Franciscan Health System


Franciscan Health System

The Client

Franciscan Health System (FHS), based in Tacoma, Washington, is a non-profit health organization affiliated with Catholic Health Initiatives. With more than 8,200 employees, the system includes five full-service hospitals (St. Joseph Medical Center, Tacoma; St. Francis Hospital, Federal Way; St. Clare Hospital, Lakewood; St. Anthony Hospital, Gig Harbor; and St. Elizabeth Hospital, Enumclaw) and a regional network of clinics and physicians (Franciscan Medical Group).


Healthcare is rapidly changing. Environmental factors such as declining reimbursements, technological developments, increased competition, and staff shortages and turnover create challenges that require a new kind of leadership. Franciscan Health System was challenged by its parent organization to address succession planning, especially as it relates to the retention and development of top talent. Franciscan Health System contacted Caliper to assist them with this effort.

A “Continuity Planning Committee” was then established to identify high-potential leaders, the competencies necessary for successful leadership now and in the future, and a process for developing talent. The overall purpose of the continuity planning process at Franciscan Health System is to prepare future leaders for key positions in the organization.

The Business Challenge

Effective leadership in health systems is widely recognized as the key to organizational performance. Franciscan Health System needed to ensure that they had the leadership bench strength to meet changing business demands, which requires well-prepared managers and leaders across the organization. In addition, like many organizations, leaders at Franciscan Health System are challenged to accomplish more with fewer resources. To maintain the high quality standards and excellence in patient care that the organization has achieved over time, Franciscan Health System needed to respond quickly and effectively to these challenges.

The Strategic Solution

Developing high-potential talent into future leaders ready to face the changing environment in healthcare became the solution. As part of the continuity planning process, Franciscan Health System aspired to create a robust, comprehensive leadership development program that included experiential learning, coaching from external executive coaches, mentoring from FHS leaders, just-in-time skills-based training, and personal reflection. Together, Franciscan Health System and Caliper developed this program based on an Action Learning process in which participants are tasked with finding a solution to a critical business issue.

Action Learning is a powerful form of problem solving that encourages learning and brings about sustainable change in individuals and organizations while, at the same time, developing leaders and building high-performing teams. The process allows participants to generate innovative ideas and solutions for tackling real business issues in a real business setting – with the help of a coach facilitator. The coach’s role during the process is to provide feedback on assessment tools, observed behaviors, and patterns of thinking or behavior that emerge from conversations and meetings.

While addressing the challenge brought forth by Franciscan Health System, participants engage in discussions with their peers along with coaching from Caliper facilitators. Conflict is addressed openly and team and leadership development happen simultaneously.

Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Franciscan Health System, David Lawson indicates that Caliper’s Action Learning process has been a valuable part of their leadership development program in terms of developing talent for the future. “To provide your employees with action learning assignments and to give them access to executive coaches from Caliper says that we value them and that we are committed to their growth and development with us as an organization.”

The nine-month program started in 2007 and is repeated each year.

The Results

Over the course of five leadership development programs, Franciscan Health System has fostered the individual growth and development of over 60 employees. Moreover, Action Learning has provided Franciscan with the following return on their investment:

  • “Ready now” leaders and a culture of learning and excellence
  • Organizational loyalty and commitment: Less than 1% turnover of participants
  • Successful implementation of their own solutions to organizational issues for less cost and with greater innovation and cultural alignment than those that are created by outside consultants
  • Measureable increase in performance ratings for managers and leaders
  • Better prepared individuals when promoted
  • Transformational development in participants, both personally and professionally
  • The development of cross-functional networks, high-performing teams, and organizational learning

Cliff Robertson, Chief Operating Officer at Franciscan Health System explains, “Ending this leadership development program for good would be like a farmer choosing not to plant his field in the spring. We could live for a year or two without it, but it is so much more about an investment – not only in next year’s performance but in subsequent years – that I can’t imagine not doing it.”

More In Success Stories