Shane Jackson of Jackson Healthcare: “Define Success”

Define Success: One of the quickest ways to determine what you really value is to ask yourself this question: “What is my definition of success?” The answer will reveal your values, and as we discussed earlier, those values will in large part determine how you make decisions. The same is true for a business. How […]

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Define Success: One of the quickest ways to determine what you really value is to ask yourself this question: “What is my definition of success?” The answer will reveal your values, and as we discussed earlier, those values will in large part determine how you make decisions. The same is true for a business. How an organization defines success will determine the decisions it makes — how it operates, how it handles customers, and how it treats people.

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shane Jackson.

Shane Jackson serves as president of Jackson Healthcare and is the primary guiding force for its mission of improving the delivery of patient care and the lives of everyone it touches. Since assuming this role in 2014, he has consistently led the organization of 16 healthcare staffing, search and technology companies to growth of more than double the industry average, crossing the billion-dollar annual revenue mark in 2018. Prior to his current position, he was president of, Patient Placement Systems and NextStart Capital.

Shane is an advocate for the power of business leaders as a positive force for people and the community. He is a speaker on the conference circuit and frequently writes on the topic of intentionally nurturing a values-based culture. In 2018, he published Fostering Culture: A Leader’s Guide to Purposely Shaping Culture, his first book chronicling his philosophy on workplace culture.

Over the past four years, Shane has been recognized on Staffing Industry Analysts’ Staffing 100, a list of the top North American leaders shaping the industry and influencing the workforce solutions ecosystem. In 2020, he received the distinguished Jerry Noyce Executive Health Champion Award from HERO, the Health Enhancement Research Organization, for his contributions in advancing employee health and wellbeing — as well as the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Corporate Citizenship Award.

Shane serves on the boards of Junior Achievement of Georgia, 3DE and King’s Ridge Christian School. He also is chair of the Health and Wellness Policy Committee for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and vice chair of the leader-led goBeyondProfit business initiative that promotes the belief that giving back is good for business and good for Georgia. He earned an MBA from Emory University and BBA from Harding University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Today, I get to lead this amazing group of professionals who take care of people in their most vulnerable times. I’m the president of a healthcare staffing and technology company that my dad started in 2000. I was finishing business school at the time, and it was in the middle of the dotcom boom. He came to me and said, “Hey, I’ve got this idea to apply Internet technology to healthcare services — how do we do that?” That original strategy still guides a lot of what we do today. We have clinicians, doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, etc., that work for us in all 50 states and we provide clinical staff on a temporary, permanent or outsourced basis. Hospitals, urgent care clinics, doctor’s offices — anywhere patients are being seen there’s a chance that we’re there. We’re also one of the largest providers of telemedicine in the country.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Today we are a company that leads with our values — that’s actually a big way that we distinguish ourselves. But when we were newer and smaller, it’s not something we talked about at all. My father has strong convictions but believed in leading by example versus imposing his values on someone else. Then an ethics professor from a major university in Atlanta came along and wanted to do an audit of our workplace culture. He was doing a study on the alignment of companies with strong corporate cultures and financial outperformance. We had maybe 250 employees in the company at the time (we now have over 1,500) and he interviewed about 100 people. He asked them to describe the culture and the company’s values.

What was interesting was that almost all of them used the same words to describe working at Jackson Healthcare. What I learned from that experience was that people know your values. They know what you believe even if you don’t say it. And the reason they know this is because those principles that really drive you, they show up in your decisions, they show up in your actions. And if you’re around someone long enough and you see what they do, and hear what they say, you will understand what is actually really driving them. And that experience gave us permission to be a little more forward about it. That’s the beginning of my story as a student of workplace culture, and it formed the basis of thinking that became my book, Fostering Culture.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now I’m working on writing some content that will ultimately become a new book, and it’s around the idea of balance. Not work/life balance, which is something we talk about a lot but rarely achieve, but balance from the perspective of high performance and constantly growing and improving every area of your life. It’s a belief system and a strategy that starts with getting really clear about what you want your life to be — what your legacy will mean. When we get clarity on that, everything else falls into place.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Let’s start by acknowledging that a lot has happened between this survey in 2018 and where we are today in 2021. We know that the experience of the pandemic has caused many people to take stock of their lives — and their jobs in particular — and that if and when they can, many will be making career moves that they might not have otherwise.

