From Surviving to Thriving: Charting an Effective Strategy — in conversation with Sherie Hickman

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3 min readMar 3, 2023

Some businesses are survivors, particularly in the face of such massive challenges as the global pandemic. Others, regardless of the same obstacles others have faced, have found a way to thrive. What is the process for taking your organization from survival mode to thriving?

We’re in conversation with Sherie Hickman, a highly experienced thought partner, sustainable change steward, and results-driven, inclusive leader who has helped several organizations overcome obstacles and transform operations.

Sherie, you’ve led many organizations through tough times and into a promising future. What guidance can you offer executives and boards in setting the strategy that will take stakeholders to where they want to go?

A key strength in navigating through any difficulty is the ability to listen to a variety of constituents. Absorb what people are saying. Weave together their input to pinpoint core issues and opportunities. Then, ‘say it back’ — through newsletters, townhalls, and rounding, for instance — in a way that people can understand. In essence, the message is, ‘We have all this going on, and we’re struggling. Here’s what I’m hearing. Here’s what I think will be the right strategy moving forward. What do you think?’ That back-and-forth and the ability to actively listen and engage are the foundation for creating a strategy that resonates with all stakeholders.

A clear, inclusive strategy indicates that the board and executive leadership have taken the time to understand your organization’s environment, culture, and people. It’s important to be thoughtful about engaging people early on so that when you get to the tactical phase of executing on the strategy — the most difficult part — you’re more likely to have alignment and success.

Can you offer an example of how this approach has served you as a leader?

I once worked at a small hospital that was struggling with day-to-day viability. We had a good core of orthopedic surgeons who did the lions’ share of support for the hospital, but we knew if even one doctor stopped admitting there, we could easily be ‘up the creek without a paddle.’

That was right around the time when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) was coming out with bundled payment programs for hospitals in a number of specialty areas. We decided to work with our orthopedic surgeons in the first phase of the program where, if we could meet certain quality and stay outcomes, we would gain financial benefits from CMS for care improvements.

We became part of the first wave of quality-driven bundled payment programs. We aligned our physicians around standardized care plans and anesthesia protocols and worked with our nurses post-op to make sure they were following best practices for joint patients. We also advised patients before they arrived at the hospital — and supported them when they got home.

The program became so popular that we were able to gain-share significant amounts of money with our physicians, who were proud of the care their patients received. Several other surgeons joined the group because they wanted to be a part of our growing reputation for excellence in patient care. During my two years at that hospital, we achieved advanced certification for total knee and hip replacement from the Joint Commission, which regulates hospitals. We were the first in our company to receive this distinction and only the sixth in California.

Today, that tiny orthopedic hospital is doing really well. It has enough volume to be self-sustaining and has attracted more physicians and more patients, who are seeking quality outcomes for their surgery. Charting a clear and inclusive strategy really works!

Thank you, Sherie, for the wisdom of your experience.

Sherie Hickman is a positive change agent, strategic thinker, and devoted community leader. Throughout her 25-year career as a health care industry executive, she has taken a structured approach to dealing with challenges and disruption — and designing and executing concrete action steps for enduring improvements.

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