Converting purpose into performance: Drive ROI and focus amid industry disruption

Updated on October 26, 2017
Artificial intelligence, Healthcare, Robots in Healthcare, Healthcare Technology

Zappos is known for its customer service and the 10 values its employees live by, but it took several years for the company to formalize its company culture into values – CEO Tony Hsieh resisted creating them for as long as possible. As the company continued to grow, however, an employee convinced him of the need. “I only wish we had done it sooner,” Hsieh later wrote of the process, which took more than a year and involved input from employees across the organization.

Simply put, values are the fundamental beliefs held by an organization. Done well, they can help guide goals and set standards for behavior – what’s right and wrong for your organization to do. And in healthcare, where disruption has become the norm, values are increasingly important — disruption creates noise that can lower productivity and distract the healthcare organization from its focus on its reason to exist: providing quality care.

In this environment, healthcare leaders able to refocus on a values-based strategy can boost productivity and reenergize team members.  Values are important because they motivate people, and in doing so they both drive and create alignment. Effectively instituting a values-based strategy requires not only being clear about your values as a company, and how they relate to the services you provide, but also having those values align with employees’ individual motivations.

Consider, for example, Baylor Scott & White Health, where 85 percent of employees report that their work has special meaning.  A healthcare organization able to tie its core purpose – providing patient care – with a higher value – changing the world through acts of kindness and generosity, in the case of Baylor Scott & White – can motivate a custodian or technician to respond more efficiently to a call.

Studies back up the link between values and performance. The authors of “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” demonstrate that companies with a strong, values-driven culture outperform the general stock market by a factor of 15. Research also shows inspired employees are almost three times more productive than dissatisfied employees. 

Nowhere, perhaps, are strong, aligned values more important than in a highly regulated or unionized industry, and with one in 10 workers belonging to a union, healthcare falls into both categories. Each has a workforce often operating in siloes. They are usually characterized by a resistance to change or reliance on the status quo, whether due to a desire to avoid running afoul of regulations or because of labor-management relations. Employees are often disengaged – less than half of healthcare workers (44% according to a Towers Watson study) are engaged, and union workgroups are at the 39th percentile in Gallup’s global employee engagement database and are 6 percent less productive than the median.

A values-based strategy can provide the missing link, allowing you to overcome these barriers to engage employees, increase efficiency and drive ROI as effectively in healthcare as you can in a nonunion, unregulated industry.

The question then, is this: How do you craft and apply a values-based strategy in this context? First, define and craft your organization’s values, socializing them throughout the organization. As you do, assess how well those values align with the services you provide.

If your values and your products and services are in complete alignment, ask yourself the following questions: How do we tie the values to strategy? How do we communicate our values-based strategy? How do you measure your values-based impact? How do you collect feedback? Look for opportunities to continue to reinforce communications that demonstrate how the organization aligns with its core values.  This often is most effectively done by senior leadership, as in the example of Zappos’ Hsieh. 

If your values are out of alignment, determine where the misalignment lies. Look back to your company history to identify when your products and services diverged from your values. At that point, knowing where your organization diverged enables you to identify root causes and adjust future strategies and initiatives to better align with your values. Most likely, the actual changes will be small, but the impact can be significant as you transition toward a values-driven culture.

Lastly, work to overcome fear of change, as even positive change can be met with resistance from the organization. The people who are likely in the best position to make change are leaders of the company and key change agents – union leaders, nurse leaders, long-term employees, etc. Unions in particular can be particularly resistant to cultural change, so work closely with leaders to identify a common set of values all can embrace.

A values-based strategy can mean the difference between surviving and thriving. Leading based on a strong set of values can allow you to bring teams together, encourage new ways of thinking and increase productivity and engagement. It can also help you improve the bottom line – implementing a values-based strategy, as Zappos and Baylor Scott & White Health have, can have a measurable impact on business performance.

About the Author

Jeff Foley brings more than 20 years of experience in consulting and business implementation to his role as managing partner of Propeller (, a Portland, OR- and San Francisco, CA-based management consulting firm he co-founded. He is passionate about solving problems and helping people succeed.