I believe the data in this survey that says that 50% of people are unhappy with their jobs is likely highly correlated to other data that estimates that 50% of people are actually unhappy in their lives. That is something sad to contemplate, and not a statistic that I take lightly. And while I recognize that many people struggle due to circumstances that are out of their control, I also believe that much of the unhappiness — in life or at work — reflects the reality that many of us aren’t doing things that are meaningful to us.

It may sound simplistic — it’s not — but I encourage people to learn what is meaningful to them and then act on it. Everyone, including myself, goes through periods of unhappiness or discontent, that’s the human condition. Here’s how I get back to basics:

I believe that there are three dimensions that encapsulate who we are and how we spend our time:

  • Our relationships (family, friends and others)
  • Our work (how we contribute and create value)
  • Ourselves (activities that give us energy or feed our spirit)

It is impossible to achieve perfect balance among these three dimensions, as different seasons of life demand a different focus on a given dimension. The problems come when we over-focus or totally ignore one of the dimensions.

Usually when I am feeling despondent, unfocused, or just irritable, it is because I have neglected one of these areas. As an example, I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself feeling down only to realize that I haven’t exercised in a few days. I have learned that I need the endorphins created by physical movement or I am off mentally and emotionally.

Most of the time, I can cure my mood by spending time with family, going for a run, or really cranking out something of value at work. Having that self-awareness has made a huge difference in being able to manage emotional highs and lows. But sometimes, in the worst times, those disciplines don’t work.

One of the things I have realized about the times when I am at my lowest is that I am spending a lot of time thinking about myself. This is understandable and makes sense. I’m doing self-analysis to try to determine what’s wrong with me and what I need to do to feel better. So, I start looking at the three dimensions of my life through the lens of, “How can I make changes in that area to make myself feel better? What can I do at work that will make me feel more valued? Which relationships cheer me up versus drain me? What activities can I do that give me energy?”

When people are in this stage, you often hear them saying something like, “I just need to figure out what will make me happy.”

The problem is that when I am in this state, I am spending so much time thinking about myself that there is no room for anyone else. You may be asking, “Wait, if you are thinking about your relationships, isn’t that thinking about others?” The difference is that in that moment, I am thinking about relationships through the view of how they can feed me, and not about how I can help the other person or the relationship.

When I am solely focused on my life’s impact on me, I am ignoring completely the thing that will ultimately determine the value of my life — how I impact other people. Worse, by focusing only on how things impact me, I am exhibiting selfish behavior that is going to have a negative impact on others, which diminishes the value of my life. The more I focus on me, the less value my life has.

What I have learned is that, paradoxically, the key to finding joy and excitement in my life isn’t to think just about what I can do to make me happy, but what I can do to bring value and joy to others.

And when I am able to do those things that I enjoy, that I am good at, and that benefit others, well, that is when I rediscover joy. When I am living my best life. When I am living my mission.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

We know that an unhappy workforce has a big impact on all of those things — so we take it seriously to support employee mental and physical health and wellbeing, because we believe that’s where we can make the most difference for our employees. So we provide amenities and benefits that include on-site dining with healthy options, a fitness center, childcare, a wellness clinic and other community-based services that help our employees manage their lives.

We’re also really clear about our mission as a company, and we provide clarity around what we value. We take our culture really seriously, and because of that, anyone who comes to Jackson Healthcare to work knows and likely aligns with our values and our purpose. When people are aligned on purpose, working in a way that they can best live out their talents, they are more productive, the company is more profitable, and health and wellbeing come more easily.

As I described above, I believe there is a direct correlation between “happiness” and understanding and acting on your purpose. If you can focus on that, it’s good for the business.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Define Success: One of the quickest ways to determine what you really value is to ask yourself this question: “What is my definition of success?” The answer will reveal your values, and as we discussed earlier, those values will in large part determine how you make decisions. The same is true for a business. How an organization defines success will determine the decisions it makes — how it operates, how it handles customers, and how it treats people.

