The Health Management Academy

Episode 11

How to Redesign Healthcare Experiences From the Inside Out

Episode Description

In this episode, Sonia Rhodes, Founder and CEO of The Experience Lab, joins Renee at The Table. Sonia has worked with experience design focused on healthcare for 20 years and has  much to share about how to design memorable experiences that leave a lasting impact. Their conversation covers the hard work of heart work; designing for joy instead of dealing with burnout; the diversity, equity, and inclusion experience; and much more.

About Our Guest

Sonia Rhodes, Founder and CEO, The Experience Lab

Sonia is a pioneer in the realm of healthcare experience design, leading the way in the industry for more than 20 years. She is the founder and CEO of The Experience Lab – an incubator of ideas and an accelerator of action, bringing experience design and cultural transformation principles to the healthcare industry.


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Renee DeSilva 0:06

Welcome back to the Academy Table. I’m Renee DeSilva, CEO of The Academy and your host and I am happy to have you back with us again. In the last few weeks, we’ve spent time with our guests discussing experiences from different angles — finance, culture, consumer engagement, and the digital front door so this next episode feels like the perfect place to go next as I’ve had the pleasure of speaking and learning from my good friend, Sonia Rhodes. For 20 years, she has been a leading voice in healthcare experience design and she’s now the CEO and founder of The Experience Lab. As you’ll hear, she works with organizations to apply what she calls “best principles” to create memorable experiences for patients and team members alike. It’s hard to choose just a few highlights, but I suggest paying attention to these three. First, the nature of experience design is both hard work and heart work. Listen to how she challenges leaders to design with their heart instead of just their head. Next, and relatedly, pay attention to how Sonia defines good experiences — they come from the memories we take with us and the emotions and feelings those memories evoke. Lastly, I love how Sonia has centered the lens of racial justice and equity into her work not as a thing, but as a way to do all things and a requirement for all of us as leaders to start by learning on our own to then drive the ongoing work. So with that, let’s head to The Table.

I am so delighted to have my friend first and colleague Sonia Rhodes join me at The Table. Sonia, thank you so much for joining. I’m really happy to have you here today.

Sonia Rhodes 1:57
Renee, it’s a delight. Thank you for welcoming me to your table.

Renee DeSilva 2:01
So I want to start in the way that we would start a conversation if we were having a cup of tea or a glass of wine which is something that I feel is classic to how you think and how you try to build intention into all the various moments, which is a reflection. Before we get started and we just take a moment to arrive, would you take us through a reflection that you’d be comfortable sharing?

Sonia Rhodes 2:22
Sure. First of all, the idea that a reflection gives us exactly what you just described — that pause, that moment to set aside everything that we might have brought to this moment, meeting, or conversation and focus on that topic or purpose right here in front of us. As we think about reflection for today and this conversation, I wonder if we can think big about this moment in our industry and world and what that’s calling for us. I think about one of my wonderful mentors, Margaret Heffernan, leadership expert extraordinaire, who shared with me early in the pandemic, week one as we were kind of finding our way. She said that because none of us have been here before all we can do is experiment. I love that — that idea that there isn’t an answer, that this is unknown, uncharted territory. It is upon all of us to experiment every day with that new possibility and the future we want to create together.

Renee DeSilva 3:39
I think that’s right. If we just reflect on where we find ourselves today, in some ways we feel like we’ve been here before as it relates to how our healthcare and caregivers are navigating through responding to the pandemic. In particular, this notion that we are in this cycle of both breaking and healing and finding ways to come out of that with a new possibility of how we think about healthcare moving forward. Talk to me a little bit about the partners that you work with through the work that you’re doing at The Experience Lab. What does it look like to help an organization heal?

Sonia Rhodes 4:19
That’s a great question. What I love, Renee, is your pairing of the breaking and healing and that they aren’t two phases right now. They are a cycle, an everyday cycle because there is a breaking that’s happening and a healing that we have to be working on simultaneously, not sort of waiting for the breaking to be over for the healing to begin. It might have felt different 18 months ago. It might have felt like we would have had some phases, but now that’s all together. Healing is the topic of focus, the priority of action in organizations that are passionately committed to transforming the experience that they create inside and outside of their organizations. That definition of healing is transforming too from this big, planned “how will we heal?” to now this micro, moment-by-moment building in of how we heal together, how we create a brave and safe space for people to share their heart, their trauma, their story to be heard; a way to equip leaders in new ways for being able to be there for their team members in ways they never could have imagined they needed to — far beyond the workplace needs to family needs, psychological, emotional, and physical needs, all of those things that are coming in and how we now build that into how we do what we do every day is the topic and the area of focus for our team at this time.

