Man on a mission Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

Dennis Dawes, the president and CEO of Hendricks Regional Health, likes to hammer away at the fundamentals, just like a coach. The only difference between the world of business and the field of play is what constitutes “fundamentals.”

Where Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy might harp on tackling, blocking and other basic football skills to his players, Dawes reinforces the Hendricks’ mission statement, vision and core values to his team of more than 1,600 employees.

Of course, keeping a work force of several thousand focused on uniform goals can be more challenging than rallying a roster of 53 football players. That means good communication is paramount for Dawes at the Danville-based health care system, which reported $278 million in gross patient revenue for 2007.

“Repetition is always good, it’s like baseball or football, you always go back to the basics and practice over and over the things that get you to succeed,” Dawes says. “Revisiting those (mission and values) statements is always a good thing, or they won’t be mired in your mind.”

That’s why Dawes strives to stay in front of his employees as often as possible, speaking, listening, but always interacting and staying in touch with the employees who make Hendricks run. If you don’t stay engaged, your ability to communicate will suffer and you’ll never be able to create buy-in on your vision.

If you can’t communicate the basic building blocks of your company and live by those principles each day, then no one else will.

“We try hard to keep those things in the forefront,” Dawes says. “We try to keep that in front of everyone and make decisions based on that, and we try to live it as best we can.”

Cast a wide net

Dawes has one word he follows when driving large-scale concepts throughout the organization: Simple.

If a mission statement is too long, a vision is too complex or core values are too numerous, the message can get lost in translation. Dawes says you want statements that express the foundational principles of your business without getting bogged down with too many words or too much industry jargon.

“Short and simple is good,” he says. “If you have a two-page mission statement, that is way too long. One sentence is probably good. Even two or three sentences is probably too long. You need to keep it short — something where at least the gist of it can be remembered.”

Simply stated messages can help you reach a wider audience. But even though you’re trying to communicate the over-arching goals and principles of the organization, your method of communication can’t always be as broad.

There is a time and place for speaking from a podium or making a companywide webcast. But Dawes says you can’t stop there. You need to take the big-picture concepts and drive them down to a more personal level for your employees.

At Hendricks, employees, managers and board members all receive personal communication. For employees, it starts with orientation.

“When new employees come on board, they go through a fairly lengthy orientation program, and part of that program includes an explanation of our vision and our values as an organization,” Dawes says. “That is where it begins, and throughout the year, myself and our human resources director will hold meetings with associates. We’ll do that anywhere from quarterly to a couple of times a year, and I try to refocus our vision, mission and values. We always come back to those.”

Laying out a compelling case for the mission and core values will likely help draw in the vast majority of your employees. But there might still be some who either won’t or can’t get with the program. At Hendricks, those people are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

“I would not expect someone in our support services who is cleaning patient rooms and so forth to be able to recite to me our company mission or our vision if I asked them,” Dawes says. “But I would expect a department manager to give me a fairly decent description of what that is.”

In the end, job performance is the key indicator of whether someone is buying in or resisting the direction in which you want to take the company.

“No. 1, you let people go from their job, you change their job, or you would give them an opportunity to leave the organization if they’re not doing their job,” he says. “Part of the stated job description is not necessarily following the mission and vision of an organization, but that’s certainly a piece of it.

“People lose their job because they’re not doing their job. But you have to take into account some of the other factors, as well. Part of our organizational values deal with teamwork. If someone is not a team player, that has to be looked at in their evaluation, as well.”

Get others involved

Once you have started cascading your mission and vision through the organization, you need the involvement of other leaders to keep the information flowing.

Dawes believes that you enable others to communicate by delivering the message to them, and then empowering them to deliver the message to those further down the organizational ladder.

It takes a level of discipline on your part. Dawes says delegation means trusting that your employees will do the job, even if they don’t do it the way you used to do it and even if there are some mistakes along the way.

“If you’re going to delegate something to someone, you need to be able to let them make mistakes,” he says. “If you’re going to look over their shoulder, if you’re going to micromanage someone, you might as well do it yourself. You have to delegate to someone and truly let them have ownership of it, let them know that you’re available for questions and let them know that the task you gave them is their responsibility.”

It’s something that Dawes had to learn on the job as Hendricks has grown over the past 20 years.

“Before we were the size that we are, I pretty much handled all of the department managers, who reported directly to me,” he says. “As we grew and got bigger over time, I gave up some of that reporting to me. We brought in vice presidents to the organization who managed several groups of departments.

“That was a learning curve for me because I used to interface with them all the time, and now I was removed from that almost-daily interaction and had to rely on someone else in between. I had to learn from a delegation standpoint to let go. I didn’t want to interfere with the vice president, and I had to make sure that I wasn’t going to people or letting people come to me, bypassing the vice presidents.”

In that transitional period, Dawes had to remember one of his basic rules about delegation: As long as the job gets done, it does-n’t really matter how it’s done. If you’ve asked your managers for help in communicating, strategizing or anything else, don’t refuse the help because it’s not the kind of help you think you need.

“Everybody does things differently, so that’s part of letting go,” he says. “You have to be willing to let them do something their way. You hopefully will come to the same answer. As long as you get there and the end result is what you are both looking for, that’s OK. That’s where practice and taking your time come in. You have to be comfortable with yourself and who you are as a person. You can’t get hung up with having to do it your way.”

Make time for communicating

Even after the mission, vision and values have been communicated and the majority of employees are on board with where you want to take your company, you still need to set the example. That comes back to spending time with your employees.

Whether it’s walking the halls, gathering a group together for lunch or holding a scheduled meeting, you once again need to get back to the basics of effective face-to-face communication with your employees. But you’ve probably discovered that becomes increasingly difficult as your company grows.

Dawes says the time for personal communication won’t find you as your business grows and more tasks end up on your desk. You have to find the time yourself.

“It’s a matter of scheduling,” he says. “You put it on your schedule, then you follow that schedule. It’s like anything else. If you want to have face-to-face time with your employees, you schedule that.

“The other part is, you need to have a philosophy of being available to your people. If I go down to our cafeteria to eat lunch or breakfast or what have you, I sit with the staff. I talk to them; I don’t ignore them. I eat with them, and I just have that conversation. That’s the way you find things out, a way to communicate, maybe relay to them some things you think they need to hear or know about.”

When you are having these personal communications, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

“When you are with people, you need to listen,” Dawes says. “Listening is a critical factor in communication.

“Be consistent in what you are saying. Don’t waffle on things or change all the time. If you have a message, make sure you are consistent in telling that message over and over again.”

And while technology may be easier, it doesn’t match the effectiveness of face-to-face communication.

“With today’s computer technology, it’s easy to get caught up in that being the way you communicate with everyone,” Dawes says. “E-mail and related technology are very good tools, and I’m thankful for the technology we have. But it’s not a substitute for face-to-face communication, doing it live and in person and having that type of interaction with your people.” <<

HOW TO REACH: Hendricks Regional Health, (317) 745-4451 or