A Natural Fit For HR

Maxine Cenac

Greatest Challenge: To raise employee awareness of, and participation in, the organization's training and development initiatives.

Greatest Achievement: Driving increases in employee satisfaction with training programs and creating additional outlets for professional development.

This article accompanies Reinventing Core HR.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013
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Maxine Cenac, associate executive director of human resources at Great Neck, N.Y.-based Lenox Hill Hospital, is a lawyer by trade.  

But, she's always seen employment law and human resources as being sympatico. 

"HR is a natural progression from labor and employment law," says Cenac, who has practiced as an attorney in the New York Mayor's Office of Labor Relations and served as assistant director in the city's employment-law unit.

Looking back on her days practicing law, Cenac recalls arbitrating cases involving allegations of misconduct, employee grievances and employment discrimination, for example.

"I'd always wonder, 'Is there something we could have done before we got to this point?' "

Cenac became increasingly interested in HR's role in crafting policies and determining "corrective actions" to prevent the type of conduct that so often leads to litigation.

Soon after becoming manager of labor relations with Forest Hills Hospital -- part of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, along with Lenox Hill -- Cenac got a chance to explore that interest further, and officially make the transition to HR. 

In October 2009 -- 11 months after joining North Shore-LIJ -- she was offered the role of associate executive director of human resources with the health system's Zucker-Hillside Hospital.

As manager of labor relations, Cenac frequently brushed up against HR -- consulting and training management on labor and employee relations, and investigating and responding to employee complaints of policy and procedure violations.

As such, the move to a full-fledged HR position seemed like "a natural one," she says. But the new role would present her with one of her greatest professional challenges.

Faced with data indicating significant numbers of Zucker Hillside employees weren't satisfied with the training they were receiving, Cenac was charged with boosting overall employee engagement and providing additional outlets for training and development.

In 2009, 18 percent of the facility's employees said they did not get the right amount of training to do their jobs well, with 23 percent responding unfavorably when asked if they had access to training and development opportunities.

To increase awareness of available development opportunities and infuse new programs into the hospital's existing offerings, Cenac first partnered with hospital leaders to deliver a multi-tiered training and development program. She helped create "The Zucker Way" -- a course for new hires highlighting key hospital facts, behavioral expectations and available educational offerings -- as well as TeamSTEPPS training, a teamwork system designed to optimize patient outcomes by improving communication and promoting competencies.

She also implemented a department-level training program providing employees with regular, real-time feedback, on- and off-site educational activities and informational sessions on the system's workforce competencies. In addition to instituting "All Employee Development" training -- on-site workshops and a leadership-development program consisting of 360-degree reviews, coaching and designated courses at the system's corporate university -- she also encouraged employees to become involved in "Service Excellence" initiatives, which offer cross-functional outlets for hospital employees to learn from their peers.

These efforts have begun to bear fruit. Employee-satisfaction-survey results at the close of the 2011-2012 survey cycle showed 89 percent of respondents indicating they had the right amount of training to perform their jobs well (a 7-percent increase compared to 2009), with 86 percent saying they had access to training and development opportunities (a 9-percent spike).

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Such increases clearly suggest her approach is working, but figures aren't all that keeps Cenac pushing for improvement.

"I'm driven by metrics. I look at the numbers, of course," she says. "But I'm also driven by making this a better place."

It's safe to say she's done that at North Shore-LIJ, developing ideas and programs that rely on much more than survey responses to ensure employees are engaged in their jobs -- and enjoying their time at work.

Zucker Hillside employees, for example, were able to indulge their inner Keith Richards during a six-week series of guitar lessons -- delivered last year by one of the hospital's administrators. She also helped initiate "game days" at Zucker, bringing employees into the facility's auditorium for blocks of time during each shift to eat pizza and play board games such as Jenga.

Cenac, who transitioned to her role at Lenox Hill Hospital in December 2012, plans to make such activities part of everyday life there as well.

"How often do people get to do that at work? It's fun, social stuff," she says. "But it's also building teams."

Cenac has plenty of "fun, social stuff" to keep her busy outside of work, too. In addition to planning her upcoming December wedding, she helps run a mentoring program for young women through her church. She finds time for professional development, of course, and is currently working on obtaining her Senior Professional in Human Resources certification and becoming a certified professional coach.

The role of professional coach would seem like a natural fit for Cenac, according to Joseph Cabral, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at North Shore-LIJ, who describes her as a "true role model."

"[Cenac] exemplifies the characteristics that every senior leader should exude: unwavering commitment to developing others, the ability to inspire at all levels and the drive to produce results," says Cabral. "[She is] continuously in pursuit of the education, training and exposure necessary to ensure she and her team remain at the very top of their game."

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