Renee DeSilva 6:09
Yes, that resonates with me so deeply. I had the privilege of being part of a session on this topic with Dr. Mark Rosenberg and Becca Hawkins who lead the compassionate care team at Providence.They asked the group to share one or two sentences that described a time when they fell short of their expectations for themselves. They asked the other half of the group to show up for what they just heard from their co-workers. Witnessing that moment of brave, safe space, creating a moment to be heard was powerful. It was things like, “I failed to lead, listen, and learn; instead, I withdrew to survive.” Then you heard a colleague whom they didn’t necessarily know all that well say, “Your strength is in your caring; you are leading in acknowledging your weakness.” It was a really powerful moment where you could feel the heaviness in the room lift a bit. I imagine that’s a bit about what you’re seeing too in the work that you have underway.

Sonia Rhodes 7:09
Yes, I’m getting chills just thinking about these beautiful people being there for each other in that way, the vulnerability of talking about that time when a person felt like they fell short of their expectations and others providing that real mirror to them of who they are. Renee, what you’ve just described is the work and the opportunity right now for organizations. It is to make sure that the pairing of this idea and this reality of breaking of PTSD, of trauma, of exhaustion, of depletion, of what feels like isolation for so many people because they just feel like maybe they’re the only ones that are feeling this way. The flip to that, the pair to that that helps us move forward is that appreciative lens that you just described. How do we talk about both ourselves and others, those moments of pride of the times that we came together, the way that we rose up and innovated and collaborated like never before? Those are the shining eyes that I see of the organizations that we talk to every day as leaders tell us about how extraordinarily proud they are of their teams. I think that that time and energy needs to be spent too because that is healing in and of itself to be able to recognize the good with the very, very difficult.

Renee DeSilva 8:39
That’s right. Words matter. You do a lot to reframe perspective, so how do we think about humanizing healthcare? Instead of mitigating burnout, what if we designed for joy, meaning, and connection? How do you think about applying that mindset moving forward?

Sonia Rhodes 8:57
I appreciate you bringing that up. We are folks across time who believe that burnout has become a phrase. We meet with young learners, first and second-year medical students all the time and they’re already using that word, “burnout.” I’m like, “Where did you learn that? How did that happen in year one or year two that we’re already describing ourselves as burned out?” They say, “There isn’t a time that we don’t hear that about our industry from our mentors, about the organization, etc, etc.” It’s sort of built-in. We think a lot about how to unbuild that. How do we build in something else? We absolutely can design organizations for and with joy. There is a joyfulness to creating something that’s never been created before. There is a joyfulness that comes with solving these intractable problems and challenges. We do talk to folks who have been in the most difficult times of their lives these last 18 months but also can speak with a “joie de vivre” of what it means to do something so powerfully impactful for other people, for their colleagues, patients, and communities. If we flip that lens and instead of just every day trying to figure out how to eradicate burnout, but instead show up in a way that we’re here to design for joy, design for healing, design for whatever that might be that is not necessarily just taking us in the downward spiral to burnout.

Renee DeSilva 10:38
For leaders who can show up with that lens of being able to reframe the perspective, it comes from work that they have probably done over time to allow them to have the internal capacity to apply that lens. This notion of “Big E Experience,” and I’m going to ask you to define it in a moment, is something that you have thought about for most of your career, both in the launching of The Experience Lab, which is the work that you do now and then at Sharp before that. Let’s zoom out a bit and talk about what you think about experience. Define that term holistically before we unpack how you then redesign for joy.

Sonia Rhodes 11:19
Yes, so when we think about experience we pull our camera as far back as possible. We pull the lens back and look at the big canvas of possibility when it comes to the experience in healthcare. We know that while our end goal of the reason we’re here is to create that meaningful and memorable experience for patients and their loved ones, the only way we can get there is to begin first on the inside with the experience we create for and with each other. We call it the Big E experience/”capital” E experience/”underlined “E” experience because this is the experience of everyone. Everyone’s experience matters in our caring spaces and places. My trajectory and real-world experience in this space for over 20 years is that we can’t create a better experience for our patients if we do not start first on creating a better experience for the people who are caring every day in our places and spaces.

