Faces of HR

Carol Boyer on Retention Challenges, Advice to Her Younger Self, and the ‘Next Big Thing’ in HR

Welcome to our first Faces of HR column—in this space every Friday, we will profile one of your peers: ask them about their experiences, successes, challenges, current practices, aspirations, and opinions on topics impacting the HR and the workforce.

The subject of our inaugural installment today is Carol Boyer, VP Executive and Physician Compensation at Northwell Health, New York’s largest private employer and healthcare provider, with 23 hospitals and about 750 outpatient facilities. Carol, who has 38 years of HR experience, oversees 4,000 employee physicians and 400 executives.

What’s your top HR challenge, and how are you addressing it?

“I would say the top challenge is retention. Especially the population that I service, which is the executives and the physicians. About half of our most senior executives, approximately, have employment contracts that are due to expire within the next 5 or 6 years and a good number of them are in their 60s, so we are concerned about succession planning and we are especially concerned about the cadre under the current executives—how to keep them engaged and how to keep them employed.”

Is 5 or 6 years an average contract length?

“It’s probably long, I think. For our physicians in leadership roles it’s generally up to 5, for our executives it’s anywhere from 3 to 6. So, 5 and 6 are kind of on the outside.”

What kind of steps are you taking to meet that challenge?

“For example, for our most senior execs we put in a very top hat retention and retirement plan. For the population below we have a short-term incentive plan which pays out on an annual basis based on company and site or service line results—no individual results. For all our staff we are very attuned to the market, and make sure we are at market level in terms of compensation.”

Can you talk more about the incentive plan?

“We have a short term incentive plan. We have about 450 executives in that plan and that includes all of our VPs and above: so that’s our senior VPs, our executive directors of all of our sites, our executive directors of our institutes, our regional executive directors, our senior leadership staff, and our medical school chairs all on that plan. And that plan is not at all discretionary—it’s 100% formulaic. It’s based on the enterprise results as well as the specific areas for which [the executives] are responsible so that they have complete skin in the game of making their part of the organization successful while not losing sight of the overall organizational goals. It could either pay out at zero or it could pay out at 150% of their target depending on performance.”

Can you clarify why it’s not based on individual performance?

“Individual performance is rewarded on a merit increase basis. This is really to drive everybody towards working together and sinking or swimming in one boat.”

What are some of the unique challenges you have serving a largely executive population?

“It’s harder to get market data because it’s generally single incumbent positions. Because we are not-for-profit, we are trying to attract and retain against for-profit companies that can offer equity which we can’t—we don’t have stock because we are not-for-profit. We can’t offer what a public company can offer, so that’s always a challenge.”

What are some of the positive ways that being a not-for-profit affects your executive employees?

“Because you know you are not able to compete with the stock options and all of the other things public companies can do, you do get people who really feel it’s their mission to work in healthcare, and that’s a very valuable combination. It’s someone who is mission driven and very talented and we have a wonderful cadre of executives. It’s a very engaged population, and we do very well in our engagement scores and with our company events. It’s a very cohesive group.”

If you could go back and tell your younger self anything about HR, what would you say?

“Wow, that’s great. I would say be open to all aspects of HR: Don’t just think you are going to focus on one thing. Know that the other areas of HR are just as important to know and be attuned to as the one you are specializing in. Get to know the business. When I first started it was more about knowing HR, and not about knowing the business. But it’s become a much more strategic and less transactional role. And it really helps a lot to understand and know the business.”

What are some HR trends that you were happy to see vanish?

“The name ‘personnel’. Calling it personnel instead of human resources. Some organizations are even getting away from calling it human resources and calling it the ‘people’ function. My boss is the Chief HR Officer, but he calls himself the Chief People Officer. So, I think that’s great.

“I think it’s also great that transparency is becoming more of a common thing, seeing less of the ‘don’t ask’ mentality. Everything was a big secret when I first started. We didn’t share any information with the employees. It was ‘don’t ask, just do’. It’s more of a partnership now.”

What is the next big thing in HR?

“I think there is a lot of concentration on what we call diversity and inclusion, and I think it’s not so much diversity as it is inclusion. I think it’s really important. I think coming to grips with unconscious bias as a function and as a country is really important.

“And I think one thing we are experiencing is burnout. Especially with some of our physicians; it’s a very tough life, and a very tough job. What this whole conference* is about is creating a better workplace. Being mindful at work. Having a better balance of work and life. I think HR is becoming more about the human than it is about the work.

“I think one thing we are seeing, with the rise of technology, is remote workers. It’s not like the 1980s where you were judged by how many hours you were at your desk. Even if you are going home, you are still electronically connected and because of that people don’t really work and go home. They work all the time, but they balance it with their non-work life. I work at night and I work on the weekends. I don’t necessarily go into the office, but I’m still working. It makes it easier for me to handle it for me and my family and make it more enjoyable because I’m working because I want to.”

Is your leadership on board with your HR vision?

“I would say yes, 100%. We are very lucky that our Chief People Officer is part of the C-suite. He does have the ear of our CEO and COO, and they are very, very supportive of HR. They are wonderful. I hope to retire from this company. I really do.”

Do you have enough people on your HR team to handle all the employees that you are responsible for?

“I could use another one or two people but couldn’t everyone?”

*Note: We interviewed Boyer at SHRM’s 2019 conference.

Would you like to be profiled in a future Faces of HR and share your experiences, challenges etc.? Or know anyone else in HR you think has an interesting story to tell?  Write us at HRDAeditors@blr.com and include your name and contact information, and be sure to put “Faces of HR” in the subject line.