March 18, 2019
Women in Business Awards 2019

HHC's Church 'connects dots' between workforce engagement, customer experience

Photo | J. Fiereck Photography
Photo | J. Fiereck Photography

Tracy Church

Executive Vice President & Chief Administrative Officer

Hartford HealthCare

Hartford HealthCare Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Tracy Church has streamlined complicated human-resource systems used to attract and retain workers in order to keep those employees engaged and provide the best patient experience.

"Health care can be hard to navigate," Church said. "I struggle, and I've been in the business more years than I can count."

That's why Church has spent the better part of a decade redesigning the internal workforce-development functions of Hartford HealthCare (HHC), which owns and operates acute-care hospitals, behavioral-health hospitals and clinics, physician groups and rehabilitation and senior services across Connecticut.

One of her key achievements, completed over several years, is a completely revamped benefits package now in place across HHC, providing competitive programs and rewards to improve employee attraction and retention.

Earlier this year, Church also helped introduce a $15-per-hour minimum wage for 2,400 workers.

Hired in 2011 as a senior vice president and chief human resources officer, Church earned her current title in late 2017. She is responsible for human resources, employee benefits, payroll, and how the institution partners with outside vendors. She is one of six top executives who reports directly to CEO Elliot Joseph and the only female EVP.

"I was brought here to establish a systemwide, critically important support function for human resources, focusing on instituting the processes, providing the tools and resources, and identifying and developing the right talent to realize a bold ambition: To be the most trusted [healthcare institution in the Northeast] for personalized and coordinated care," Church said.

"By 2023, the goal is to be No. 1 in patient-customer experience."

That growth strategy requires a focus on recruiting and retaining talent, Church said. A recruiting team works to bring in new employees as Church guides efforts to make the workplace attractive.

She likes to call herself "the dot-connector" because she helps employees see interconnections between the work they and their peers do. She encourages them to relinquish old "legacy" ways of doing business in favor of newer systems that ultimately unify standards and simplify processes like accessing benefits or handling payroll.

Some entrenched practices went back decades, spanned 12 distinct, independently operated HHC businesses and made decision-making overly complex, she said.

Individual control and autonomy in some cases had to be relinquished to ensure that integrity, caring and excellence remained top of mind for HHC's 20,000 employees, Church explained.

It hasn't always been easy. For example, there were early complications in 2013-14 with a major technology conversion that tracks employee and payroll data, but Church "owned" the problems, helped resolve them and learned from them, ensuring continued future IT efforts go smoothly, said Karen Goyette, HHC's senior vice president of strategy and systems integration.

The internal system is used to manage financial accounting and to track how employee records are kept, how workers are paid, and how HHC orders supplies.

"Change is hard," Church said, and maintaining integrity across the workforce "requires a culture that wants and welcomes feedback and is not defensive about that."

Goyette said that is possible because Church is approachable and modest when mentoring.

"She gives others the feeling they could do it, too," Goyette said.

In 2016, Church convinced Joseph, HHC's CEO, to hire a "chief experience officer," a role today filled by Jerry Lupacchino. He is responsible for connecting workforce engagement to customer experience, Goyette and Church said, based on the concept that how people feel about doing their work will influence how well they perform.

Bringing that responsibility and three other positions under her purview was the culmination of work that led to Church's promotion in 2017.

"She spearheaded the realization that it's connected: workforce engagement and customer experience," Goyette said.

Church also helps oversee HHC's Provider Leadership Development Institute, started in 2011, which helps train physicians as leaders, and the Executive Cohort Program, which provides mentoring and leadership training to staff.

At the leadership development institute, Church shifted curriculum content to include internal subject-matter experts coupled with team projects. As a result, in the past two years, HHC retained all 60 of the participating doctors, nurse practitioners and others. Since the program's inception, a third of the participants have taken on new duties, Church said.

Likewise, of the 100 managers and directors taking part in the executive cohort training, about a third were promoted or took on new duties and 98 percent were retained, she said.

Coming home

Born in New Haven and raised in North Haven, Church earned a bachelor's degree in political science at the University of Maryland and a master's degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix.

Before coming to HHC, she worked at Catholic Healthcare West in San Francisco, now based in Chicago and known now as Common Spirit Health.

With her husband, Ed, she has rehabbed her home in Hartford, and is committed to staying in this community, she said.

Community service work includes leading the Komen New England board of directors as chairwoman and serving on the Hartford Youth Scholars' board.

"Coming to Hartford, there's such need here," she said. "We've been incredibly blessed, so giving back is important to us, and HHC takes seriously it's corporate citizenship. Giving back is really just an extension of my calling, and so rewarding."

Q&A

What are your keys to maintaining business success?

I have two primary keys to maintaining business success. It starts with building and maintaining strong relationships and effective partnerships. I make it a priority, especially as I work with and through others, to learn about the people and the business in order to build trust and confidence in me and my team — and vice versa.

With that foundation, my second key has been about execution and a proven record for getting things done. I'm incredibly proud of what we've achieved here at Hartford HealthCare and, while there's more to do, I am often heard to say: We've moved mountains.

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