Bill Manns discusses the importance of empowerment
Tim Leman: Have you ever felt like you're on the edge of something great. You put in the work. You've done the hard stuff most people aren't willing to do. And now you can just sense magical run lines ahead. This season, we'll talk to leaders across the wide variety of industries to learn what it's like to ride the edge and own it. We'll hear what separates those special teams from the more ordinary experiences. The kind, if we're lucky, we get to be a part of maybe three or four times in our life. Join me, Tim Leman, chairman and CEO of Gibson. As we discuss waiting on the edge. Welcome to The Edge Podcast. I'm your host, Tim Leman. On this episode we have Bill Manns, president and CEO of Bronson Healthcare Group, the largest healthcare system in Southwest, Michigan. Welcome Bill. I'm excited to have you on as our guest today.
Bill Manns: Thanks Tim. I'm excited to be here.
Tim Leman: And so Bill, tell our audience a little bit about Bronson Healthcare Group and also your role there.
Bill Manns: Absolutely. So Bronson Healthcare Group is comprised of four hospitals that take care of about nine counties in the Southwest Michigan area. We have over a hundred outpatient locations and employ about 8, 500 employees.
Tim Leman: Wow. I know your title is president CEO, but how do you describe your role?
Bill Manns: Yeah, so I think I'm the chief empowerment officer. For me it's about how do we empower all 8, 500 employees to be part of delivering high quality health care to the communities that we serve. Now, the other part of that is providing the appropriate vision, right? And something that can really motivate our team, especially given the pandemic and all that our employees have been through. And just keeping that resilience, that energy, the level of motivation and really the sense of empowerment that they can and do make a difference in the lives of so many others.
Tim Leman: Bill, how would you describe your role being CEO of an entire healthcare system relative to you've been the president of facility location, individual hospitals. How is that different?
Bill Manns: Yeah, it's markedly different, right? So, heretofore, when you're a president of a hospital, you've got a huge responsibility grant, but when you're the president of the entire organization, it's a lot more complex. Bronson has 13 different companies. Each company has a slightly different purpose, right? And how do you take those companies and really align them in a way that makes sense for Bronson, in a way that more importantly makes sense for the community. So I do a lot of listening, a lot of reshaping it and helping ensure that we're all pointed in the right direction and that's to deliver high quality care. But yeah, the level of complexity is a lot more extreme.
Tim Leman: Bill, maybe talk about something like that. Some of those complex decisions that you probably had input on in the past, but ultimately you've got to make the final call on. Tell us about maybe one of those.
Bill Manns: Yeah, no, it's really interesting. And I can give you a few actually. So I arrived at Bronson in the middle of the pandemic. So I started on March 30th of last year and our operative suites were shut down. There was a huge projected financial loss and welcome new guy. And so after I found the location of the restroom, right? It was, well, Bronson can't have an operating loss like this. But by the same token, we're the largest employer in the region. So how do you begin to balance the need to have a positive margin so that we can continue to reinvest in the organization? We can give people raises et cetera, and not have a huge reduction in force. And so for me, it was about listening to the team. It was about articulating what I just said, right? When you're the largest employer, so goes your organization. So goes the region. And so you couldn't sink the organization because it would have a negative impact on the economy of the region. And so it really became about the collective will of the organization and getting people to see, I don't want to have a huge reduction in force. That's just not the right thing to do. We also can't have brackets around our bottom line because that's difficult to pull this large organization out of it. And so we embarked on something called the strategic margin improvement process, and our grossly over simplify this process. It was about empowering those who are closest to the operation to make decisions, but to make decisions that we'd all see, and make decisions that were based on the best interest of the patient and the community. And rather than being too draconian and too top- down it's, here's the reality of our situation. Yep. I've got ideas, but you might have better and more informed ideas because you're seeing the organization or the company at a different level. And so for me back to being the chief empowerment officer, right? How do you empower those who are closest to the decision making process to make the decision? And how do you create some transparency around those decisions? And so, yeah, it's just a wonderful opportunity to come in, miss a crisis and say," Okay, folks, here's the brutal reality of where we are, and how do we make a decision." As opposed to the new guy. Who's still trying to find the bathroom and making some assumptions about your condition.
