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Discovering the True Meaning Behind the Mission

Discovering the True Meaning Behind the Mission
A healthcare CEO inspires team members’ performance by illustrating the impact of their work

Seattle is a hiring town, a place where smart, driven workers have their choice of worldclass companies. Amazon is based there, as are Starbucks, Microsoft and several other Fortune 500s.

But even in the face of fierce competition for talent, Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) CEO Cassie Sauer discovered that by connecting her employees with the impact of their work, she could compete with the biggest companies in the world. She could also inspire her employees to reach higher.

The nonprofit association advocates for all hospitals in Washington State in an effort to improve quality and access to care. WSHA turns healthcare problems into policy solutions that protect quality of life for everyone in the state. These policies translate to greater access to healthcare, saving lives in the process.

But when Sauer was promoted to CEO after 18 years with WSHA, she discovered that many people within the organization didn’t appreciate the impact their individual work made in the community.

“What really struck me was people came to work with us because they wanted to be a part of something bigger, but they would scratch their head and say, ‘I work in accounting. How am I contributing?’” Sauer says.

Our turnover has gone down, retention is up, and our impact is deeper. Our team members feel like the work they do here really results in something meaningful.

Cassie Sauer | Vistage member since 2017

Consulting with CEOs outside her industry through her Vistage peer advisory group, Sauer realized that she could attract and retain high-caliber employees and push them to broaden their scope just by helping them understand their personal impact.

For example, WSHA took on sepsis, a lifethreatening bloodstream infection that kills more than 250,000 people a year in the United States. Sauer helped WSHA’s analysts understand how their data analysis helped create a methodology that has drastically cut mortality. “Our data analysts were able to say, ‘Look, there are truly people who a year ago would have been dead without our contributions,’” Sauer says. “That’s an incredible thing to work on.”

In the year and a half since Sauer took the helm, WSHA helped change state law to curb opioid addiction, working to end a scourge that kills nearly 30,000 people in Seattle every year. Under her direction,

WSHA also standardized charity care forms, broadening access to care for underserved patients and eliminating the language barrier for care.

As successes pile up, Sauer says she is careful to highlight the diligent contributions by everyone at WSHA. She overhauled the usual employee town hall meetings, focusing less on information like insurance benefits and policy updates and more on each department’s successes and contributions.

“Our turnover has gone down, retention is up, and our impact is deeper,” Sauer says. “Our team members feel like the work they do here really results in something meaningful.”

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