Lessons From Leadership: How to Build a People-First, Values-Based Culture That Drives Performance 


By Dillon Phillips

As organizations continue to embrace the remote workforce, they’ve challenged their Human Resources and leadership teams in new and exciting ways. From talent acquisition efforts to accommodate an expanding talent pool, to ensuring new employees are aligned with company values and positioned for growth, HR departments play a critical role in the future of all organizations.

At Medical Solutions, Dana Coonce, Chief Human Resources Officer, is leading the way. Coonce is responsible for overseeing all end-to-end people practices, and in her nearly three-decade career, she’s always put people first.

“I don’t think you should ever stop investing in people,” she said. “Even if people leave the organization or maybe they aren’t as successful as they wanted to be, if we can still deliver a positive employee experience and help them develop and grow while they’re here, then we’re going to be a better organization because of it.”

Coonce discusses the role of HR in the modern workplace and how to build a sustainable company culture that generates positive business outcomes.

Q: As Chief Human Resources Officer, what’s your focus?

A: Throughout my career, employee performance has always been at the forefront, which means working with and developing people. Working with people is why I originally got into human resources. Our team is the touchpoint for each step of the employee journey. We have to make sure we support our leaders so there’s clarity around the expectations—the knowledge and the skills necessary to achieve the outcomes that we’re driving for—and then we have to help develop our team members and support them so they can meet the expectations we have set so we can all meet our goals.

A big part of that is enabling an engaged workforce and helping all employees develop the skills needed. Many of our employees have grown from within the organization. Some may not have come to us with certain knowledge or skill sets, but they’ve developed while they’ve been a part of the company. There are several instances where we placed a bet on them and helped them obtain the skills that they needed for that next job or that next position. That’s what it’s all about.

Q: What advice or tips do you have for HR leaders and executives?

A: Focus on the people in the organization and the systems, processes, and infrastructure that support them so that the business can do what it needs to do. Align the organizational structure to the strategy of the business. Understand the talent you need to support the strategy. Ensure the development, experience, and rewards support what the business needs the team to do. Ensure that the team members feel supported in a way that they can execute on behalf of the organization.

Some of that enablement and support is in technology. Some is compensation. Some of that is development. Some of that is helping leaders set expectations. Some of that is helping leaders become better leaders. There’s a lot happening, so our charge as HR leaders is anchoring back to what’s going to support the organization get where it needs to go.

Q: When your organization is growing, how do you stay on top of everything from an HR perspective?

A: It goes back to being grounded in who you are as a company. If as an organization you are anchored to your core values and company strategy, then the right areas of focus will rise to the top. I work with my colleagues and HR leaders to ensure we are focused on setting the right expectations and supporting the leaders across the organization. If you can do that, then the outcomes will be there, too.

Q: For a lot of companies, it can be difficult to instill core values in new employees and ensure those values are reflective of the actual workplace culture. How do you do that?

A: Core values have to be threaded through every touchpoint of the employee journey. From the time you start to recruit a potential employee, to their onboarding, goal setting, their interactions with their leaders, their interactions with their teams, their development opportunities, their ability to transfer into other roles or learn new skills—all of it needs to connect. When I’ve seen organizations be successful with their core values, it’s because they incorporate them into each element of that employee journey.

For example, during the interview process, we ask candidates about their behaviors and approaches to things to ensure that those are aligning with the types of values that we’re going to expect. Then those values are also anchored in our recognition program. They’re part of our performance reviews. They’re part of our talent reviews. By threading throughout, we are encouraging the adoption of those values by rewarding behaviors and the employees that exhibit them.

It’s equally important to hold someone accountable when they sidestep those values. Our accountability is a differentiator. If we expect certain things from our leaders, then we as an organization have to hold them accountable. If we expect certain behaviors within the organization, then we need to hold our employees accountable for those behaviors. Those aren’t always comfortable conversations or decisions, but they’re important if you’re going to maintain the integrity of your culture.

Q: Is there anything on the horizon at Medical Solutions that you’re especially excited about?

A: It’s so interesting when we talk about processes or new products within the organization from a people standpoint. Things that drive efficiency bring forward relief, and when you’re more efficient, you can better focus your time and effort on projects and initiatives that help drive toward higher-priority company goals or improve key performance indicators. In that area, we have a new talent-acquisition platform that will help to automate and accelerate a lot of previously manual or cumbersome processes. We’re also working on a new performance-management platform that will help provide efficiency and ease of process to our managers with feedback, goal alignment, and reviews.

While these platforms and new ways of working are very exciting, what’s really exciting to me personally is our efforts around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. This focus allows us to drive our human-first approach into action. In new employee orientation, we explain that part of our brand platform is, “You’ve come to the right place,” and we genuinely want employees to feel like they’re in the right place. They’re doing a job they know they can do. They’ve got the support around them to perform their very best, and they’re with people who appreciate them for who they are while being themselves—truly and authentically.

People often think about diversity in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. Those are important demographics; however, diversity at Medical Solutions is so much more. We want to include and ensure belonging for those with diversity related to abilities, thoughts, backgrounds, educations, and neurodiversity. All of the things that we have as life experiences are what make us different. Bringing all of those differences forward is what helps us be a better company. If we take the time to be inclusive, to pull in a variety of individuals who have diverse perspectives and experiences, and we involve them in important conversations and decisions, that makes us a better company and a better partner for our clients.