Beyond doubt

Communicate with candor

When Degina took his first steps toward the top of the hospital
business, he got some valuable advice from a mentor about the
strongest tool a leader is given.

“We only have one commodity, and that is our word,” he says.
“We must do what we say, and if the answer to something is no, we
have to be able to deliver that in an honest fashion where you
explain your position.”

As the excitement slowed into constant concern over if and
when a transition would be made to UM ownership, Degina
learned how valuable that commodity is. When turmoil is everywhere, you have to be honest with your employees to break down
the rumor mill.

“I absolutely communicated, to my detriment sometimes, I communicated what I knew at the time and basically communicated
the expectations that I knew were supposed to happen,” he says.
“And as the delays happened, I would be in a position where I
would have a town-hall meeting and say, ‘OK, this is what’s going
to happen now, this is when this group is going to meet, this is
when this decision is going to be made’ — and then those things
don’t happen. So I do follow what I said, and we just have to be
open and transparent in a situation like the one we were in. If at
any point in time I was not perceived by the employees as being
credible and honest with them, we would have had mass losses of
staff.”

Beyond constantly adjusting to the day’s truth and explaining it
to his employees, Degina himself wasn’t 100 percent sure at times
what was going to happen. So even though he wanted to lead with
confidence, he mixed constant honesty with requests that his people have the patience and trust to hear the final results.

“I said over and over to the employees that until you know for
sure what’s going to happen, until you know if the hospital is going
to be HCA or UM, and until you know what that means, if there is
going to be a change in ownership, if there is going to be a change
in work-pay benefits, until you know all of those things, don’t
make a decision,” he says. “Don’t be hasty to leave the organization because, yes, there is uncertainty about ownership, but like everything in life, you need to have all the facts before you make a decision. I think, by and large, it worked. It helped keep people here,
and at the end of the day, they stayed to hear what UM had to say
as the new owner when that became the reality.”

Constantly keeping that honest conversation with employees
during a time of transition helped to heal their concerns and, with
the informal relationships he had in place, earned Degina the trust
he needed to keep them patient. Though he knew he couldn’t
answer every question, he was eternally focused on how important it was to let them know everything he knew.

“The fact of the matter is, you have an eight-month period of significant uncertainty and basically the stakes are raised in that period of time in terms of maintaining staff, maintaining business,
maintaining loyalty to your facility, so everything you do is magnified,” he says. “So I think it was much more important for us to be
as close to perfect as we could be in terms of addressing any concerns that were out there and just communicating very clearly
where the organization was at any time.”

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