Sustainable Business Network: Christus Health

Sustainable Business Network: Christus Health

How does an organization not only stay relevant but also flourish through 150 years of technological and societal changes? By staying committed to its mission. Christus Health, a Catholic faith-based healthcare company, has done just that. Established by a group of sisters in France in 1866, Christus Health has grown become a $6.2 billion global organization with 42,000 associates still dedicated to the original mission: to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to everyone who comes through their doors. “There’s a reason we call our employees associates,” said Ernie Sadau, Christus Health CEO. “We’re a team.” Sadau and other Christus executives spoke on September 30 to a meeting of the University of Dallas’ Sustainable Business Network about how Christus Health is meeting the challenges of managing and growing a complex global organization through building trust among its leaders and associates.

SBN Meeting at Christus Health
SBN Meeting at Christus Health

With locations in the southern United States as well as Mexico, Chile and Colombia, developing leaders in a meaningful and consistent way has become an integral part of Christus Health’s plan for success. And one of the key components of developing leaders is through coaching. “In the past, coaching at Christus had the reputation of being used only when something needed to be fixed,” said Lisa Reynolds, Vice President of Talent Management. “We had to change that perception because we know that coaching is essential to stable and effective leadership and and an engaged workforce.”

Reynolds described for the group the many ways in which Christus uses both internal and external coaches to develop current and potential leaders, from the C-suite to front line associates. “We have an standardized Executive Assimilation Program that uses coaches to introduce new executives to the culture and processes of the organization,” Reynolds said, adding that the program has helped Christus reduce executive turnover by 46%. “In addition, we use coaches to help high potential leaders improve target behaviors. This helps them to develop into effective leaders.”

The Christus coaching philosophy doesn’t only apply to corporate-level managers. All leaders within the organization manage with a coaching approach. “It’s really about trust,” said Scott Hopkins, Director of Leadership Development. “In order to build relationships, we have to have trust. Patients trust associates and associates trust their leaders.” To build this level of trust, Hopkins said that much of Christus’ leadership training focuses on how to have conversations. “Sometimes it’s tough conversations,” he said. “And other times it’s checking in.” To facilitate “checking in,” leaders have regular conversations with associates, asking questions like, “How are you doing?”; “What’s going on in your life outside of work?”; “Do you have any suggestions that could improve our processes or employee safety?”; and “What kinds of tools or equipment could help you do your job?” According to Hopkins, having discussions that focus on the positive creates trust and takes away the stigma of coaching as negative process.

Another key element of building trust among associates and leaders at Christus Health is through recognition. Hopkins said that studies show 65% of people say they received no recognition whatsoever for their work in the past year. “So we developed a Facebook-style forum where leaders can recognize associates,” Hopkins said. “And not only do associates receive organization-wide exposure through this system, but leaders can also award incentive points that associates can use to purchase items on the system website.” Peers can also recognize one another through the forum.

Hopkins added that leaders are encouraged to write handwritten notes to personally recognize outstanding associates. “Imagine the impact of a handwritten note from your boss posted up of the refrigerator for your whole family to see,” he said. “It really engages your heart.”

Hopkins and Reynolds agreed that learning to build trust starts on a leader’s first day. “By creating the expectation of transparency, you build relationships and you develop consistency,” said Reynolds. “Basically,” Hopkins added. “Do what you say you’re going to do.”

The University of Dallas Sustainable Business Network (SBN) is an open forum for building relationships, exchanging best practices, and fostering dialogue around issues of corporate social responsibility, sustainability and eco-innovation, and corporate governance. Hosted by the AACSB-accredited Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas, SBN hosts quarterly events and panel discussions on relevant topics led by recognized industry experts. For more information, visit

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