Tim Leman: Bill, you touched on something there too. I think it's a really interesting thing in general about healthcare. So just thinking about costs, revenue, operating margin, those types of things. You want to run a good business, good organization, but also... and trying to keep people healthy. And then on the employer side of things, given the business that we're in a Gibson too. They want to contain costs and so on, and so some people might find those things in conflict with one another, but maybe not. How do you guys think about that enable like grow revenue and all that while at the same time from an employer perspective containing costs?
Bill Manns: Great question. I'm going to push back. Nope. I don't want to run a good business. I want to run a great business. And so for us, it really is about driving waste out of our processes. There's a tremendous amount of waste and virtually any company, right? I'm a lean nerd and I'm a firm believer that as we become more efficient and drive waste out, you can drive that cost out. And so that's what we're about at Bronson. Bronson is a high value provider and when you compare our organization to other health care organizations throughout the state, low cost, high quality, great outcomes. And part of that back to empowering people who are closer to the ward, right? Asking the question," Hey, how can we do this better?" Versus assuming that since I'm the CEO, I must have all the answers and I know everything, not even close.
Tim Leman: I won't tell anybody.
Bill Manns: Yeah. Exactly I know enough to ask, right? And that notion of humble inquiry. And I think as a leader, that's something that you've got to set your ego aside and realize that you don't know everything, right? And really ask those who are doing the work. I noticed X, Y, Z. Do you think there's a way we might be able to do that better? And so back to being the largest employer, I want to drive down the cost of healthcare too.
Tim Leman: Right. You guys, you're one of your best customers, right?
Bill Manns: Exactly. Exactly. So we're self- insured so if we can make those processes easier, more efficient, simpler for the customer or patient to use, then we benefit too. So there's this win- win that's embedded in that relationship. Now that said back to your other part you mentioned operating margins, it's imperative that an organization... even non- profits have an operating margin. We got a son studying finance at Loyola in Chicago. And I can remember he was in eighth or ninth grade and he said," So dad, I don't understand." And I said," What Justin?" And he says," So you run a nonprofit, but my entire life even worried about making a profit, I don't get it." And I had to explain to him, I said," That's a great point. But the reason that it's a nonprofit is that we aren't focused on just the bottom line, your father, who at the time, I think he was president of the hospital. I want to ensure that we have a margin so that we can take that money and reinvest it in the organization, so that we can give people raises, so we can buy new equipment, so that we can continue to provide high quality healthcare." And so that's the importance of the operating margin. And I think people get confused by it, right? It is a confusing concept of why do nonprofits want to have an operating margin,. Why our hospitals are worried about the bottom line.
Tim Leman: Yeah, I think sometimes we don't translate that into healthcare, but I think we all sat on non- for- profit boards and so on that organizations are struggling and it's bad news. And it's... you get to one of those death spirals staff who need everything else. So I totally get that. So healthcare systems rely on a whole lot of teams to deliver critical service to patients. And teams is one of the themes we've really been exploring on the podcast. So talk about some of the teams and the team dynamics within Bronson.
Bill Manns: Yeah. I think it's the most important aspect of Bronson. That sense of teamwork it's not the cool IT systems that we have again, why finance is important, that notion a team. And part of our role is to build a strong and cohesive senior leadership team. So it starts really there because dysfunction at the highest level of the organization creates dysfunction throughout the remainder of the organization. So for me that notion of a strong executive leadership team is key. Then from there, you really see at Bronson, especially Bronson Methodist Hospital is a level one trauma center. So that notion of teamwork during a trauma and every person, one, clearly understanding his or her role. And then two, playing it, it's also important to understand the roles of others. So that if someone is wrestling with an issue or having a bad day or what have you, I think people often forget that as talented and resilient as our healthcare workers are, they're still human, right? And so how do you ensure that you're looking out for your teammates? And I've seen that over and over at Bronson and it's just really heartwarming to watch how people care when I round in the organization I like to say," Tell me what's going well?" And people over and over will say," Teamwork. I like the people I work with. Oh, my friend, Molly, she's doing a great job." And that sense of teamwork and comradery is something that is palpable when you walk through the organization. So it's something that I believe in. It's something we believe in and you feel it, you really do.
Tim Leman: How have those dynamics been impacted by the pandemic?
Bill Manns: Yeah, I think part of what's allowed, many of our employees to get through is just that sense of teamwork and realize that you're on a team that" Man, I'm not going to call it. I'm tired but I don't want to let my other teammates down." And I've seen people pull up their teammate. I mentioned somebody might be having a bad day and that notion of another team member coming over and just putting his or her arm around him or saying," I can empathize with what you're going through because yesterday this happened to me." So it is... I think without that sense of team going through this pandemic for many of our employees would be even more difficult than it is. But again, that sense of empathy and comradery comes through on a regular the basis.
