How Leaders Drive Alignment: Mark Slyter, President and CEO, Mercy Gilbert and Chandler Regional Medical Centers

Leadership Series  by Ali Parnian

Published December 20, 2018 in the Phoenix Business Journal

Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time with Mark Slyter about how he keeps his employees focused on the business mission in order to drive results and maintain a high level of employee engagement.

Dignity Health CEO Mark Slyter

What are the unique challenges of your organization?

I think Healthcare is a unique industry where insurance works as an intermediary in the consumer/provider relationship.  As insurers push more out-of-pocket cost to patients we are experiencing more consumer oriented behaviors. It is a unique challenge but I believe engaging patients in a more direct relationship is a positive direction.  At Dignity Health our Mission is in a healing ministry that strives to deliver the best for our patients – safety, quality, and experience. We are positioned well for a more direct relationship with consumers.

What does alignment mean to you? 

Alignment is the combination of shared value, vision, priorities and incentives with your team as well as partners, vendors and community.

Why do you feel it is important?

It is more than important, it is critical to achieve your goals and advance the Mission. We are all about the Healing Ministry and if we don’t have the right alignment we won’t fully achieve our Mission. The second thing is that it drives effective and efficient use of time, talent and energy. If you don’t have the right alignment, the work environment is fragmented and produces sub-optimal results.  Alignment provides better communication and role clarity which are critical in creating the right working environment.

You mentioned the Healing Ministry; can you define that?

We are looking at health. The health of the population, the health of individuals coming to our hospitals and our community.  We are connected across an entire community striving to advance our collective health – mind, body, and spirit. Part of that piece is addressing the sick and we do that in many of our hospitals, emergency departments and primary care clinics across the continuum.

What do you observe when areas of your organization are misaligned and what is the impact on results? 

You can start to see confusion and frustration which leads to missed opportunities. You can see the impact on results through lower productivity, performance, outcomes, service and growth. If any of these areas flare, we have to see how those areas are misaligned and address those areas.

How do you drive alignment in your organization?

It starts with a commitment to a common purpose (Mission, Vision, Values, and Standards).  Next is working with the collective wisdom of a committed team to create the strategy and structure to advance this purpose.  With a plan it moves to execute – aligning and engaging people with clear expectations and communication. Finally, to sustain and align individual behaviors we connect the evaluation of their performance and identify opportunities for development. We have a one-page document  that describes this process. Dignity Health Operations_Performance_Excellence_ModelHow do you get everyone on the same page with intentional culture and leadership?

Make sure that everyone is committed to the Mission and Vision. Then get teams to help you derive the strategies to get them involved so they can be champions for that strategy and connect to it. This is important, so you are not just one person communicating, now you have an entire village or team communicating our strategy.

Then it is important to stay consistent to those 5 to 10 organizational strategies and talk about them over and over again. Reporting should be concise, consistent, transparent, and have the right frequency daily, weekly, monthly, whatever is most effective, in order to make sure people know exactly what they are working towards, their role in that and how that is advancing and driving the Healing Ministry.

Sometimes these things are easier to talk about than to implement, are there any tools you use to simplify the process? 

There are a number of different things we use. For example, in our organization the safety of our patients and employees is very important to us and it is one of our core principles. We have a communication and handoff methodology called SBAR which stands for Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendations. With this methodology and these consistent components, leaders can handoff or communicate key information without missing anything and keeping the environment safe. From a leadership perspective we focus on rounding and reinforcing those techniques. We have other tools like this that we reinforce as we round to help employees, physicians and leaders to be more consistent.

Please explain what you mean by “rounding”?

Rounding in our industry is a universal term that means leaders walk the halls, talk to caregivers, visit with patients, get a sense of what is going on, and try to reinforce best practices, behaviors etc. and are also gaining information to better understand how to manage the organization and help the people at the bedside be more effective for patients.

Which of the different areas are the most challenging, getting people to align to strategy, align to culture or align to leadership?

Culture is the most challenging and the one I spend the most time on because that is individual behaviors. High reliability in things that matter most to patients, employees, and our company is our culture – safety, quality, service, people, finance, and growth.  High reliability is a Culture of Always – we strive to always deliver the very best.  An example in our culture is a preoccupation with failure and our team’s continuous attention to anomalies that could impact outcomes for our patients.  The more consistent attention, the more reliable the outcomes. By far and away this is the most challenging because culture is not something you can just flip a switch and it is on. All leaders have to reinforce and model a culture of always each and every day.

 How do you define culture?

Culture is a shared assumption, values and beliefs that govern the way people behave. Consistent behaviors, shared values and consistent beliefs are what you experience when you come work for or get services from Dignity Health, you can see the culture – a culture of always, a culture of humankindness. You see the consistency of that interaction and hopefully for us, that’s an interaction of humankindness.

Do you have a defined culture?

Yes we have a Mission, Vision, Values and Principles.  For us, “Hello Humankindness” is a simplified way of saying our mission, vision, values and principles.  We strive to deliver on this humankindness with each encounter and always deliver the very best to a community we are blessed to serve.

 Dignity Health Mission Vision Principles

 If you could give advice to a leader who is struggling with alignment in their own organization what would it be?

My advice would be to thoughtfully develop a methodology. I shared one with you that I found, tweaked and modified over some successes, failures and missteps. Over time I found something that engages the talent of the team and really puts something into place that becomes a part of how we operate. I would also not do that in isolation, I would do it with key leaders in the organization which could include board-members, some of your executive leadership team, and some of your front-line employees. This is something that you want the team to make their own, but these methodologies don’t just happen and there needs to be some purpose to it.

Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?

I find inspiration from my faith, so my quote is a Biblical quote, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” For me, no matter what the craziness is going on in my day, I know there is a bigger plan, so I remind myself to pause, reflect and listen because there is a plan.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your organization?

I have been with Dignity Health about a year and I am so impressed with its foundation that’s built on the healing ministry and that everyone in the organization is connected to that humankindness. I can tell you that work is much more rewarding when you have a group of individuals working on a common purpose that they believe in both personally and professionally. Dignity Health is a real special place and I believe that is what makes us a little bit different than other choices for healthcare in the market.

Ali Parnian is the president of Execute to Win, a business writer and leadership coach. He can be reached at

This entry was posted in Insights, Leadership, Culture