Renee DeSilva 12:29
That’s powerful, this notion of designing from the inside out and maybe a bit counterintuitive at times. You certainly hear organizations talk about the customer journey or the patient journey. Where you’re going is that if you haven’t thought about that for the people who are daily caregiving, and that’s everyone, physicians, nurses, environmental services, folks, people who are doing wayfinding across healthcare, it becomes hard to unlock the ladder.

Sonia Rhodes 12:57
The work of creating whatever that is, a better experience, quality, the safety that we’re working on all of the “to do’s” that get put into what I call the metaphorical backpack of our face-to-face team members starts to get heavy. It’s just one more thing unless we begin with them. Not only with team members in terms of, how do we create this wonderful experience for the people who work here, but how do we enlist, equip, and engage those people as the architects of that experience? This is not just coming in and doing something for folks; it’s how do we do something with and equip people to create that culture and that experience that does enliven them, that does get them up in the morning saying, “Yes, I get to do this,” that makes it possible for those folks to then be able to tap into their wisdom and dream and design an even better experience for their patients and their loved ones. I think about how much we’ve learned, how much we’ve had to do in really difficult circumstances where no loved ones could be with us or where folks have been going through such trauma. I think that the wisdom of our teams in healthcare right now is extraordinary. We have a responsibility to tap into that now to create that better future.

Renee DeSilva 14:27
You describe The Experience Lab as an incubator and accelerator of action. When you think about the organizations that want to be on that journey with you, what are they coming to you with in terms of how they would articulate the problem that they’re trying to solve at a high level?

Sonia Rhodes 14:48
That’s a great question. When we created The Experience Lab, we probably thought there would be a certain kind of organization or maybe this wonderful breadth of organizations that would come in wanting to lead the way for experience. What’s been fascinating as we look back now 5 years in The Experience Lab, the organizations that tend to invest their time and energy in creating their experience are often high-performing organizations that aren’t trying to solve this unsolvable problem. They’re trying to elevate the best of their organization in a cohesive, orchestrated, human way. They all come at it from a different perspective. Some organizations look at this from team member engagement — we want a place where everybody, every day feels like they wouldn’t want to work anywhere else. They’ll come to us with that. We’ve come this far but we know there’s so much more we can do. We don’t understand the idea that we can design that into the future. Others come with that physician lens, that provider lens, this opportunity to be a place that is exactly where folks want to practice and bring their expertise. Some come at it very much from that consumer and patient centricity. Our job is to make sure that we’re always weaving the three together. Regardless of their initial focus, there’s an opportunity to weave all of that together.

Renee DeSilva 16:22
Let’s make that real a bit. Can you talk a little bit about the key principles of an experience journey as you see them?

Sonia Rhodes 16:28
Absolutely. In our work in The Experience Lab we use four themes, four experience themes to guide all aspects of our work — leading, looking, living, and loving. There are 12 associated experience principles that align with those themes. Leading is where we understand that transforming experience is the legacy work of leaders. Creating a better experience has to start with our leaders. Looking is where we use our eyes and all of our senses to learn to see and feel what is rarely noticed. It’s where we get to make the invisible visible. Living is where we are operationalizing our experience. How do we bring that experience to life? How are we being the change we wish to see in every moment? Loving is how we can focus on that wonderful idea that work is love made visible, how we wholeheartedly design our culture and our organizations for and with joy so that we can be a place where folks fall back in love with their work every day. The big thematics and principles are what help us design the kind of experience that people desire and deserve. The wonderful Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore, who wrote the book, The Experience Economy, they’ve been my dear friends and mentors since minute one of my journey many, many years ago, helped the world and the business world understand that the hallmark of an experience is the memory we take with us. That’s important. When you think about all the experiences in your life, it’s those memories that define that experience. That tells us in our industry that yes, we’re healthcare workers and leaders, but we’re also memory makers because these memories that occur in our places and spaces have the potential to last a lifetime. It’s that idea of making memories and being part of someone’s lasting memories that helps us understand that to design our experiences, we have to design a clear intention. What do we want that experience to be? To get to where we want that experience to be, we have to ask ourselves this question. I think sometimes this is that missing piece which is how do we want our experience to feel?

