As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need to Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Greene.
Donna was named NextGen Healthcare’s executive vice president of human resources in December 2017, bringing more than 20 years of human resources experience to her role. Under her direction, the company transitioned to a shared services platform, whereby all employees nationwide leverage and benefit from the resources built at the corporate office by Donna and her team.
Prior to joining NextGen Healthcare, Donna was the corporate director of Human Resources for Alliance Healthcare Services, where she focused on employee services for physicians and healthcare workers in the oncology and diagnostic imaging space.
Before embarking on an HR-focused career, Donna worked in retail operations, which led to her first HR role. She began employment with Target as an HR manager and worked her way up to a regional HR professional, focused on employee relations. Later, she became the director of HR for Cendant as well as the chief people officer for a small human capital consulting firm.
Donna’s work has spanned a broad array of industries and companies of all sizes. She has secured a proven track record of designing programs to continually improve the working environment, and creating policies that bring that vision to life.
Donna is currently earning a bachelor of science in Computer Information Systems from the University of Northern Arizona. She graduated with a bachelor of science in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an advanced certification in Human Resources and Business Leadership from the University of California, Irvine.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have always been a worker. I started working very young and did anything to make some spending money, from selling lemonade when I was 9 or 10 to answering phones at a small motel when I was 13. I always had an interest in business. Once out of school, I realized I had an interest in managing the books for small companies. From there, I started a company called the Bottom Line and began consulting. It wasn’t until I transitioned to a large retail chain that I really came to the realization that people and relationships are why businesses truly succeed. When I interviewed with a larger firm, I thought I knew everything about profit, loss, margins and purchasing. The district manager who hired me told me that I needed to work in Human Resources to realize how much people impact business. This is when my career in HR began and I never looked back.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When I was first starting out as a manager, I thought I knew everything, and I was so proud to be a manager with direct reports. One day, I was supposed to have a visit from a district manager who I had never met in person, just phone conversations. On the day of the visit, I mistook a customer for the district manager. I thought that he was intentionally not introducing himself to me and I lost my patience, quickly approaching to announce myself to him. I was so surprised and quietly embarrassed to learn my assumption was so wrong. Later during my meeting with my district manager, one of my employees came to my office letting me know that the customer was ready to check out and asked for me personally. They remained my customer for years.
The takeaways from this are don’t assume anything and don’t let your imagination get away from you! Treat everyone as if they hold your reputation in their hands.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Not just one person, but a few. Throughout my career, depending on my levels of experience and maturity level, there have been very special people who took me under their wing. One person was that district manager who hired me at the large retailer, another person was an attorney who was my supervisor during my first years in HR. As I progressed through my HR career, I had an HR senior vice president who guided me and taught me what kind of leader I could evolve into. This is when I wanted to become a true leader. It wasn’t until I had been working with my current team that I realized it is they who helped me become a true “leader.” I am grateful for all these people, and today, as I continue to evolve, I am most grateful for my CEO at NextGen Healthcare, Rusty Frantz. I have learned through my experience that you can’t empower people. People need to feel that they are empowered. That is the one gift that Rusty has given me….the feeling of empowerment.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Since 1974, NextGen Healthcare has been on a mission to empower ambulatory practices with innovative health IT solutions. We continually strive for better — helping clients achieve clinical, operational, and financial success. We proudly support the providers of ambulatory care and the communities they serve. Our mission and purpose have never been more important than it is now, as we are supporting the healthcare community during this critical time in our history.
Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
During difficult times, people tend to make up what they don’t know. Not knowing can drive fear, especially within teams. I lead my team by being transparent and communicative about my intentions, the current status and what we can expect during difficult times. One thing I have learned over this past year is that people want to know that you care about them. When they trust that you care, they will listen and begin to feel safer during difficult times. Guessing or not saying anything during difficult times can breed fear and distrust. I seek to breed safety and trust with my team. Even if the information is not exactly what they want to hear, it is better than not knowing at all.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Sure, who hasn’t?! My motivation to continue is driven by intentions and outcome. I have given up in the past because I was unsure of my intentions and what the outcome was going to be. Now before I start anything, I discuss potential challenges with partners so if or when I hit a bump in the road, I am better prepared to deal with that challenge and have an idea of outcomes instead of giving up altogether. It’s a mindset.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of a leader is to be empathic with your teams. If you can put yourself in their shoes, be understanding and communicate consistently, your leadership will help them.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Focus on the work and on potential successes on the other side of uncertainty.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
In person (virtually) with transparency and consideration of messaging.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
You must look at the past and the future and build a strategy. Don’t do it in a vacuum, use your resources, do the research, ask questions and know what your market is doing.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Be the solutions provider for your customers and employees. If you do that well, your company has a better chance of celebrating the ups and surviving the downs.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Not being proactive about what could happen in the future.
- A lack of transparency to customers and employees
- Making decisions in a silo
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Be there for your employees and customers. Be transparent, creative and innovative. It sounds simple, but when it takes form, that’s when growth traction occurs.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be communicative — Once we realized there would be many unknowns with the COVID-19 pandemic, we immediately established regularly scheduled virtual communication vehicles like employee Town Hall meetings as well as rewards and recognition events. We also developed a business continuity team to communicate relevant information with updates on locations and equipment provisioning, a business productivity intranet site and training sessions about working remotely. Our employees have told us they have been so grateful and pleased with the company’s communication as events have transpired. These communication vehicles have increased trust and credibility within our organizational culture. Communication was THE most successful thing we have focused on as leaders and it has change employee engagement for the better.
- Be appropriately transparent — While being appropriately transparent goes hand in hand with being communicative, “how” we communicate is as important as “what” we communicate. For us, it was important to stick to the facts and credible sources. Remembering that we are a business, we are transparent without creating fear by using information from credible sources. When delivering difficult news, it’s important to be factual and unbiased while sharing the information. Every message we share during difficult times is carefully crafted to ensure the message is delivered with sensitivity and with the whole company in mind.
- Have empathy for employees — We created listening sessions with our Employee Resource Groups (ERG) after the demonstrations and protests associated with Black Lives Matter in 2020. Our employees wanted to know where the company stood on these events and it was very important to us as leaders that we heard and listened to our employees. Understandably, this was a very emotional time. From those listening sessions we were able to glean understanding to be part of the solution and ensuring a sense of belonging and cultural diversity at NextGen.
- Be strategically agile about your business plans — During these difficult times, our leadership teams met daily to discern our strategy for the changing environment. For instance, we discussed, how long did we think our employees would be working remotely? Were we going to bring any back into the office and, if so, when? Do we keep everyone out of the office and how will this impact our customers? How will we ensure productivity? How can we help our customers during these times? Our strategy continually evolved as we received more information. We addressed our strategies for business continuity and goals for the year and needed to remain flexible to plan for all the possibilities.
- Engage with your leaders for problem solving — We expanded our leadership meetings to include key leaders from various functions around the company — this enabled us to have different voices weighing in and we could move forward faster as a group. Problem solving with people who have expanded perception, expertise and knowledge enables our team to take an innovative approach to problem solving.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it.” — Ray Davis
In my lifetime, I have had many challenges and, regardless of what the challenge was, this quote always stuck with me. To my surprise, I can say that after not succumbing to these challenges, but rather overcoming them, I have experienced and learned more and it’s made me stronger. I now know that out of every challenge comes wisdom or a silver lining that I can use later in life when I need it.