Leadership Matters For the Path to Success: A Banner Health Case Study

Note from the editor: This article was first published on Human Resources IQ in August 2009.

Speaking to a group of new Banner Health leaders, President and CEO Peter S. Fine reflected on the story that put him and his organization on the path to success. "I got it when a Board member told me that my success would be due to leadership," Fine told the group. "The Board member told me that if I didn’t remember anything else, I should remember that leadership matters," he said. Taking that to heart (coincidentally Banner’s logo includes the image of a heart), Fine constantly reinforces the importance of the "3 Es"—energy, excitement and enthusiasm—for both leaders and employees at Banner. This philosophy has especially been stressed over the course of the past year as Banner, like other organizations nationwide, continues to weather the current economic times.

Banner Health is one of the largest nonprofit health care systems in the country with more than 35,000 employees in seven western states. To ensure new leaders across the system receive consistent messages about the organization and our culture, Fine and his Senior Management Team make it a priority to address new leaders as part of a three-day leadership orientation event held each month at the company’s corporate headquarters in Phoenix, AZ. He shares his vision for the organization, promotes the leadership behaviors that he knows will make a difference to patients and employees and welcomes the newly hired or promoted to experience and role model this difference. Banner has taken this opportunity to focus on its leaders knowing that strong leadership will make the difference at all times, but especially during the challenges associated with tough economic times.

During the past year, Banner has taken various measures to ensure our continued success despite the worsening economy. This included a reduction in force that affected less than 1 percent of our workforce. Despite these challenges, as well as the challenge of integrating the former Sun Health system into our organization, we maintained our focus leadership development. In conjunction, we increased our communication efforts to all employees to keep them up-to-date as the organization maneuvered through uncharted waters.


Banner launched a number of tools during the past year to support leaders. We fully implemented a new Talent Management Review process as a mechanism to identify and develop leaders for the future. We also developed a strong "Leaders As Teachers" model to deliver internally developed programs through Leadership Symposiums. This agile delivery model allowed for Banner to repurpose the first quarter scheduled program to focus on leading in challenging economic times. .

Banner’s Leading with Courage series was developed with internal expertise and led by Banner leaders. The series was well-attended and received. Banner also continued with its second cohort for high potentials, called the Advanced Leadership Program. Banner’s Internal Coach Program also experienced success in certifying a cadre of internal coaches who provided assistance for those leaders impacted by the organization’s response to the economic times.

Knowing that a critical component to ensuring a strong leadership legacy for the organization is to equip the front line leaders, Banner has developed a nine-week Winning Strategies for Leaders (WSL) program, which has begun delivery to more than 400 leaders during 2009. Using blended learning technology to include the more remote locations in the mix, the program is off to a great start. Pre- and post-assessments by participants and their leaders will assist in providing learning analytics and a Level Three evaluation. Banner’s WSL program provides an opportunity for leaders leading individual contributors to meet their core requirements. Banner has established four levels of leadership and developed core curriculum required at each level. Software programming is being developed to manage this process through Banner’s learning management system, powered by Learnsoft’s MeduRx and known to employees and students as the Banner Learning Center (BLC).

"Banner delivers on its mission of making a difference in people’s lives through excellent patient care through the efforts of its leaders," said Janice Ganann, Senior Director, Executive Talent Office. "The Learning and Development teams partner with other human resources teams such as Organizational Development and Human Resources Operations to ensure successful execution of this strategic initiative."

Collaboration and synergy are the keys during these economic times. The upcoming launch of Banner Corporate University (Banner U) this summer another sign of senior management’s commitment to leadership, career development, learning and ensuring a strong tomorrow. Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom." Banner is demonstrating that developing leaders to support employees and fostering a culture that embraces a philosophy of working with energy, excitement and enthusiasm, can lead to a strong and stable position, no matter the time, no matter the economics.