Though Children's Mercy Kansas City recently established Berry Institute is named in honor of the hospital's founding sisters, Jennifer Watts embodies the Institute's modern-day values.
A highly respected emergency medicine physician, Watts, M.D., M.P.H., maintained a somewhat low-key profile in the organization until the COVID-19 pandemic thrust her into a leadership role. Now, she's part of the hospital's team coordinating with the Missouri governor's office and regional pandemic response units.
"In many respects, she's the face of Children's Mercy in those activities now," says Paul Kempinski, M.S., FACHE, president and CEO at Children's Mercy. "She's one of the growing and developing leaders here and is now our medical director for emergency preparedness."
Institute looks to build organization culture through individual leadership
Children's Mercy launched the Berry Institute in fall 2020 to help foster a culture of leadership and engagement across the organization. Enrichment opportunities are geared toward employees at all levels and include operational innovation, personal growth and well-being, career navigation, community/engagement and core learning and development.
In addition to building a "deep bench" of leaders within the organization, Kempinski says the Institute's primary aim is to drive the hospital's mission and reach its aspirational goals of doing no harm, perfecting the patient experience and channeling the potential of every employee.
"High-performing leadership is necessary to cultivate a culture of engagement across the entire workforce," Kempinski says. "We want to channel the development of high-performing leaders for the purposes of engagement and fostering that culture—and that culture is what will drive the results."
Tracking performance metrics and investing in physician training
What makes the Berry Institute unique, according to Kempinski, is its alignment with the hospital's goals. His team has set up a series of five-year goals with annual benchmarks they'll measure to track progress toward the hospital's aspirational goals.
A primary focus of the program is targeting frontline employees—not just existing leaders. Kempinski says that focus will identify and cultivate potential leaders already in the organization, and points to Watts as a prime example.
And as doctors increasingly assume leadership positions within children's hospitals, Kempinski says an important component is the Institute's Leadership Center for Physicians to further develop those skills.
"By virtue of having an M.D. after their name, they are a leader of inter- and multi-disciplinary teams," Kempinski says. "But their training does not dictate that despite being a great cardiovascular surgeon, for example, they're automatically going to be a great leader—so we have to invest in their development."
Investment in organizational culture dedicated to founders' ideals
In addition to cultivating and engaging the talent already in house, Kempinski says he hopes the Berry Institute's programs will help the hospital recruit and retain the best of the best. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic—with caregiver stress and fatigue at peak levels—he says it's more important than ever to make these types of investments in the people who make up an organization.
Ultimately, he adds, the aim of the Berry Institute is to help every employee perform to the ideals established by its namesakes.
"These were two sisters who were really innovators and broke down barriers," Kempinski says. "We live out their legacy and vision every single day."