Case Study: Novant Health’s Six Pillars of Diversity

Novant Health leaders want all employees to provide patients with safety, quality, authentic personalized relationships, voice and choice, easy experiences and affordable care. This goal requires focus, attention, discipline and innovation.

At the beginning of 2011, Novant Health introduced processes that would keep patients in the center of care; support effective communication between health care staff and patients; develop authentic personalized relationships with patients and co-workers; and allow employees to focus on what they love about providing patient care.

During this transformation, in November 2011 Novant hired its first chief diversity officer and established a diversity and inclusion department. It was time to evaluate the system as a whole, not just by regions or isolated initiatives.

The diversity strategy had to impact all of the company’s services, patients, 25,000 employees, suppliers and communities.

The company developed a diversity and inclusion strategic framework aligned with its mission to provide remarkable patient experiences and focus on people.

The strategy is designed to make Novant Health a world-class organization (WCO). In 1994, organizational strategist Fred Luthans described a WCO as customer focused and where employees are the most valuable assets.

Novant Health’s six pillars of diversity help the company to fulfill its promise to bring patients and consumers world-class technology, clinicians and care when and where they need it.

Diversity can help ensure that patients have easy experiences because of related tools such as interpreters and standardized processes that include video and telephonic interpreters.

It also helps leaders to be cognizant of access needs for patients living in depressed areas, and to have mandatory education for employees who connect diversity and inclusion to the patient’s bill of rights. For instance:

Voice and choice: patients have the right to get information in the manner they understand and choose religious and other spiritual services.

Authentic personalized relationships: patients have the right to be respected for their culture, values, beliefs and preferences, and have visitors of their choice, including partners and visitors who use service animals.

Novant Health Diversity Council Structure
In late 2011 the pillars were transformed into a diversity council structure to support the company’s mission and values. Each pillar became a diversity action committee (DAC): workforce, care/operations, service line planning, community involvement, supplier, and marketing and government relations.

The overall structure included an executive diversity council (EDC), chaired by CEO Carl Armato, a system diversity council (SDC) chaired by the CDO, and business resource groups (BRGs) chaired by employees.

The diversity team interviewed top leaders and key contributors and reviewed statistical data — patient, employee, supplier and community.

Then they met with the community board members for each market and with the company’s board of directors. The DAC chairmen are the top executives responsible for each business function represented by a committee.

Action committee members are executives, middle management and key contributors directly responsible for specific business functions or significant influencers for the function of the respective action committee.

Each DAC has eight to 12 members chosen from the existing workforce by the committee chairmen.

To promote synergy and teamwork, and to eliminate silos, there is an overlap of committee members across the DACs. Each committee chairman is a member of the SDC, which acts as a steering committee.

Further, to enhance synergy and cross-functional communication, the executive sponsors of the BRGs and two members of the executive diversity council serve on the SDC.

Novant Health’s values — compassion, diversity, personal excellence and teamwork — serve as the foundation for the DACs, which are infusing diversity across the organization, so Novant Health can react quickly in a diverse and dynamic marketplace.

With the business resource groups’ help, the DACs allow Novant Health to think system-wide and to act locally for community outreach.

The DACs’ strategy is to leverage diversity and inclusion to accelerate and sustain a remarkable patient experience every time. For 2012, each committee developed goals and metrics.

For 2013, some committees tied bonuses to those goals. Their tactics are to:
• Build collaboration with existing work teams and committees that DAC members lead, serve or influence.

• Achieve goals whenever possible through existing work teams and committees.

• Leverage business resource groups, community involvement, human resources and marketing.

Digging Deeper
Workforce DAC: The Workforce DAC supports creative human resources management.

To be world-class, understanding patient and community needs is essential. Human resources is charged with providing diverse slates and has an effectiveness clause in contracts with search firms.

The goal of HR executives is to secure top talent to provide intellectual capital and experience for clinical improvement, care and operations, service line planning, community involvement and marketing for diverse communities.

This DAC’s goals include retaining people of color and the underrepresented gender at the same rate as the rest of the workforce.

Care/Operations DAC: The Care/Operations DAC provides the desired patient experience by reviewing quality and perception outcomes.

This committee analyzes patient surveys and clinical outcome data to better determine patient needs. The goal is to ensure appropriate, equitable care.

Given Novant Health’s commitment to “getting better and staying healthy,” the Care/Operations, the Community Involvement and the Marketing/Government Relation DACs work together to address awareness, screening and prevention, especially for patients at risk for or with diabetes and patients at risk for or recovering from stroke.

Diabetes is targeted because it impacts overall wellness and disproportionately impacts women and people of color. It also increases the cost of care for other ailments.

Strokes are addressed because medical outcomes are significantly less debilitating when 911 is called immediately, which research has shown the African-American community is reluctant to do.

The Care/Operations committee is monitoring patient assessment scores with a focus on patients above age 55. These scores are important because they reflect the voice of the patient.

Service Line Planning DAC: The Service Line Planning DAC’s focus is equitable and relevant service — right access, right care and right time.

The strategy is to provide patients and consumers with the best care at the most affordable price. This committee works with existing emergency department and urgent care work teams to reduce low-acuity visits, since visits cost more in the emergency department.

Members also work with the Community Involvement DAC to address access to care and to provide education to patients about hospital or community resource alternatives to the emergency department.

Community Involvement DAC: The Community Involvement DAC is a lifeline to the community and epitomizes good corporate citizenship.

This committee works with the Care/Operations and the Service Line Planning DACs to implement strategies and tactics for awareness, screening, prevention and a lifestyle focused on getting better and staying healthy.

Marketing/Government Relations DAC: The Marketing/Government Relations DAC focuses on the consumer. Members ensure the brand meets or exceeds the needs of their multicultural communities.

This DAC works with the Care/Operations and the Service Line Planning DACs. Its success is measured by increases in market share per demographic breakdown by markets or regions.

Members work with existing teams to ensure patients and communities receive health information in a way they can understand and use. For instance, ads are in multiple languages, and outreach uses appropriate media to reach the communities Novant Health serves.

Supplier DAC: The Supplier DAC focuses on helping diversity suppliers to better understand Novant Health and the health care industry’s needs.

Novant Health has brokered agreements between larger vendors and smaller minority and female businesses and veteran suppliers to partner on services and products. The suppliers grow economically, while Novant Health receives the best quality at reasonable prices.

The Supplier DAC monitors percent of spending to determine success. For 2012, the goal was 11 percent diversity spending for opportunity spending; the actual diversity spending was 21 percent.

Ultimately, this strategic framework allows Novant Health to be an ecosystem that leverages diversity and teamwork to meet the needs of patients, consumers, employees, communities and stakeholders. Diversity is no longer isolated initiatives or projects.

The left hand knows what the right hand is doing. The strategy strengthens Novant Health and assists team members in achieving the mission and business objectives. The DACs act as think tanks that ensure the ecosystem remains in balance, enabling Novant Health to fulfill its promise to patients and consumers.

Deborah Ashton is vice president and chief diversity officer for Novant Health. She can be reached at