Think about it this way, if you don’t know what you are trying to accomplish, then how do you know what decision to make?

Every person in your organization or on your team is faced with numerous decisions daily. Which customer do I call first? Which task do I prioritize and which do I neglect? How do I handle this situation? As a leader, one of your primary responsibilities is to make sure the people on your team know how to answer those questions. Your job is to make sure they know what we are trying to accomplish (our definition of success) and how their jobs help us accomplish that.

In every organization that I have led, the first thing I’ve done is clearly articulate our vision and mission. In this context, my definition of vision is what we are trying to accomplish as a business, and mission is why we are trying to accomplish it. Vision is “what,” and mission is “so what?” They combine to answer the question of how we define success.

If there is a lack of clarity about the group’s definition of success, then each group member will create a definition based on their personal goals and view of the group’s aims. Eventually they will probably figure out what the group’s true objectives are based on seeing how people act (deciphering the culture), but they may do a lot of damage in the meantime by acting against what the company is trying to accomplish.

Be aware that when you talk about your vision and mission — what you are trying to accomplish and why — it creates vulnerability for you as a leader. It is now time to put up or shut up. If you say that your vision is one thing, but your actions reveal that you are actually pursuing something else, then people will see your hypocrisy very quickly, and you will lose credibility with them.

However, if you are able to clearly articulate success and attract other people who define success the same way, then you will create something incredibly powerful. Training is easier, communication is faster, and customers experience consistency.

It is amazing how fast a boat can go when all oars are rowing to the same rhythm. Everything goes faster because everyone knows where you are going.

Ask yourself, are you working on the business or working in the business? — In The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney calls it “the whirlwind.” I call it “the tornado,” the busy-ness of day-to-day activity that just sucks you in. It’s the work IN the business — the unending emails that need a response, calls to make, reports to read, or meetings to attend. We hate the tornado because it is never-ending and can make it difficult to see progress. We love it because it is easy. We feel like we accomplished something every time we check another menial task off the to-do list.

On the other hand, working ON the business is strategy. It’s asking, “Are we doing the right things?” and not just, “Are we doing things right?” It is making sure that we truly understand the problems we are solving for our customers. It is forcing ourselves to innovate and improve. Working ON the business means differentiating your business and becoming known for that difference. It means ensuring that everyone working in the business knows how we define success and how they contribute to that success. It is solving issues before they become problems and making sure that our associates win when the company wins. Even in the midst of the tornado, we have to get our heads above it to keep our companies healthy and work ON the business.

Growing Experts with Focus and Specialization: We are always looking for ways to narrow the scope and increase the focus of people’s jobs in an effort to enable them to become an expert at that job, because we believe strongly in the power of focus and specialization. It’s the secret to creating differentiation. When you specialize, you understand the problems of your customers better and become the expert they need in solving those problems. But this concept doesn’t just apply to the individual or organizational structure — you can seek to be specialized as a business strategy. In that way, your company is built on a model that enables you to become the experts at solving worthy problems for your customer. The whole business is specialized. Your people will enjoy being really good at something, and their levels of expertise enable them to begin applying that expertise to other related fields.

Use Smoke Alarms, Not Fire Alarms: After such a tough few months, and with many firms turning to a hybrid workforce, you’ll want to make sure your alert systems are working well. Think about it this way — there is one sound that is far worse than that of a smoke alarm in the middle of the night: the sound of a fire truck’s siren rushing toward your house to put out a fire. We’d all prefer to eliminate what’s causing the smoke rather than try to salvage what remains after a fire. Preventing a problem or detecting it early is significantly less costly than fixing one after the fact.

