Dennis A. Swan
President and CEO Sparrow Hospital and Health System
Company Headquarters: Lansing, Michigan
Primary Business: Health care delivery and financing
Other Major Affiliations: Michigan State University Colleges of Human Medicine, Osteopathic Medicine and Nursing
2009 Revenues: $929,234,000
Swan has served as president and CEO of Lansing, Michigan based Sparrow Hospital and Health System since 2005, and has served as a member of the organization’s leadership team for nearly three decades. In that time, he has witnessed many changes in health care and in the Sparrow organization, and since becoming CEO has been a change agent for some of the most significant improvements in the 114-year-old organization’s history.
“We have a great team, but also a formidable task,” Swan said. “We will always strive to be the best, but because we truly care for our patients, we must constantly improve outcomes and transform the patient care experience.” Swan’s focus has been on attracting, developing and retaining people with outstanding talents and skills who also like to work in teams. He believes that teamwork is the way to ultimately achieve Sparrow’s vision of earning national recognition for quality and patient experience. In his five years at Sparrow’s helm, patient satisfaction scores have improved significantly, along with associate engagement and medical staff alignment metrics. Just last year, Sparrow Hospital, the flagship of the fivehospital Sparrow Health System, earned the nation’s most prestigious honor for nursing achievement and excellence – American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Magnet Recognition Program®. Considered the “gold standard” for nursing care in hospitals, status as a Magnet – recognized organization is held by only about six percent of America’s hospitals.
Swan has also led initiatives to enhance Sparrow’s diversity and inclusion program, including a commitment to attracting and retaining the best and brightest talent and expanding supplier diversity initiatives that enhance Sparrow’s ability to partner with local and regional minority-owned businesses.
Today, Sparrow stands as mid-Michigan’s largest and most comprehensive health care organization and the region’s largest private employer.
Are there unique opportunities in your particular industry for implementing diversity programs? Yes, certainly there are, because there may be no more complex and diverse type of organization than health care. Sparrow Hospital is like a city, with its own power plant, security force and supply chain. We have literally hundreds of different types of jobs, ranging in skills, expertise and educational requirements.
“One example of the ethnic diversity within our region can be found in the language interpreting service within Sparrow Hospital, a service that eliminates languages as a barrier to receiving quality care.”
We are keenly aware that diversity and inclusion throughout our health care team is essential for us to care for and serve the diverse communities across mid-Michigan. Patients expect our physicians, nurses, staff and volunteers to reflect the people who make up this region. Our Sparrow team encompasses an array of diversity dimensions including race, ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, religions, ages, educational levels, physical abilities and cultural backgrounds. We all work together to provide the quality of care and service excellence to patients and families who rely on us to deliver exceptional care to everyone, every time. The people who are Sparrow range from teen volunteers and student nurses to doctors, nurses and support staff with more than 40 years of experience. This year, one of Sparrow’s Escort Service volunteers turned 100 years old.
Additionally, Sparrow Hospital is formally affiliated and just a few short miles from one of the world’s foremost learning institutions – Michigan State University – an organization which is committed to providing learning and advancement opportunities for all.
One example of the ethnic diversity within our region can be found in the language interpreting service within Sparrow Hospital, a service that eliminates language as a barrier to receiving quality care. The top five languages interpreted at Sparrow are Spanish, Somali, Russian, Burmese and Swahili. It speaks to the ethnic variety within the community, which we also try to reflect in Sparrow’s large workforce.
Given these realities, we have developed and continue to improve our diversity and inclusion program and help provide leadership to other organizations.
Sometimes diversity is referred to as a “numbers game” – how does your company know its culture is not tied up in numbers? The people who seek jobs at Sparrow do so because they want to make a significant difference in the lives of others. The “numbers” we most focus on are our patient satisfaction scores, our associate engagement and medical staff alignment metrics, and our quality outcome statistics. Our approach leads us to recruiting people based primarily on how much they care about others – their colleagues and the people we serve.
We believe in a comprehensive approach to selecting, developing and retaining a diverse and inclusionary workforce. New applicants are interviewed for alignment of values and behaviors with our organization’s mission, vision and values. While skills are imperative, we seek people who have high impact in their churches, schools, homes, neighborhoods and other associations. Our behavioral-based interviews with potential peers and leaders help us to ascertain character traits such as: Are they open, honest, warm and genuine? Do they enjoy being part of a diverse team? Our process allows us to make these key judgments to try and gauge how they will react in a dynamic and diverse organization.
What resources are allocated to diversity? We have a Diversity and Inclusion Department led by a director who reports to our Vice President of Human Resources. We also have a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council consisting of associates from a wide variety of backgrounds who meet to direct programs and activities to promote, develop and enhance our diverse workforce. Currently, we have a three-year diversity and inclusion strategy. Each year, the plan is thoroughly reviewed to ensure it remains aligned with our organizational priorities. Within the plan are goals for our Diversity and Inclusion Department. However, all of Sparrow’s leadership team is accountable for helping reach these goals.
“We believe in a comprehensive approach to selecting, developing and retaining a diverse and inclusionary workforce.”
In what other ways does your organization demonstrate its commitment to diversity and inclusion? Within our organization hardly a week goes by without some type of Sparrow-sponsored event that raises awareness of the diversity in our organization. This summer, among the many programs we have sponsored are an Americans with Disabilities Awareness presentation, participation in the Capital African-American Parade and Heritage Festival, conducted a forum to raise awareness to Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) issues, we have celebrated Cinco de Mayo Day, and offered an Asian American Awareness program. This fall, we have scheduled a Middle Eastern Awareness event, our annual Diwali celebration and a Native American Day.