Tim Leman: So speaking of teams, Bill for you personally whether it's your sixth grade kickball team or something in college or now, or whatever. What... maybe talk about the best team you've ever been on and what made it that way.
Bill Manns: Yeah. So, that's a really tough question, right? Because I've been on a number of different teams and I've been on teams where there are groups of very talented individuals, but we weren't a good team. And I've been on other teams where we didn't nearly have the talent or experience, but we excelled. And I think it's just that the understanding that we're a team and we're in this together, I mentioned coming into Bronson in the middle of the pandemic quite frankly, and coming together with all the executives here has been just an absolutely wonderful experience to face the brutal reality of the impact of the pandemic had on the organization and to say," Okay, we can come out of this." And the only way we can come out of this as if we're a team, if one person starts to deviate on the executive team, we are toast. We've all got to be in this together. We've all got to align and we all have to communicate. And, yep we might actually have to do it virtually for safety reasons, right? And so that recently has been a really cool aspect of being really leading a team. I think without that sense of teamwork, again at the highest level because the organization feels when there's dysfunction amongst the executives. I think a lot of people would like to think," Oh, what happens in the boardroom or what happens at the executive table doesn't have any impact on the organization?" Of course it does, because the organization knows that one vice president might be going in a different direction. And so when you can really align that team and align the organization it's magical. And so, yeah, I really like the team that I'm on currently. And no team is ever perfect but there are teams that realize that each of us has a role and we've got to play that role well for the good of the whole. I've seen it in my eighth grade basketball team, and I see it now as a leader in healthcare.
Tim Leman: It's funny you said the eighth grade basketball team, because my COO here at Gibson, they're starting back chord at Leo Junior High School in eighth grade. So we knew each other from many, many years ago and in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and then reconnected out in Arizona and worked together and then he joined us a couple of years ago. But I think when you're young and it's all innocent and naive and sports is a great place to learn those things, but they're relying on each other and that trust has made a big difference to 30 plus years later in the work we do together. He and I both know how the other one's going to approach something and it really is, it makes for great teamwork. Bill, as you were talking about that and thinking about the pandemic, is it easier to rally a team when you have a crisis to some degree? And I know that probably sounds strange, but having the big cause that you can get everybody behind.
Bill Manns: Yeah, no, it's a great question, doesn't sound strange at all. And I think the short answer, yes, it's much easier to rally folks around a crisis because you've got a common thing. I don't want to say enemy, but a common goal, be it to overcome something, to rally around something, et cetera. You said something really important about the relationship between you and your COO, right? It's akin to the blind pass at eighth grade playing basketball, that sense of trust of knowing that you can rely on that other individual, and in a crisis you quickly have to begin to trust, right? Because you realize, gee, I can't do this all by myself and I've got to rely on someone else. And for those of us who are type A personalities, who are used to," I don't work hard, I, I, I." Wait, I've got to rely on somebody else and in a crisis that sense of trust and identifying those individuals and starting to rely on them. I think nothing gives a person a better sense of both comfort and empowerment than to know someone else trusts them. Someone else's relying on. So you're talking about empowering someone. Wow. So yeah, I think that's key.
Tim Leman: Bill, as you've had different roles around the country, your family has moved around, you mentioned your son a little bit ago. I always think of that as maybe the most important team I'm on. How do you translate some of that teamwork stuff to your home and family?
Bill Manns: Yeah. Wow. I thought you said you weren't going to ask any tough questions. Yeah, that's a great question. And so I say to some of my mentees, and it sounds bizarre. Your significant other, that choice of mate is actually important in your career because that person, he or she has to understand you and vice versa. And together you began to build not only that team, that sense of trust, but what are your goals? How are you moving forward? Et cetera. Within the Manns' household, my wife and I talk about that partnership and that 50/50. And I used to say, so, I can't win all the arguments and she can't win all the arguments. She wins 95%. Now I went about five, right? And so there's that balance but that sense of, we're in this together becomes critically important, especially when you have such demanding jobs where there were times we were doing a big turnaround in California. Where I would literally pull all nighters. And so knowing that you had someone who had your back and was looking out for your best interests became really important. And the same is true of my son. And I think one of the tactics that I do share with my mentees is you also have to have boundaries. And so my boundary in California was that Fridays became daddy, son, hang out night, period. So you can schedule me whenever, I'll work 10, 12, 14, 16 hours day without blinking. But Friday after 6: 00 PM, don't schedule me for anything. If there's an ask, if there's a need, sorry. This is protected time and it became our opportunity to really come together to partner. He look forward to it. I look forward to it. My wife tried to come twice in about six years and both times my son would look at her and go," Why is mommy here?" Because that was our protected time. And I think those relationships are so important and it really helps executive stay balanced, right? Because while you're a hardworking individual often, you also have to have that counterbalance and that other part of your life that is so incredibly important.