We have all kinds of smoke alarms in business — activity and production reports, sales funnels, associate surveys, customer surveys, reviews, skip-level meetings — the list goes on and on. These reports yield actionable data about how we are performing. They serve many purposes, but one of the main ones is to alert leaders as to when and where there might be a problem — while it is still solvable. Especially for those that have a distributed workforce, employee surveys and meaningful employee feedback and review sessions serve as excellent smoke alarms. Make sure that the alarms include ways to get insights into how people on your team feel. If you don’t make time to meet with them now, you will have to make the time later — when they tell you they are quitting.

Reviewing your business for the things that could go wrong, and then setting up smoke alarms to give you advanced warning when those things might happen, is a good way to crisis-proof your company.

Decentralize Decision-Making: Many years ago, we purchased a company out of a distressed situation where the owner was engaging in nefarious dealings and misappropriating company funds. None of the managers had access to any financials (which were all fake anyway) because the owners had been trying to hide what they were doing. As a result, the managers had no idea what was making money for the business and what wasn’t.

Shortly after we bought the company, the leadership received their first set of accurate financials in years. Before the ink was dry on the numbers, they had already analyzed them and made a number of changes to their business — closing down some service lines and reallocating resources to areas where they could be better used.

Empowered, informed people will make decisions faster than you can as a manager and see things you will never see. Purposefully consider what information could be helpful to people and then utilize your reports, meetings and all other communication to make sure they have that information as quickly as possible.

Remember also that common goals require that we share common context, and don’t forget to also give them the big picture. It is one thing to understand my little corner of the world, but when I understand how my corner fits into the world at large, I gain a context that may change how I approach things. I don’t need to understand every detail about other parts of the company, but if I understand how what I do affects those downstream, I can be smarter about doing what I do.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

In the U.S., our management tools are largely based on concepts developed during the industrial-era. In the intervening years, the nature of work, the relationship between managers and employees — all of it is really different. At my company, we are knowledge workers, so we have to start with the understanding that what has worked historically from a management perspective is no longer relevant today.

Our business requires that we recruit and retain top talent, and most of the people who work for us are in the enviable position of being able to choose what they do and who they work for. So we think about it this way: our employees are volunteers, and our managers are stewards. Let me unpack that a little by talking about why I view managers as stewards:

As a manager, you arguably have a bigger, more direct impact on the well-being of the people who report to you than any other person in their life. At a minimum, you impact their ability to generate income. If you approve of their work, they could get a raise and make more money. You may control whether or not they get a bonus. If you disapprove of their work, not only might they make less money, but you have the ability to terminate their employment, thus placing a black mark on their résumé that may prevent them from making as much money in the future or gaining future employment at all.

But it’s more than just money. Managers have a huge impact on the self-esteem of the people who work for them. As a key judge of their performance, your approval can lift spirits, while your disapproval can cause a person to question their own worth. You can increase stress or relieve it. By setting a schedule, you influence the amount of time an individual has to spend with their family, exercise, or explore personal interests.

You influence a person’s growth. You can provide access to education and experiences that make them capable of increased contribution and greater marketability. You can push them, or you can hold them back from opportunities that will challenge them. You can shine a light on their efforts or make sure they never get credit for what they do.

Your decisions as a manager will impact people’s marriages, friendships, families, careers, and even their health. That is a powerful influence.

The people you manage have given you this power over them. You didn’t take it or force it, they willingly gave it to you. They have put great trust in you to wield the power wisely. They expect you to use it for their best interest. They have agreed to take your direction in guiding their daily activities, and in exchange, they expect you to help them achieve things in their lives that they cannot achieve on their own.

Merriam-Webster defines stewardship as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”

Your employees, associates, team members — however you refer to the people you manage or oversee — they have entrusted something very precious to your care. You are indeed a steward over a big part of their lives, and that demands careful and responsible management. If we as a society began to think about management in terms of stewardship, many of the current problems we see in the workplace would begin to resolve themselves.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

If there was only one management theory I would suggest you learn, it is situational leadership. I can claim no authorship whatsoever of this theory, but I wholeheartedly endorse it. I’ll summarize it here, but to really understand the theory of situational leadership, consider reading Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership by Ken Blanchard or The Situational Leader by Dr. Paul Hersey.

