Reflecting on 25 years

July 4, 2024

Reflecting on 25 years

Nancy Quattrocchi, outgoing Vice-President, Corporate Services at Healthcare Excellence Canada, reflects on what she’s led and learned during her career here.

Nancy joined the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation (CHSRF) in 1998 as its fifth employee. Over the past 25 years, her leadership has helped guide the successful reorganization of CHSRF to the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI), and then the launch of Healthcare Excellence Canada (HEC) following the amalgamation of CFHI with the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI). Nancy has overseen many portfolios, including finance, administration, human resources, information technology, knowledge management, performance measurement, learning systems and other functions for the organization. As she moves on to the next phase of her life, she shares some reflections.

What are your proudest moments at HEC?

I’m proud of many things HEC has accomplished through its evolution. But I’d like to point out two moments that have been guided by Corporate Services and demonstrate the unique roles different departments can play in supporting the success of an organization.

The first relates to how an internal restructuring became a model for achieving our organization’s goals. When it existed, CHSRF aimed to foster evidence-based decision-making by bridging researchers and health system managers. Initially small, it rapidly expanded to 36 employees in five years, yet its organizational design lagged growth. The main issue was the separation between Research Programs, focused on grants and knowledge creation, and Knowledge Transfer, tasked with engaging decision-makers in applying research knowledge. This division risked creating silos, mirroring the systemic challenges CHSRF sought to address in healthcare.

To remedy this, I initiated leadership retreats to envision a more cohesive structure. Our objective was not just a new design but to model how organizations could overcome the traditional separation of the research and system decision-making functions. We merged functions, expanded roles, and introduced an innovative matrix structure on paper. Implementation, however, proved the real test. Establishing an operational implementation team ensured buy-in, adapted plans to staff realities, and minimized disruption, fostering swift and effective changes. The two key measures of success on this initiative were the increased sense of commitment and drive across the entire workforce, and CHSRF’s ability to point to our own structure as a model for those we worked in the health system.

My efforts were recognized with the 2004 Hicks Morley Vision Award from the Human Resources Professional Association for outstanding contribution to an organization's strategic goals.

My second example will be familiar to many. During the pandemic, it became clear that remote work could enhance productivity and work-life balance for many staff. HEC, like other organizations, grappled with how to adapt our culture and operations amidst this shift. While some mandated a return to the office once restrictions were lifted, HEC chose to lean into a deeper exploration of what truly drives effective work. By focusing on tasks and outcomes rather than physical location, HEC developed a flexible work policy and Program in January 2023. This initiative, launched as a pilot, integrated feedback from staff and managers to refine its approach over time.

This strategic shift proved transformative. Recognized with the 2023 Innovative HR Team Award, HEC's flexible work policy has become a cornerstone of our recruitment and retention efforts, significantly boosting morale. By empowering managers to tailor workflows to their teams' needs, we’ve fostered a more adaptable and productive workforce, demonstrating a commitment to innovation and employee well-being.

What is your approach to partnerships?

Partnerships are essential to creating change within health systems and are at the heart of HEC’s work. Partners bring diverse perspectives, as well as needs and work styles. To help strengthen HEC's capacity to collaborate, the Corporate Services department regularly seeks input on organizational policies and procedures from those we work with. One example is that we asked patient partners to provide input on our purchase of services contract template. In response to this feedback, we revised the contract to include less legalese and more plain language. In addition to patient partners, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis have also helped guide the development of several corporate policies, processes and procedures so that they foster reciprocal, meaningful partnerships.

What are your top five pieces of advice you have for other leaders about fostering a healthy, resilient workforce?

  1. Create opportunities to hear from employees – all of them! Provide different ways for people to provide feedback so you can hear from the quiet as well as the vocal ones. But then you need to listen and do something about it! You might just be surprised at where it will take you. Thanks in part to staff input, HEC’s office was recognized for its design in Best Offices Ottawa 2020.
  2. Make sure the values of the organization have meaning and reflect input from different people. Following amalgamation, HEC embarked on a co-design process with staff and external stakeholders to develop our values. Compelling values demonstrated in day-to-day work bring staff together and attract better candidates to the organization.
  3. Create a workplace of psychological safety and trust. Staff should feel free to be their authentic selves at work. Being able to express themselves freely without fear of embarrassment or retaliation leads to richer conversations, teamwork and innovation.
  4. Have open communications … always! If a staff member feels disconnected or uninformed, it can lead to misunderstanding, mistrust and stress – and ultimately stifle teamwork and collaboration. Being open doesn’t mean always having the answer. I’ve learned that saying “I don’t know” is okay because it means I’m being authentic, which is an ingredient of good leadership.
  5. Be flexible. By providing staff with options for how they work, leaders signal that they trust them to deliver on their goals and care about their well-being. This, in turn, boosts productivity and morale. At HEC, with an award-winning flexible work policy, we have seen a more diverse and inclusive workforce, a wider pool of candidates who bring fresh perspectives to the table, and a culture where each person can thrive, no matter where they live and work from.

What’s one of the hardest lessons you’ve learned during your time as Vice-President, Corporate Services?

While systems or technology may be able to evolve quickly, human beings need time to adapt to change. I have learned many lessons over the years about how to support change among a large group of individuals with diverse needs. Specifically, how important it is to involve staff in change where possible, keep them informed of shifts as they’re happening, and be a steady and reassuring voice throughout the change process. I now recognize the importance of adapting my communication approach depending on who I’m speaking to and how they’re affected. Above all, being authentic and open is essential for earning the trust of staff and being an effective leader.

What gives you hope for the future of healthcare?

The number of passionate individuals across Canada committed to improvement and making progress, despite the challenges in our health systems. Even when the world was grappling with Covid-19, teams participating in our programs reported improvements in how they do their work, in patient and provider experience and in outcomes. This year, HEC worked with thousands of leaders to advance innovative healthcare practices. As we continue to make more connections between the people, practices and passion that create change, we will absolutely see safer, high-quality care for more people in Canada.

What’s one piece of advice you have for new employees at HEC?

Innovation is messy and is not done in a straight and neat path. Being resilient, flexible and adaptive to change both in the external environment and in the internal ways of getting to those outcomes are key ingredients to success. If you continue to connect to the “why” of this work, the path to get there will be less important and the outcomes, when you get there, will be so spectacular.

What are you most excited about for your next chapter?

I am both excited and petrified as I venture into this unknown territory. One of HEC’s former Board chairs used the term “rewirement” to describe this next phase (rather than retirement). There is a big journey of rediscovery ahead, but I am ready to shift my focus to my growing family, exploring new interests and places and reflecting on what else could come next. Like everything in my life to date, this won’t be a straight line. I suspect there will be a few starts, restarts and maybe even some stalls, but it will be so much fun. And, of course, once that first grandchild arrives, I will be that cool “Gigi” ready to spoil them rotten.