer. This explains why some of the most popular coursework taken to date includes Six Sigma and other project management classes — as those are skills that constantly need to be practiced and refined over time.
Additionally, HFHS believes in supporting employees in their own learning adventures outside of work. In fact, over the last few years, HFHS has also partnered with different local universities and done a tremendous amount of legwork to source scholarships for employees to go back to school to earn degrees, certifications, and other forms of continuing education.
“As a system, we constantly focus on bettering our community at all times,” explained Sheffer. “We not only want to give our employees opportunities to achieve their goals and be more successful in life, but we also offer some of these benefits to their families as well.” Even better, to help employees prepare for going back to school — which can be a culture shock if you’ve been out of the classroom for many years — HFHS is now using CCA content to help them brush up on their studying skills and habits before getting started.
Creating a new foundation for developing employees as people
“As we look toward the future, we must create more transparency and opportunity around career pathing and ask ourselves how we can tie learning content to competency. This is critical for fulfilling our mission of helping employees grow within HFHS,” expressed Sheffer.
Because employees flocked in such large numbers to CCA once it became available, the HFHS team now sees the opportunity for CCA to play an even bigger role in fueling this journey. “We’ve got to think about how learning can support our strategic priorities and how it can sow the seeds for a system-wide growth mindset,” continued Sheffer. “Having the right content makes that a lot easier, and fortunately, we now have a solid starting point with CCA.”
Among the many qualities that make HFHS stand out is its unwavering commitment to developing employees in ways that empower them to offer a greater level of care and compassion to the health system’s patients. “We realize that learning is a privilege, and for this reason, we need to consider it as part of our overall employee benefits package,” suggested Polette. This thinking has helped reinforce CCA as part of HFHS’s forward-looking strategy.