Jim Dunn: Preaching from Experience  

jim dunn
Enterprise Executive Vice President and Chief People and Culture Officer, Atrium Health

Have you come across a strategic executive leader and an innovative problem solver with solid business acumen? Meet Jim Dunn, who has more than 30 years of driving positive outcomes in strategic human resources operations, organization development, and advanced employee and leader engagement strategies. He is an expert in creating and sustaining high-performance organizations that deliver measurable and bottom-line results.

Jim is the Enterprise Executive Vice President and Chief People and Culture Officer at Atrium Health. Atrium Health is a nationally recognized leader in shaping health outcomes through innovative research, education, and compassionate patient care. It provides top-ranked pediatric, cancer, and heartcare to patients and specialized musculoskeletal programs and organ transplants. It seeks to improve health, elevate hope, and advance the healing process for anyone and everyone who needs it.

An Upward Career Path

Jim’s journey as a business leader was by no means linear as he began his career as a research scientist and occupational epidemiologist. The complete transition into HR occurred while working for an Atlanta-based research and development center with BP/Amoco Corporation. He went on to increasingly responsible roles with President Jimmy Carter at the Carter Presidential Center and the American Cancer Society, both in Atlanta.

In 2008 is when he transitioned into acute care through HR leader roles with Texas Health Resources, Cleveland Clinic, and Parkland Health System and is now associated with Atrium Health since 2018.

He says, “I have had a couple of challenges that I recall having to overcome along the way, and the first was related to the transition in mindset from my early career to HR. I am often reminded of one of my favorite books by Marshall Goldsmith, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There.” I needed to learn and develop a new set of skills to be successful, and that took a good deal of personal refocusing on how I viewed the world and those around me. I enjoyed many of the more technical aspects of the HR role, but I realized that I was not a good listener and was not sure I even liked people.”

Learning to engage with every person in whatever way was most authentic towards meeting and understanding where they were, has been the most phenomenal individual growth as part of his business leadership journey. The other part of the journey was never attempting to stop learning. Every role is different because the character of every organization is culture, and that determines the culmination of symbols and behaviors. This is why he learned to approach every new HR leader role as a unique human operating system.

Jim has learned that every role is different, and therefore, the needs, desires, and expectations of the HR leader vary by each Board, CEO, and organization. He tests himself by asking, “Did I make things better because I was there?” He attributes this question as the litmus test as to whether he feels he made a unique difference or not to any organization.

The Broad Purpose of his Organization

Atrium Health’s mission is to Improve Health, Elevate Hope, and Advance Healing – for all. Atrium Health’s vision is to be the national leader for health, learning, and community.

The organization’s mission, vision, and Culture Commitments were developed with input from hundreds of teammates and community members, grounded in its history and aspirations for the future. It is the way the mission, vision, and Culture Commitments make Atrium Health different from other healthcare organizations.

The Culture Commitments include:

We create a space where all Belong.

We Work as One Team to make great things happen.

We earn Trust in all we do.

We Innovate to better the now and create the future.

We drive for Excellence – always.

As the Atrium Health enterprise grows and combines the unique cultures of other organizations, it has established the desired culture for the entire enterprise to create a workplace where all can thrive ultimately! As part of this initiative, the team members have identified new enterprise values, leadership imperatives, consistent succession planning, and talent reviews, enhanced their performance management processes, and created recognition programs aligned to their culture.

In addition, they are “Atrium Health Proud” – this concept is deeply woven into their culture. Their teammates make connections to their purpose every day, and they love sharing the stories of what makes them proud to work in the organization.

Technologies continue to equip the HR sector with powers to withstand any future calamities and help it to bring about a significant change. Several that they use daily are:

1) Meeting and Technology – maximizing the effectiveness of virtual meetings and training. Leveraging all technology in the zoom, teams, etc. – particularly as a significant percentage of its workforce is now working remotely.

2) HR Analytics– Adding scientists to the team who use sophisticated data modeling software to allow it to identify trends and opportunities quickly.

3) Recognition and Rewards – as the enterprise grows and continues to experience challenges such as the pandemic, it establishes cultural platforms for all leaders and teammates to show their appreciation quickly and easily for each other.

Jim further explains, “I do not believe the often referred to, Great Resignation to be a provisional activity caused by the pandemic. Instead, it has awakened new workplace realities or expectations, if you will, around issues of flexibility, fairness, and belonging. Organizations and HR leaders not focused on how these desires play out amongst the overall employee experience will continue to see increased turnover as employees move to organizations that offer a value proposition that better aligns with their desires.”

At Atrium Health, the team recognizes that a diverse workforce in health care is crucial and improves access to high-quality care for the medically underserved, which leads to better outcomes. They are responding with a strong commitment to reducing financial barriers to education and training, intentionally developing pathways for underrepresented students, and identifying arrangements to academically support and professionally develop students towards progressive careers in healthcare.

Atrium partners with local school districts to prepare, recruit, and hire young adults into healthcare careers. Once hired, participants enter the system as certified nurse assistants and receive one-on-one career coaching, free continued education benefits, and other wrap-around services to continue their career journey within the organization. At the end of the program, participants receive a free associate’s degree and move into a job role that pays anywhere from $60 to $80K. It creates solid career paths for young adults and is often life-changing for their families.

He says, “In a tight labor market, now more than ever, inclusion reigns supreme (we cannot afford any part of our workforce to feel undervalued, unengaged, isolated, etc.). At Atrium Health, we established the Returning Citizens (REEP) program, which moves individuals into livable wage jobs while considering talent from unconditional places, including the recently incarcerated.”

Efforts to Churn Out Capable HR Leaders

HR is a fundamental business capability for all leadership. Jim shares, “We need leaders to understand that no matter their industry, all leaders’ first job is to take care of their workforce. I would love to get HR leaders out of the business of doing things for leaders and instead have leaders do them in conjunction with HR expertise. Understanding what engages your human capital is essential to being able to navigate the precarious talent environment we currently find ourselves in today.”

Jim considers himself to be tremendously blessed not to have had a bad job, or boss, across thirty-plus years of working. He considers it a factor to stay in the industry for such a long time. From an Atrium Health perspective, Jim has many longer-term human capital goals that keep him excited and want to continue this journey. He gladly shares, “I’m also enjoying working with one of the strongest executive teams in my career, and while I might not show it every day, I do kind of like them. I plan to serve on a couple of public boards as I believe there has been a historical gap in driving the right “people conversations” related to strategy and operations within many organizations.’

Jim advises budding entrepreneurs to be willing to partner with non-profit business incubators and accelerators that can help build capacity and introduce them to new markets. Atrium Health is currently launching a Center for Supplier Diversity and Entrepreneurship to amplify these services and make them more assessable and visible to the community and aspiring entrepreneurs. Atrium Health understands that entrepreneurship is key to achieving critical social impact goals related to meaningful employment, food insecurity, and affordable housing.