Renown CEO Dr. Brian Erling's 'people-first' mindset 

Brian Erling, MD, stepped into his role as president and CEO of Renown Health last November with one overarching leadership priority: Put people first. 

This tenet is infused into every aspect of the Reno, Nev.-based system's strategy and culture, which Dr. Erling says is crucial considering the immense financial and operational pressures facing healthcare today.

"In these challenging times, we have got to prioritize our people, simply because it's the right thing to do," he told Becker's.

Dr. Erling came to Renown after a six-year tenure at Centennial, Colo.-based Centura Health, where he served as chief medical officer, chief clinical officer and — most recently — president and CEO of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services in Colorado Springs. According to Dr. Erling, a people-first mindset is a crucial trait for an incoming CEO to bring to his or her new role. 

"A lot of tension can form in an organization during a leadership transition," he said. "It's important to come in, to really get to know the organization and to demonstrate how you are going to be a leader that prioritizes people and creates stability. In particular, at a time when, as we've seen, the healthcare workforce is very mobile. They want to ensure that they're in a place where they feel valued and safe."

Under Dr. Erling's leadership, Renown standardized and implemented new organizational benchmarks across all the core tenets of healthcare, including quality, finance, strategy, growth and, of course, people. The system has set a high bar for excellence, aiming for every one of its targets and expectations to be in the top quartile of performance, with national median benchmarks being the bare minimum.

Once these targets were set, Renown leaders focused on translating them into meaningful goals for managers and directors. The system holds monthly operating reviews to assess each department's performance, keeping the people-first mentality top of mind.

"We start every one of those meetings with people first. We celebrate our successes and the improvements in the performance of the department. And then we always ask, 'What do you need to hit these targets? What support do you need? What tools do you need?'" Dr. Erling said. 

This people-first mindset also extends beyond the health system's own team. When any issue is discussed in meetings — and before any decision is made — leaders ask how it would affect not just their team members but the greater community. 

"You have to make sure that you are always being that voice in the room that brings it back to people first," Dr. Erling said. "A lot of people go into healthcare because we care about people. That's why we do this work. And so, in many ways, it's just freeing people up to live that mission."

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