Tim Leman: Yep. My oldest one's heading back to school, to college next week. So we were able to score a few tickets to a concert tomorrow night in Grand Rapids, it's Umphrey's McGee which he likes. And anyway, yeah, that time is huge. So I love hearing that. Okay. Let's shift gears to rapid fire. This is always my favorite part of the show. We'll start with an easy one. What's your favorite color, Bill.
Bill Manns: Oh, blue.
Tim Leman: All right. And no one can see you but I can. You got a blue suit on and a blue stripe tie. So well done there. Bill, what was your first car?
Bill Manns: A 1967 Camaro.
Tim Leman: All right.
Bill Manns: Way cool way.
Tim Leman: Way cool car. Absolutely.
Bill Manns: I wish I had it now actually.
Tim Leman: No. What's the most memorable concert or performance that you've been to?
Bill Manns: Oh man. So I went to a Prince concert in California and it was shortly after my father had died, and a friend had made a video of my father. The collection of pictures that my father had over the years and that video, the song that played with it was Louis Armstrong's, What A Wonderful World. And so I'm at this Prince concert in Oakland. Well, in inaudible and literally in the middle of the concert, he stops and a saxophonist starts playing What A Wonderful World, brought chills I mean, goosebumps as I'm saying the story now I'm still like, wow. And they just... in the middle of this concert to have him play that song and then look up and say," Wow, thanks dad." It was... yeah. I still remember it.
Tim Leman: Oh, that is cool. I got to see him when I lived in Phoenix and unbelievable. I don't think Prince ever left the stage, his band took a couple of breaks and he could have played lead guitar for Metallica, have done... rapped with Run- D. M. C. or whatever he's just amazing. Bill, what's something about you that very few people know?
Bill Manns: And a lot more will know now, right?
Tim Leman: Yeah.
Bill Manns: Not a lot of people know that I was an alter boy growing up, and at one point my dad thought I was going to be a priest.
Tim Leman: Wow. And then you got in trouble and crosstalk.
Bill Manns: Then I got the 67 Camaro, they were like, oh.
Tim Leman: So which actor would you like to play you in a movie?
Bill Manns: Oh, that's easy. Denzil. The Rock, The Rock along. Yeah. So.
Tim Leman: He's the best. I was just watching Training Day the other day. Three people that you'd like to have dinner with?
Bill Manns: Oh men. Nelson Mandela, Oprah and a Muhammad Ali.
Tim Leman: Mandela, Oprah and Muhammad Ali. That would be fun, all those. And then last one, what's something big you want to do before it's all over?
Bill Manns: Wow. Something big I want to do before it's all over. That's a great question. One of our executives is going to Kilimanjaro next week. And so that is definitely on the bucket list to actually go and climb and see, yeah. I'd say I'm a little envious of him going next week.
Tim Leman: Yeah. I think that'd be great. I've got a few friends that have done that and just an incredible experience. And Africa is an incredible place too, we visited the Southern part of the continent. My brother and I and our boys back in 2018 and just man, it was awesome. Well, Bill, thanks so much for joining us today. Love hearing about the alter boy gets the Camaro and changes their career path, but also all the great work that your team is doing, always but especially with all the pandemic stuff. So thanks for all that. Appreciate your time today.
Bill Manns: Tim. Thank you. I really enjoyed it.
Tim Leman: Thank you for tuning in today. I'm Tim Leman. And remember to own your edge. Subscribe to the Edge Podcast on Apple, Google and Spotify.
Bill Manns, President & CEO of Bronson Healthcare Group, joins Tim to discuss how he strives to empower his team. They dig into the importance of building a strong & cohesive leadership team, because as Bill shares, "dysfunction at the highest level of the organization creates dysfunction throughout the remainder of the organization."