How does an industry as fast- changing as yours keep up with diversity development throughout the organization? We use both internal and external forums to keep diversity and inclusion visible to our associates, volunteers, physicians and the communities we serve and work hard to communicate the businesscase for diversity across the organization. Diversity and inclusion initiatives contribute to organizational excellence and attaining performance targets which also is doing what is right for all. Our diversity and inclusion ideals are not held to meet numerical targets or avoid litigation. We seek to create a workplace where diverse backgrounds, ideas and perspectives are embraced.
Can you describe your method for orienting new hires into your culture, for enriching employees’ awareness or introducing new issues? At Sparrow, all new associates go through an orientation process that includes action steps and checklists to integrate them to the organization and their department. Prior to an applicant participating in the interview process, we ask that they read and agree with our ICARE values.
ICARE is an acronym for Innovation, Compassion, Accountability, Respect and Excellence. Imbedded in the language of the Respect value is the ability to comprehend and value diversity, inclusion and teamwork. These are essential to our organizational success.
On their very first day new associates are introduced to our Diversity 101 on-line course. The curriculum of this course includes our organization’s core values, as well as important principles such as our Platinum Rule, a philosophy of service that goes beyond the Golden Rule. The Platinum Rule states: “Treat others in a manner that is meaningful to them.” Throughout an associate’s career, we offer many opportunities to become more aware of, and demonstrate an individual commitment to, diversity and inclusion. These include training programs, team engagement and organizational and community events.
Sparrow is a community-owned- and-operated, not-for-profit organization with 114-year-old historical roots in the community. Whether they were born at Sparrow or their kids were, or whether our hospice program helped their family through extremely challenging times with compassion, part of what inspires many of our associates is knowing they are part of this larger piece of history. As you might ima gine, most of our hires are from our community and already possess some knowledge of Sparrow before they begin to work here. What we strive for is to make Sparrow a place where people are respected for who they are – for their differences – and where there is no need to blend in to become a contributing member of the team.
What are your plans for the future in regards to advancing diversity and inclusion within your organization? First of all, we face looming shortages of physicians, nurses, information technologists and certified, accredited and licensed staff. So we must continue to have a presence in the area schools to attract young people to the wide variety of health care employment opportunities.
We will remain steadfast in attracting and retaining a workforce which properly reflects the available talent pool, across all of our job groups. We must also provide mentors, guidance, support and developmental opportunities to reduce turnover and retain intellectual and skills capital. Our diversity and inclusion commitment allows access to a greater talent pool.
“We will remain steadfast in attracting and retaining a workforce which properly reflects the available talent pool, across all of our job groups.”
Finally, we have to do a better job of taking this message to all of our stakeholder groups. We are not into congratulating ourselves or seeking awards. We are about becoming stronger advocates for diversity and inclusion throughout the region by leading by example. At Sparrow, we want our diversity and inclusion efforts to be more than “programsof-the-month.” We know that our commitment to diversity and inclusion as a long-term strategic priority will enhance our ability to be a major agent for lasting, positive change and advancement in our region.
Since becoming Sparrow president and CEO in 2005, Dennis A. Swan has brought energy, passion, intensity and a patient-centered philosophy to Sparrow. His insistence on clinical excellence coupled with best-in-class service quality is the driving force of his leadership team. A member of the Sparrow executive team for nearly 30 years, Swan previously served as Sparrow’s senior vice president of operations and chief operating officer.
Where does your personal belief in diversity and inclusion come from? Who were your role models, or what pivotal experience helped shape your view? My personal beliefs in diversity and inclusion stem from the teachings of my parents, who dearly communicated the value and equality of every person and opinion.
Who has shaped your thinking as a business leader? I have tried to absorb lessons from some of the great business and health care leaders, such as well-known business authors Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence), Jim Collins (Good to Great), Peter Drucker (many, including The Definitive Drucker) and Erie Chapman (Radical Loving Care: Building the New Healing Hospital in America).
How did you get your present position? What was your career path? Initially I served as vice president of human resources at Sparrow before becoming chief operating officer, and then president and CEO.
Who were your mentors? Banking executives Andy Hays and George Nugent. Also serving as my mentor was longtime Sparrow President F. Karl Neumann, who retired from Sparrow in 1990.
If you were in a roomful of colleagues, what might they say about you, your style or your business sense? Low key, high impact, strong work ethic, high integrity, and dedicated to others getting the credit for team successes.
Dennis A. Swan
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Western Michigan University; Juris Doctorate, Thomas M. Cooley Law School
First job: Banking
Philosophy: “Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.” – William Arthur Ward
What I’m reading: Radical Loving Care, by Erie Chapman; Hardwiring Excellence, by Quint Studer; Take the Stairs, by Roger Looyenga, Joe Tye and Don Jones; and Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic, by Leonard Berry and Kent Settman
Interests: Family travel, movies, reading, and trying to make a difference in service to others.
Childhood hero: Robert F. Kennedy
Best picture (film/art): The Shawshank Redemption
Favorite game: Golf with my 3½-year-old grandson
Favorite charities: Sparrow Foundation; Michigan State University; Thomas M. Cooley Law School
Person I’d like to get to know over lunch: Hank Aaron