In corporate America in publicly traded companies, people are always watching their backs. Things typically move very slowly, with lots of bureaucracy, misalignment, missing purpose, and lack of trust. It’s very rare when these elements aren’t present. But we have none of those in our family, and we don’t allow them to infiltrate ChenMed. In fact, we have the opposite.
We are transparent, make decisions at blistering speed, have tons of constructive conflict, and are unapologetic in our commitment to our vision, mission, and values. We’ve brought in outside people to survey our employees multiple times. What they have discovered is that we have ninety-five percent engagement with the mission of the company. The outsiders tell us they’ve never seen this level of commitment in an organization our size.
The reason—there’s no red tape and bureaucracy, and there are no back channels to manipulate personal agendas. If these ever start to develop, we root them out and those people who started them aren’t with the company for very long. We go direct. We give feedback to everyone, including ourselves. And we openly talk about weaknesses. That level of openness isn’t for everyone. There is no place to hide at ChenMed. If you don’t deliver results, we are going to talk about it. Everything is brought out in the open.
We let people know that if you are a person who gets locked up, who can’t make a decision, you will get left behind; ChenMed is not a place for you. Moving as fast as we do, sometimes we break things. Of course, we don’t try to break things, but it happens because we’re willing to take risks to do the right thing rather than sit still because we’re afraid of doing the wrong thing. There are only two areas where we refuse to take a risk. One—with the health of our patients. We will never put a patient’s health and safety at risk. And two—with compliance of health standards and the law. Those two things are nonnegotiable. But with everything else, everyone at ChenMed is encouraged to take risks to do the right thing when it comes to achieving our vision and delivering our mission.
We tell our team, “You only have to do two things to be a part of my team. Just two. One—you have to build your own great team. Find people at a high level of talent. They should be as talented as you are in their level of expertise so they can fully complement you and provide what your team needs. And they must work well as a team—know what it means not to look out for their own self-interests but to always have the team’s best interests in mind. Two—you must make hard decisions. Do you have the right people doing the jobs you need done with excellence? If not, you have a hard decision to make. And you must effectively negotiate strategic trade-offs. We can’t do everything. So what are the most important things? If a decision means sacrificing something, can you recognize the less crucial element to sacrifice so that greater good results from your decision? That’s it. Build a great team yourself and make the hard decisions. That’s all I ask of members of my team.”
In speaking to our team and the executive council (the top fifty executives of ChenMed), he said, “At this level, I trust your character and I trust your work ethic. You will not get fired for making mistakes. But you will get fired for not recognizing, owning, and learning from your mistakes quickly enough.”
Bureaucracies say, “Cover yourself, cover yourself, cover yourself.” Give yourself “plausible deniability.” We say, “Do not cover yourself. Go boldly and do what you think is best if it serves the mission, the vision, the purpose, and goals of ChenMed. You’re going to make mistakes. And it’s OK. You will not get fired for making mistakes.”
Often it can become a question of ego. We tell one another, “Don’t stick to your guns if the numbers don’t support the story you’re telling or if you have no story to back up the numbers you’re giving us. Own it, recognize it, learn from it— in fact, we value you MORE when you do that! Because when you do, you’re getting closer to the real answer.”
On a trip to Atlanta, we met with key leaders who run Chick-fil-A. Out of that relationship, we learned another important lesson we could apply to ChenMed—the importance of localization. We give autonomy to those leading our centers, the men and women who know the culture and specific needs of their communities. We empower and encourage local markets to express themselves with tremendous ownership and autonomy while executing our standardized model.
When we live our values and behaviors, we transform healthcare for our seniors. Having learned these key concepts from the Bible, we know the enduring impact these values can have along with the importance of holding to our values through good times and bad. How we treat others reflects what is in our hearts, and living our values allows us to spread God’s love and healing. By holding one another to these values, our impact will transcend multiple generations and perhaps even millennia. This is what transforms hearts and transforms communities. Having the right values and behaviors is what allows us to build something that has deep and enduring impact. The most important component of whether we will succeed at scaling the ChenMed model to communities across America will be our ability to consistently build a strong culture through living our values rather than merely talking about them.
About Chris and Gordon Chen:
Dr. Chris Chen is Chief Executive Officer of ChenMed. He is a bold innovator leading a revolution in healthcare through a global full-risk model of patient care, custom-designed physician training programs and a proprietary technology platform, purpose-built for value-based care. Dr. Gordon Chen is ChenMed’s Chief Medical Officer. His influence-based and outcomes-driven approach has helped grow the physician-led, full-risk medical practice to more than 100 medical centers in 15 states. Together, Dr. Chris Chen and Dr. Gordon Chen are the co-authors of the new book, The Calling: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and the Future of Healthcare.