Healthcare Leadership with Dan Nielsen — Employee Relations in a Down Economy

Lessons Learned from Greenville Hospital System

Doug Dorman, Vice President of Human Resources at Greenville Hospital System in Greenville, S.C., was the discussion leader for the topic, Employee Relations in a Down Economy. The discussion was part of a Leadership Conference for senior healthcare executives sponsored by PHTS and the South Carolina Healthcare Human Resources Association. I was honored to serve as moderator and facilitator for this conference.

Doug shared some of what Greenville Hospital System is doing to cope with difficult times and to improve employee relations in a down economy. Included in Doug’s comments was emphasis on the critical importance to “keep talking.” The emphasis was NOT to avoid this difficult, painful topic … but to encourage open, honest and frequent dialog throughout the entire organization.

“Conversations, particularly about difficult situations and topics, are healthy and very important!” said Doug.

Leaders at all levels throughout the Greenville Hospital System are taught and encouraged to “keep talking.” To keep the dialog flowing up, down, and throughout the organization, focus on the following:


1.  Offer Context.  Leaders throughout the organization are encouraged and expected to share the specific reasons and the overall necessity for cost containment efforts. It is critical that all employees understand the “whys” of cost containment efforts as well as the short and long-term ramifications of not aggressively pursuing cost containment throughout the organization.  

2.  Allow Appropriate Emotional Expression. Particularly during difficult times, people need to deal with and hopefully resolve their emotions. As is true in all areas of life, tightly capping and never dealing with strong emotions can prove disastrous for all concerned.

3.  Counter Rumors with Facts. Leaders at all levels of the organization are encouraged and expected to challenge exaggerations and gossip with appropriate information. Leaders are expected to know the facts and to counter rumors with facts. If leaders do not know the facts or the answer, they are expected to immediately get the facts from their leader … and then counter rumors with the facts … ASAP.    

4. Reconnect to Purpose.  This step is also critical. Close the loop and conversation in a positive manner.  Bring lasting meaning and value to the conversation. Reconnect to purpose, vision, and mission. Close the conversation with vivid and positive reminders of “why we are here… why we do what we do … the critical importance of what we do … and why the organization and each member of the team must make adjustments based on current or future reality so that the overriding vision, mission and purpose can be accomplished.”

This four-step model is excellent, in my opinion. A simple model that can be easily remembered by all leaders and very effectively deployed, in a million different organizations, to assure better communication and better employee relations … regardless of the economy.

Kudos to Doug Dorman and his colleagues at Greenville Hospital System for leading, modeling, mentoring, and maintaining a simple, yet effective process for assuring open, honest, frequent and effective dialog and communication throughout their entire organization.

 — Dan Nielsen is founder of the National Institute for Healthcare Leadership ( You can reach him at

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