Renee DeSilva 19:15
It’s really powerful. When you said earlier that what we’re all after is a cohesive, orchestrated human experience, the way that you get there is through asking this question, “How do we want to remember this?” All of us go back to whether it was an experience that makes us happy and full of joy or one that has the counter impact, that is what sticks with you. That’s what gets imprinted on your core.

Sonia Rhodes 19:42
People talk in that feeling space. Difficult things happen in our healthcare systems every day and now 10x every day. However, people can feel that they were tended to, cared for, and nurtured through the most difficult times of their experience. Those are the letters we get when someone says that this was the worst day of my life but you were there for me. When we think about the feelings we want to impart through our experience, that’s what helps us design for that. When we say design to an intention, we have to be clear about the experience that we want to create. A lot of people will say, “We want to create a better experience.” That’s awesome. We all want the experience to get better every day. Better is not crisp in a way that anyone knows. What am I supposed to do about that? How do I get there? If instead, we say that we want to create an experience that feels more connected, we can do that. I want somebody to feel connected or for people to feel seen. Oh, my gosh. Well, if we want people to feel seen, here’s what we would do. We want someone to feel that it was tender. We think, “Tender? I can do tender.” You can start to design for that feeling and it changes everything.

Renee DeSilva 21:01
It does. It requires a level of vulnerability for leaders to show up and be comfortable getting out of their head and into their heart a bit. That’s the work that you’re trying to create a space for.

Sonia Rhodes 21:11
I love that you said that. We often say that experience design is hard work, but more importantly, it’s heart work. It’s absolutely heart work. It’s also being willing to experiment with things. We do not have to do things the way we’ve always done them. We do have to ask ourselves how things happened. More likely than not, the way our experiences come to life in our organizations was not by design, experience by design but instead it was experienced by default. This is how things came together and then we acquired this thing and then we moved the lab over here so people have to walk back and forth…whatever that is. That wasn’t by design, that was by default. We have an opportunity and, I would say, a responsibility to begin to create experiences by design with intention for our organizations.

Renee DeSilva 22:05
Recognizing that you can find examples, oftentimes these examples aren’t resident in healthcare. Where do you look for inspiration? If you take these principles and these themes, what are some out-of-industry examples that come to mind for you in terms of having information knowledge that you try to tap into?

Sonia Rhodes 22:24
Okay, so I love that. One of the things I think that’s important and sometimes people give the big eyebrow when we say that The Experience Lab is a best principle organization, meaning that we help other organizations with the principles of experience design and ultimately will help you create your own best practices. We’re not a best-practice organization. We’re not going to tell you exactly what you should do in this place, space, or moment. We’re going to equip you to be able to design that in a way that’s just right for you. It’s important for us to punch in on the distinction of best principle. A principle is a guiding and abiding truth. That’s what helps us go outside of our industry to other industries for learning. We don’t have to only look inside our organizations or industries for the practices that are working. A best practice is a specific action or an example that asks us to do what others have done. It is super important in a lot of our clinical work but not so important in our experience work because I don’t think that there are many best practices yet in experience in our industry. I think it’s still nascent and building and we’re creating the capacity to have those best practices. If we only look inside, very insular, we’re not going to imagine the new future of healthcare. Going outside is built-in to how we do what we do at The Experience Lab. We call the work inside out, but it’s also very outside in and we can go outside of the industry and often do. Just last week we did that with the leaders of a large, multi-state healthcare system where we looked at retail and hospitality and examples in the arts to be able to help us understand a principle at play. We then help those folks extract, adapt, and apply that principle uniquely into their organization. Let me give you just a super simple example. When we think about Apple, it is this ubiquitous brand technology built into so many people’s lives. What we learn from a principle at play at Apple is that when I think about the Apple experience, their physical places, what they once called stores it is anyone, anywhere. Apple doesn’t create particular places for particular things. There’s no checkout in the Apple Store experience. Checkout can happen with anyone, everywhere. Apple also has this beautiful principle at play which helps us understand that it’s not always what the experience is, but it’s what it’s not. What they’ve taken away matters because sometimes we just keep thinking we have to add, add, add, add, add when in fact, what we need to do is take away for a streamlined, simplified, elegant experience. When you look in an Apple store, when we ask people to look, which we do a lot of looking, they realize that it is missing cords even with hundreds of devices in those places and spaces. There are no cords. Nothing’s plugged in and hanging down underneath those tables. That is because the power is built into the legs. They’ve figured out a way to build that in so that there’s no distraction from their experience.

