Leadership Academies for Health: Learning from McDonald's and GE

Leadership Academies for Health: Learning from McDonald's and GE

Leaders in ministries of health, institutes of higher education, and parliaments are seeking fresh strategies to meet a shortage of trained health sector managers and leaders. So how can programming for health service managers be better, more cost effective and more sustainable? Embed programming within special “Leadership Academies” based in ministries of health.

Lessons from the Private Sector

Private sector companies have successfully been using internal universities or academies for decades. Two of the most famous and established examples are Hamburger University, created by McDonald’s in 1962, and General Electric’s Crotonville. The inventively named Hamburger U has maintained a steady course of training since its formation, and Crotonville, launched in 1956, is the oldest corporate university in the nation.

Hamburger U, known within McDonald’s as its “global center of excellence,” emphasizes consistent procedures, operations, service and quality—the same areas that health systems look at when examining their workforce.  It also strives to be the “best talent developer of people” within the company—a role which is still largely unclaimed within most health sectors.

GE closely guards the leadership development process at its Crotonville campus as proprietary information, but in an interview a few years ago, the company’s chief learning officer listed “big thinker” and “develops self and others,” as two of the core competencies that are important for today’s leaders—again, qualities that are needed in the health workforce.

Introducing “Leadership Academies” within the Health Sector

Some leaders in health sectors are taking a page from these corporate training playbooks. The strategy is not new—the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) Leadership Academy opened last year—but MSH is seeing a strong interest in instituting “leadership academies” from low- and middle-income countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Libya and Ethiopia.

The Directorate for Management and Leadership Development within the Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan was established in 2011; its placement within the Ministry was supported by MSH through the training of more than 1,800 health professionals, including senior managers from the Ministry of Health. The team that is now staffing the directorate in Kabul is made up of energetic champions of MSH’s own Leadership Development Program, who recognized that attention to management and leadership is a legitimate concern for health officials, and that clinical education is not enough to reduce maternal and child mortality. As my colleague in Afghanistan, Dr. Mubarakshah Mubarak, notes, “Enhancement of leadership in the health sector requires more organized, systematic and well-tailored leadership training and capacity building at all levels.”

In Libya, to accelerate the development of its next generation of health system managers and leaders, the Ministry of Health has asked MSH, through the USAID-funded Leadership, Management and Governance Project, to design and embed an internal Leadership Academy that anticipates its growing need for stronger hospital operations, new strategies for enhanced primary care and maternal child health, and mastery of modern health information systems across a continuum of clinics and hospitals.

In Ethiopia, the Ministry of Health is establishing standardized curricula, trainer skills and materials that are part of plans for a virtual leadership academy that will enhance the quality of leadership development, accelerate the time needed from program design to program graduates, and moderate ministry investment.

As donor and host country governments back away from “hotel training”—which may attract some participants more for the daily stipend than for the knowledge—and as donor funding is scaled back, new models like the NHS Leadership Academy and Afghanistan’s Directorate for Management and Leadership Development are emerging to better equip the health workforce to save lives and improve the health of the world’s most vulnerable people.

James (Jim) A. Rice, PhD, is project director of USAID’s Leadership, Management, & Governance (LMG) project. Jim is Vice Chairman of The Governance Institute and holds faculty positions at the Judge School of Business, Cambridge University England, and the School of Public Health, University of Minnesota.