Economics versus Emotions: Balancing the Equation - in conversation with Sherie Hickman

Point of View
4 min readNov 1, 2022

Being results-driven often requires teams and organizations to make tough decisions. Economics are essential, but the emotional component also needs to be considered. For most leaders, it’s a constant balancing act.

We’re in conversation with Sherie Hickman, a highly experienced thought partner, sustainable change steward, and inclusive leader who has led many organizations in driving results yet keeping a balanced equation.

Sherie, in your 25-year career as a health care executive, you’ve made a lot of difficult decisions. How have you balanced an organization’s economic imperatives with people’s emotions around change?

Some decisions are black and white. It’s easy, for example, to decide not to pursue things that do not add value to your organization and may, in fact, be dragging you down. Yet at the same time, individuals or groups may be emotionally attached to a process or function and — regardless of the economics — may not be thinking rationally about its ongoing value because emotions get in the way.

As an executive decision-maker, you don’t want to be perceived as being just a dollars-and-cents person who doesn’t have a heart. On the other hand, if you’re leading with your heart, you still need to assure stakeholders that your perspective is well-rounded and you have your eye on the bottom line. You see the people, you see the issues, you see the need to serve the community, yet you also make choices that will ensure your organization’s viability.

It’s a fine line to walk, and I don’t know that anyone walks it perfectly all the time. Decisions are often situational and rarely slam-dunk.

Effective boards and their leaders need to be ever mindful that any major change will be somewhat of a shock to the organizational system. Step back, listen to all voices, and understand the emotions involved. Always be on the lookout for a win-win while realizing at the end of the day, you’re responsible for the overall success of your organization.

Your approach to people and the job at hand are clear and solid. You know who you are and what your values are. How do you transmit your values to those around you?

I’m reminded often of the words of Maya Angelou, who said, ‘People don’t remember what you said, they remember how you made them feel.’ If you take time to get to know people and to listen to them and make sure that regardless of what’s going on they feel informed and affirmed, you’ve laid the foundation for good outcomes.

Several times in my career, things weren’t going well. The people I led were feeling a little beat up. My role then was to say, ‘Yes, we need to improve our performance. But let me tell you what you did today that was exactly right, and encourage you to keep it up. We’re going to get there, team.’

At times you may not have the right team or the right people in the right place to make a hard decision. But when you know they’re working hard, even though you haven’t yet seen the results, keep communicating and encouraging the hearts of people who are working really hard to make a difference.

Even when you think they’re not looking, know that they are. Be ever mindful of what your nonverbal actions are communicating.

Can you give us an example of how this approach has served your team?

A challenge I recently faced was the need to improve our patient experience scores, which didn’t reflect who we feel we really are. We know we’re caring, but our scores indicated patients didn’t see us that way.

We had several evidence-based practices that have made a difference but we weren’t executing on them consistently. One of those is purposeful, hourly rounding by nursing staff, checking on patients and making sure they have what they need and, should they use the call light, know our nurses will be responsive.

Also, we stepped up our leader rounding, another practice that drives the patient experience and provides us with real-time feedback for our nurses. Leaders — including me — have an assigned unit to round and are leading by example.

We started leader rounding about eight months ago, and within three months, began seeing our patient experience scores getting better and better. I tie our progress to being mindful of the two essential gauges I mentioned earlier: how you encourage the hearts of people who are working really hard — and how you show up when you think no one’s watching.

We appreciate your insights, Sherie.

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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