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Dr. Pate’s Prescription for Change

St. Luke’s Health System’s Journey to Transform Health Care

St. Luke’s Phil Johnson: ‘We are in this thing together’

By Philip Johnson, News and Community
August 14, 2018
David C. Pate MD, JD

A lot has been written about change management and leading organizations through change, but less has been written about how an individual successfully adapts to change within an organization that itself is going through change.

Today’s guest blogger, St. Luke’s Health System Chief Human Resource Officer Phil Johnson, has valuable insights, in part based upon research and in part based upon his own life experiences.

- David C. Pate, M.D., J.D.


Philip Johnson, St. Luke's Health System vice president and chief human resource officer.

Change in life is a given.

As industries evolve, navigating change becomes a significant focus for healthy organizations. At St. Luke’s, it’s something we think about every day. We know that not only does it take leaders to inspire change, but it takes employee commitment to succeed.

Many years ago, I worked on a master’s thesis seeking to identify the most important elements in ensuring that an individual was successful in a new position after being promoted. 

Success for this purpose was defined by performance level in the first year and how long a person stayed in the job. We reviewed a lot of data and interviewed a large number of people. It turned out that success was significantly reliant on two primary factors: that an adequate amount of time was given to the individual to make the transition for mental and emotional adjustment and how committed the individual was to the changes they would personally need to make to be successful in the new position. 

That first factor, adequate time for mental and emotional preparation, often is controlled by an organization, but the second element, commitment to personal change, is something only an individual can determine. We each must understand what we need to do to be successful and commit to that.

We concluded that it was just as much up to the individual as it was the organization when it comes to how successful an individual will be going through a change of this type. 

This reality was driven home for me some years later through personal experience.

A few years ago, I moved my family to another country. I had been there a number of times and, after all, they spoke the same language – it was England.

I was prepared to work hard in a new culture, deal with a long commute and help my family adjust, but the one thing I was not prepared for was that they didn’t always speak the same language, truth be told. Some terms mean different things than in the United States. Some are pronounced differently. Some are spelled differently. And of course, they have their own colorful vernacular. “Blimey, me mate is throwing a wobbly!” for example, can be translated to mean, “Gosh, my friend has lost his senses!”

I focused on writing and speaking a different style of English, particularly at work. I decided to do what was necessary to personally commit to making this change successful. In the end, it all worked out and was fun.

At St. Luke’s, we work hard to help our team members be prepared mentally and emotionally for change in a number of ways.

Our Strategy 2020 strategic framework clearly signals that our organization is undergoing a transition to meet its vision, and our communication planning ensures that we communicate ahead of key changes, whenever possible.

We provide training and coaching, and our change facilitation model gives leaders and employees a step-by-step guide for planning and preparing for change. We provide support to leaders and employees through our HR Service Center and Employee Career Center.

St. Luke’s provides guidance to the kinds of behaviors that support success before, during and after change. Our “Always Behaviors” are referred to often in our communications and model the kinds of things that we all need to do to be successful through change – whether that is at work or in our personal lives. They are:

  • Commit and follow through
  • Listen and be present
  • Assume positive intent
  • Communicate the why behind the what
  • Continuously pursue excellence

Similarly, our ICARE values are aspirational behaviors that can help us be successful through change: integrity, compassion, accountability, respect and excellence.

Change is not easy. Moving to a new position, reporting to someone new or just following a new procedure can have its challenging moments. And we understand that employees have adjustments to make during their careers with us. To help, there are resources and leadership ready to support.

But we also know that, in life and in work, it always takes a personal commitment to something new to get to the other side.

No matter the situation, we are in this thing together.  

About The Author

Philip Johnson is vice president and chief human resource officer of St. Luke's Health System, based in Boise, Idaho.