Renee DeSilva 25:57
As you were talking, I’m visualizing that. I’m also thinking of one that I observed just this week too which is the hospitality industry. It has been through a reckoning the last 18 months and they are rebooting and reimagining how they come back. One thing that I’ve appreciated from the partners that The Academy works with when we are hosting events, and we’re doing that safely, is this principle of wanting to get it right. I heard that sentiment echoed recently when we were hosting an event, this notion of I don’t have all the answers, but I want to get this right. The woman didn’t know my role and didn’t know that I could hear her conversation, but that was powerful. When no one’s watching, when we weren’t asking her any questions, it was her drive for wanting to get it right and being willing to go that extra mile to do that. That was a great principle in action.

Sonia Rhodes 26:50
I love that. Hospitality has so much that we can learn, glean, extract, adapt, and apply. Some of the classics in our hospitality realm have helped us understand deeply the power of the principle of personalization, which in The Experience Lab we spend a lot of time helping organizations create experiences that feel more personal like it was just for me but do that on mass. How do we create mass personalization? There are beautiful ways to do that built into our systems and processes. A classic example of personalization is the Ritz Carlton who has done such an incredible job of what we call creating a remembering system. They simply remember interactions, conversations, preferences, choices of their customers, of their guests, and then they do something with what they remember. There’s so much that we can learn just from that principle of observing or asking, remembering, and then doing something with what we’ve discovered that we can use right in our organizations. We know a lot. We have multimillion-dollar remembering systems called EHRs and we can do something to remember some of those personal attributes as well.

Renee DeSilva 28:08
That’s right, unleashing them as a system of engagement not just one of transactional record. That’s powerful. Let me take us in a little bit of a different direction. You and I have had many personal, off-the-mic conversations around this next subject. The other reckoning in the last 18 months has been around social justice and having much more of a forward-leaning conversation around race and not just acknowledging our country’s history with race, but also being actively anti-racist. I wonder how you’ve infused this lens of equity and inclusion through all the work that you have underway at The Experience Lab.

Sonia Rhodes 28:47
Isn’t it interesting how everything that happens in our world is happening in healthcare too? We can’t assume that “Oh, our need to be anti-racist is happening outside of the work that we do in healthcare.” You’re right. It has been an obsession built into our everyday learning in the organization. I think the most important thing for me to say is that we are by no means experts in anti-racism although we are passionate, passionate students. For us last year, that reckoning was another big wake-up that we have an opportunity to learn and grow and then to make sure that that learning and growth is infused into everything we do. Just like experience, for us that started as inside work as anti-racism does always begin as inside work, each individual and as an organization. As an organization we committed to deep anti-racism learning; created an anti-racism learning circle, followed the circle way, a method by which everyone owns the learning, the growth, and the development; and then adapted and adopted a weekly curriculum that helps us grow as humans, as a business, and then also grow that into this realm of experience in our organization. We are by no means perfect but we are working hard every day to build that in. I’m sure you’re spending time in this space too. Equity, diversity, and inclusion is important work that’s happening in our organization. What we’re coming more clear on, and I think the organizations that we partner with as well, is that it can’t be separate from everything else. Equity, diversity, and inclusion is not a separate thing. It doesn’t happen in a silo. It’s not over here when times are good or we have the money or we have the time or we’ve hired the perfect consultant. That can’t be our approach. It’s got to be built into how we do what we do. That’s experience. When we talk about organizations that distinguish themselves by the experience they create, it’s because experience is everything they do. It’s how they do everything. When I think about experience and anti-racism, experience is anti-racism. Experience is equity, diversity, and inclusion. Experience is also quality and safety. Experience is creating that great place to work. Experience is hospitality and human connection. This is the work of bringing that all together, braiding it in so that these are our design tools and our decision filters. We can’t be making decisions, whether that’s operating decisions or technology decisions or partner decisions, whatever it might be without using our anti-racism lens and filter, without using our experience and feeling lens just the same way we would use our quality or our financial filters.

