How Joe Swedish created a new brand identity at Trinity Health

Before you can understand the magnitude of the task facing Joe Swedish as president and CEO of Trinity Health, you need to know the numbers.

Trinity Health is the fourth-largest Catholic health system in the United States by operating revenue. The organization had $6.7 billion in unrestricted revenue in fiscal 2009 and employs 47,000 full-time-equivalent employees across nine states in more than 450 facilities, from hospitals to outpatient facilities to home health care and hospice programs.

The overarching challenge facing Swedish is building a uniform brand and image of Trinity Health across the organization’s entire footprint and promoting consistent execution around that brand image. In other words, Swedish has had to get thousands of managers and physicians to think, at least in some part, like businesspeople.

It can be difficult to get executives in the health care field to think like businesspeople. In the world of business, change is constant, calculated risk-taking is generally viewed as a noble pursuit and mission statements are often boiled down to a couple of quick-hitting sentences that can easily fit on a plaque in the lobby.

In health care, it’s not quite the same.

“One of our main challenges in this industry is that historically, at least as far as what I believe, it has been a risk-averse industry,” Swedish says. “There are a lot of reasons for that, and many good reasons. In health care, you can’t latch onto the deal of the day. Change is based on evidence, and sometimes that can get in the way of taking risk. So developing an identity as risk-takers was very important to our standing in the industry.”

Changing the mindset of the organization meant changing how Swedish and his leadership team communicated with employees throughout the organization and how they created alignment with people at all levels and locations.

“I had to develop a plan of attack to overcome this,” Swedish says. “In my career, I’ve specialized in complex, multihospital environments, and over that time, I’ve come to realize that there is probably no more powerful word regarding the management scale than ‘unity.’”

His efforts over the past six years have helped a unified brand take root at Trinity Health and have helped the health system become a growing organization and top performer in its industry.

“We have a clear direction flowing from our strategic plan,” Swedish says. “We have a strategic construct that is well understood throughout the organization. I believe that after six years, we have created remarkable success (and) also a recognition that a never-ending pursuit of excellence keeps us on a path that is straight and narrow as is possible, notwithstanding the economic turbulence that surrounds us.”

Here are the principles that helped Swedish create a more unified culture.