STAR2 Center Talks Workforce Success PodcastIn the introductory season of the STAR² Center Talks Workforce Success podcast, Suzanne Speer, Senior Director of Workforce Development at ACU, gives you a glimpse into the integral role Chief Workforce Officers (CWO) play in advancing health center workforce success. In this episode, Suzanne interviews Scott Owens, CWO at Mountain Family Health Centers in Colorado, about how he uses strategic planning to empower and engage the workforce at his health center.

Listen to other podcasts in this series.

Full Transcript: Strategic Planning to Engage Health Center Workforces

Introduction: Welcome to STAR² Center Chats with Workforce Leaders, which features the voices of health center experts from around the nation. We know this invaluable information will help in your journey to advance the workforce initiatives of your organization.

Suzanne Speer: Thanks for joining us for today’s podcast. I’m Suzanne Speer, the Director of Workforce Development here at ACU. Today’s guest is Scott Owens, the chief workforce officer at Mountain Family Health Centers. Welcome Scott.

Scott Owens: Hi, thanks for having me.

Suzanne Speer: Yeah, absolutely. So as you know, Scott, health centers were started by communities and for communities and aim to build a workforce that is reflective of communities in which they serve. I’d love to know a little bit about your health center, where it’s located, and the patients you serve.

Scott Owens: Sure. So we’re located in Colorado, specifically on the Western slope of Colorado, serving primarily Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties we’re a community health center that serves 21,000 patients. We have around 175 employees and our population is primarily split between white and Latino cultures. Our employee demographics mirror that, as well. We serve everybody. Like you mentioned, with CHCs it’s for communities for all people, all ages, races, and faces, regardless of status. That’s what we’re about. And that’s certainly our mission. And that’s one thing that I love about CHC’s. And I think our employees based on our data’s shown that mission driven culture is part of our blood, part of who we are.

Suzanne Speer: I love that. Yes, that’s so right. And really getting to those social determinants of health and helping the populations in which they serve overcome them really is the hallmark of this community health center culture. So, now that we know a little bit about Mountain Family, I would love to hear a little bit about your professional journey, Scott, and how you got to be in the role of a chief workforce officer.

Scott Owens: Well, it was interesting. So, I didn’t necessarily set out to become a chief workforce officer out of college or anything. I worked a lot in hospitality and I moved out to Colorado from Michigan and stayed in hospitality for a little while, and then moved into a job as a human resources coordinator and did that for about a year and a half. And that’s where I got into more management and leading teams. I really enjoyed my experience in human resources because of all the different opportunities that, as to help people, I really liked the human resources and what it’s all about. It’s a very diverse amount of topics you can play with.

Scott Owens: So I met the CEO of Mountain Family Health Centers, Ross Brooks, and he was telling me about how he wanted to build his HR Department. That’s when I got started in Mountain Family Health, began as an HR manager, and then discovering how influential and how important HR is to the organization, to the betterment of leadership in that organization; started moving the direction of being a director and doing more strategy-based practices. And then the chief workforce officer role happened the last two years as we built the HR Department; we now have three staff and myself in the human resources department. And really my role has evolved more into an overall strategy, consulting, leadership-training type role, on top of maintaining and helping to maintain the day-to-day flow, and helping support the HR team.

Suzanne Speer: Great. Yeah. So it sounds like you hit the nail right on the head when you started talking about strategy and how you help your health center really hone their workforce strategy. So talking about strategy, I would love to dive in to one of the pillars of your strategic plan, which is to promote an empowered and engaged workforce. So how do you all incorporate that into your overall workforce goals there at Mountain Family?

Scott Owens: Well, I want to say it starts with leadership, but really what it starts with, I think is “what is engagement? What does engagement look like and what is it that the workforce is really looking for to stay engaged?” And that’s when we start getting to know the people that work for Mountain Family, and getting to know the leaders and what kind of plans and goals that they have for their teams, and really creating those strong business partnerships and leadership, and HR is there primarily as that support system, that outside support system to help them reach those goals and help train them on how to best lead their staff towards achievement of those goals.

Scott Owens: So what we’ve done, and there’s a lot of different tactics that we use around the onboarding process when someone’s hired in. How do we look to everybody on the outside looking in? And then once new people come in, what’s that onboarding process look like? You could lose 6% of your new hires in the first three months, if you don’t have a strong onboarding process. And then that’s one thing that we want to really focus on is that experience, and then the ongoing career experience and development around managing performance training and of course recognition as well.

Suzanne Speer: Wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing about that part of your strategic plan. So I know that you also have a really great employee recognition program and, and this is something else that can create an empowered and engaged workforce. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about that if you don’t mind?

Scott Owens: Yeah, well, it’s called the STAR program. That is an acronym stands for Specific Timely Act of Recognition. And it was born out of a feedback we received from our workforce, actually. So we do a, what we call an engagement survey, a satisfaction survey. We don’t use the word satisfaction, we want engagement. So we call it engagement survey. And from that, employees communicated that they would love- they like our recognition programs, but they would love something that allows them to provide daily recognition to their peers. About six years ago, this request came up and drawing on that experience, we started putting together this program that incorporates handwritten, thank you notes and handwritten, thank you notes has been deemed as one of the most impactful ways to recognize somebody because you’re really putting pen to paper and taking that time to call out a specific act, a specific behavior, that you appreciated and want to see continue because it betters the work environment for everybody.

Scott Owens: And the program is for everybody from providers to CEOs, to MA’s and front desk staff. Anybody can take part of this program and we have little pods set up in each location that we have. And basically it’s a little card that people can that use and they write out the specific act of recognition that they want to call out. And they hand that card to their peer and their colleague, and that person can do whatever they want with that card. What we hope they do, we have little boards, we have STAR boards, cork boards in locations, and they can post that and display that card up on the board. At the end of each month, we have a bunch of cards. We pull them all down and we do a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card.

Scott Owens: Now, when we pull all those cards down, we give them back to the employee, so they can have those and collect those because each of those cards is actually worth a dollar towards Amazon if they collect them. When they collect enough, they can turn them into human resources. We audit them for their authenticity and make sure they meet the requirements and the specific requirements of the program, because they have to be a clear act of recognition. It can’t just be a, “good job today,” or “nice shoes,” or, you can’t abuse the program in that way. It needs to be a specific act that was called out.

Scott Owens: So HR audits that, and then they add up the cards and then we go ahead and send you via email, a Amazon gift card in that amount. The money helps motivate and kind of keeps the program running. But the control is in this specific act of recognition that needs to called out by the individual. And that takes time. That takes energy that people appreciate. And it’s a very interesting and very positive program for our organizations, been going on for, like I said, about six years now, and it works.

Suzanne Speer: That’s fantastic. And I love how you’re taking that peer-to-peer recognition to really build your workforce engagement, to build a positive culture.

Scott Owens: Thank you.

Suzanne Speer: Thanks so much for being with us today, Scott, and we look forward to speaking with you soon. Take care.

Scott Owens: You too.

Closing: Thank you very much for joining us today. We hope today’s conversation provided you with great insight into the important role a chief workforce officer plays in the overall success of your health center. Check out all of our free tools and resources on health center workforce planning and other topics at