Renee DeSilva 32:01
So powerful. I will attribute this to you. I’ve heard you say in the past that experience is not a thing, it’s the way that we do all things. As it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion, I use that same mantra. It’s not a thing. It’s the way that we do all things. It’s the lens by which we evaluate, the way that we show up, the way that we lead, what we reward. You’re right. These things are linked. It’s been heartening for me to see the level of conversation and eagerness for us to all do the work that we need to do to show up more effectively in that capacity.

Sonia Rhodes 32:37
Yes, you’re right. I want to say thank you to you for shining such a bright and important light in creating that brave and safe space for these conversations for leaders in our industry and being such a great role model for that. I worry that the trauma of our times, which is so complex and compounded when you think back just over 18 months of every single thing that we’ve been learning and reckoning with, I love your word reckoning, I don’t want anything to get lost. How do we make sure that we don’t let that anti-racism, vital, important work at the heart of creating the kind of healthcare that we know needs to be created, how do we not let that get lost in everything else that, unfortunately, is just getting more challenging every day? I appreciate you keeping that at the forefront. I think we all have important work to do to not let us take that foot off the gas when it comes to this.

Renee DeSilva 33:36
Indeed. One additional thread to explore is the work that you have underway is so important. It feels needed more now than ever, but this is not work that you just started on. Can you take us back? We’ve been thinking about zooming out, but take us back. How did you arrive in this space of thinking about experience, which is the level of clarity in which you convey it? How did you arrive at this work or how did the work find you?

Sonia Rhodes 34:05
Yeah, I’m so old. That’s a three-week story, but I’ll try to be clear on that. I’ve been officially leading some sort of experience in the industry for over 20 years now. For me, it was all sparked by personal experience. My dad ended up in our flagship organization at a flagship hospital and I got to see our experience through new eyes. Not the eyes of the person I was at the time, the leader I was at the time, creating the front doors for our organizations. This was so long ago — creating our websites, doing marketing, telling the world the story, creating the nurse advice lines and information lines, basically making it easy for people to access our experience. When I was in that experience, I realized that it was hard, it was traumatizing, it was not designed for patients or their families. I’m not saying it wasn’t great clinical care. My dad is 90 years old and still alive to this day; they saved his life. Yet, there was a lot in those 14 days in our facility that I learned. I became passionately obsessed with this. I had the great honor to work with incredible visionary leaders who, when given the opportunity to look anew said, “Yes, we should be doing something more and different.” We decided that we didn’t have the answers for the work. At that time, there was no such thing as consulting on this. We went out and studied organizations outside of the industry. We took about 6-9 months to travel the country, a team of 10 executives, traveling and learning. We thought we were going to go out and create a better patient experience. That’s what we were trying to study — how do you create this consumer centricity? Instead, we discovered that we would never be able to do that unless we created a new kind of culture and experience. I had the opportunity of a lifetime to be part of an incredible team setting the loftiest vision in the industry, we thought, to become the best healthcare system in the universe. It felt kind of cheeky at the time. It became this unbelievable heartbeat of our organization where 18,000 people every day were working together to create a new kind of experience. That was hard work and heart work. If you can believe it, next month is the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Sharp Experience at Sharp HealthCare in San Diego. They put experience at the forefront of our industry. They put that name, that word, that lexicon, and that understanding into our industry. They’re still leading the way which is quite exciting.

Renee DeSilva 36:47
It’s powerful. I’ve gotten to know many of the Sharp leaders over time. Especially if you flashback 20 years, you all were ahead of your time. I said to your former colleague Ann Pumpian just last week that what is also notable about that is the way that she was the former CFO, the way that the finance team, the experience team, the rest of the executive team came together to forge something new. That’s heartwarming in terms of how enduring that focus has been.

Sonia Rhodes 37:14
Ann Pumpian is exquisite. I went on a little gratitude tour to reconnect with folks who meant so much to me in my life and career. When I sat with Ann for lunch one day years ago, I was able to express this gratitude that I had. Our ability to invest the time, energy, and focus to align everything in our organization to the experience that we wanted to create for people, so much of that was because of her vision, her belief, her willingness to invest in a marathon and not a sprint and understand that that investment would pay off in immeasurable ways which it has now. They have this 20-year study looking back, every single measure and metric that improved over those times. It was rarely the metrics that we thought would get better first. We thought our patient satisfaction would get better instantly. Well, no, it didn’t, but our team member engagement transformed dramatically. That engagement meant that we reduced our turnover in half. That turnover reduction opened up more funds for us to invest in the experience that we were creating for our patients. We grew and that organization has grown market share year after year for 20 straight years which is unheard of. No other health system has been able to do that. Quality and safety improved, donations to the organization improved. That idea that experience can be everything, I have so much to thank Ann for believing in that and understanding investment in that way.