The net of the theory (in my words) is this: your management style should reflect the needs of the person you are managing, not the style you prefer. Based upon a person’s experience with and mastery of tasks associated with a role (their readiness), a manager must adjust how he directs and communicates.

…One of my dad’s maxims: never have new managers manage new people. The problem is that neither one knows what they are doing. If you consider the situational leadership model, people who are new to a position need lots of direction including detailed instruction, frequent inspection, and feedback. A manager who is new to the role is unqualified to do this. It’s the managerial equivalent of the blind leading the blind and is fraught with peril.

To learn more about my thoughts on leadership, follow my Linkedin page.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My father is an obvious one, but since I talked about him earlier, I’ll tell you that I credit my high school theater director, a man named Clif Jones, with a lesson that has followed me all of my life.

He saw something in me that I didn’t know I had — a talent for theater. He gave me some great opportunities and introduced me to a creative outlet that is still part of my life today. One of the biggest lessons I took from my time with him wasn’t even apparent to me until years later as I became involved in amateur and then professional acting. Working with other directors, it became clear to me how much Clif empowered his actors, especially as high schoolers, who were just learning the craft.

One time I landed the lead role in a musical that would play in front of large audiences. It was a big deal for me at the time. At one of our first rehearsals, I experimented with a couple of different approaches to the scene. The director shut me down immediately and proceeded to give me very detailed instruction on how he wanted me to play the scene and perform the lines.

It was pretty shocking and something I’ve never forgotten.

What I learned is that when you give someone the liberty to make mistakes, to figure some parts of their job out on their own, to try new things and to be creative, you are giving them the opportunity to really learn and develop. I could robotically execute the blocking from the director, but it didn’t help me grow as an actor. It’s a great skill to have as a leader or a manager — the ability to create safe ways to place freedom in the hands of your employee.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One of the best manifestations of how we bring goodness to the world is LoveLifts. LoveLifts is our collective community impact platform focused on providing a hand up to those in need. This philosophy of caring for and serving others has been central to Jackson Healthcare’s culture since its inception. We know that by doing well, we can do good — which for us means going beyond profit and making a difference in local, as well as global, communities.

By volunteering, helping orphan and foster children, and equipping and empowering the next generation of leaders, we continually look for opportunities to serve others in ways that respect their dignity, autonomy and identity.

The business community uses terms like “corporate social responsibility,” but for us, the heart behind LoveLifts spans beyond traditional definitions in why and how we spend our time, talent and resources to care for and help those around us.

We don’t provide Christmas presents to hundreds of foster children each year or renovate a home for a medically fragile child out of obligation or responsibility. It’s much more than that.

When a family member, co-worker, friend or neighbor is hurting and down, we want to help lift them back up. It’s a natural reaction to try to help those we love. It is from here that the LoveLifts name was born. It reflects our drive to serve others, and each other, in sustainable ways by offering a hand up.

To maximize our collective impact, we focus on two primary areas: improving access to healthcare and improving the wellbeing of young people.

Our beneficiaries include the LoveLifts Village, which is where we provide dedicated office space on our campus specifically for local, not-for-profit organizations. This unique environment is designed to give nonprofits flexible office space, while fostering collaboration and idea-sharing among like-minded, mission-driven organizations.

We also founded and fund goBeyondProfit to celebrate and encourage corporate generosity in Georgia. goBeyondProfit is a no-cost resource for Georgia business leaders interested in evolving their corporate generosity efforts into a business strategy. The sole step to becoming a goBeyondProfit member is signing the simple goBeyondProfit Pledge aligning members in the aspiration to invest time, talent, and financial resources to care for their people and help solve community needs. We have events and opportunities throughout the year for companies to share their commitments and educate one another on how they step up to help Georgians and our communities.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This quote applies to anyone in almost any situation and it’s an amalgam of several different quotes with the same sensibility:

The definition of success is getting back up one more time than you got knocked down.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think in some ways I have already had the opportunity to do that when we created LoveLifts to intentionally invest in people, programs, nonprofits and partnerships that lift people up every day. And, I always try to take my own advice and consider each action I take in terms of my personal legacy.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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