Renee DeSilva 38:51
Absolutely. Two final questions. The first is, is there an experience that you’re just craving right now to just redesign something that you have observed as completely broken? I’m struck by your experience with your dad which was one of the early motivators for you to pay attention to this in a new way. What’s on your mind now? What do you see that you feel needs a lot of attention in terms of reimagining the experience for caregivers and patients?

Sonia Rhodes 39:17
It’s been an interesting year. I’ve spent 30 days at the bedside of a family member. I’ve had my own experiences on the other side of the sheets this year. I would just say, we have an opportunity to continue to look at everything that we’re doing. There is so much more that we can do to create our experiences designed to the feelings we want to impart but also designed to the feelings that people are bringing into those caring spaces and places — those fears, those hopes, those aspirations, that love of somebody. These difficult times have made that harder. That’s kind of the big picture. I have tiny little things and I have really big things. I have one personal mission. This is so silly and so tiny but, honestly, after 20 years, I just can’t understand why we’re still putting people’s belongings in clear plastic bags. Nobody wants to carry their dad’s underwear around in a clear plastic bag. I don’t get that. It’s so simple. That’s such a good example. If we’re still carrying people’s underwear around in a clear plastic belonging bag which kind of takes away our dignity, then what else are we missing?

Renee DeSilva 40:40
Final question, one that I ask all of our guests on the podcast. For me, when I think about The Academy Table, I intended to create a space for dialogue and conversation, both voices that are known in healthcare and those that may be a little bit less known. I do think so much of what we have missed across these past 18 months has been that personal connection around a shared meal or a cup of tea or a glass of wine. With that spirit in mind, if you could invite two people for a conversation at your table, who would they be and why?

Sonia Rhodes 41:15
That’s so dreamy and oh, how I miss gathering around a table. I do always have leadership crushes. Is that appropriate to share?

Renee DeSilva 41:26
I love it, yes!

Sonia Rhodes 41:28
Now it’s going to be hard for me to narrow it to two. Could I have three and then we’d be a table of four and it would be fine? I always want to pick a young leader, somebody who reminds us of what’s possible, who is going to be shaping and creating the future. I have a leadership crush on Amanda Gorman, the extraordinary poet who has proven the power of words to catalyze a collective. I think we need someone like her right now who can help paint that picture of a brighter future in a way that people can see it and then want to be it. I absolutely love her. There are two other leaders that I study, I watch. I follow. Is that called stalking? I don’t think so; I think it’s okay, it’s from afar. I would love to have Jose Andres at the table. He is the founder of World Central Kitchen. His ability to get things done, to not allow what is to stop what needs to be done from getting done is just incredible. He is mobilized in Haiti, he’s mobilized in Afghanistan. He and his team feed people. That deepest, deepest need for people to be nourished is something that he does in such an exquisite way. I want to understand the way he orchestrates, the way he mobilizes. I love details, so I want to understand how he gets that done. The last person that I lovingly observe and hopefully learn from, I hope the world is learning from, is, and I might not say her name as well as I’m supposed to, but Jacinda Ardern, she’s the Prime Minister of New Zealand. To watch her as an exemplar of wholehearted leadership through these challenging times, lead her people, her country, her nation through this pandemic with such authenticity, believability, and partnership is something we can extract, adapt, and apply to our organization. I’d love that conversation with the three of them.

Renee DeSilva 43:32
That would be a delightful gathering. That’s perfect. That’s a good place to land. Thank you so much for joining me. I hope to do this in person at some point soon. Thank you so much for all of your insights today.

Sonia Rhodes 43:45
Renee, you’re the best. Thank you for doing what you do. Keep going, keep going, keep going. I appreciate being here.

Renee DeSilva 43:52
Thanks again for joining me at The Table. The Table is a podcast produced by the Health Management Academy. Make sure you catch future episodes by visiting our website,, or by subscribing on the podcast platform of your choice. If you have suggestions for topics or guests, I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me a note at I look forward to talking with you soon.