Dr. Gina Forrest (she/her) is the Chief Culture Officer at Aspire Indiana Health, and Marcos (He/Him) is the Manager, Employee Engagement. A fully integrated healthcare provider, Aspire offers both primary medical and behavioral healthcare, but also addresses social drivers of health like employment and housing. Their support programs are numerous. Aspire Indiana Health employs~600 in Indiana.
Including You Interview with Dr. Gina Forrest and Marcos Navarro Garcia
Voiceover Announcer (00:02):
This is Including You, the new series from Lead at Any Level. Including You features stories from chief diversity officers and other executives who are creating inclusive cultures in their organizations. Our goal is to show what’s working in companies just like yours, to give you the tools you need to keep pushing for progress in your own workplace. We want to create belonging and opportunity for everyone, including you.
And now, here’s your host, Amy C. Waninger.
Amy C. Waninger (00:35):
Welcome back to Including You. I’m your host, Amy C. Waninger, the inclusion catalyst. My guests today are Dr. Gina Forrest and Marcos Navarro Garcia of Aspire Indiana Health. Dr. Forrest, she/her, is the Chief Culture Officer, and Marcos, he/him, is the Manager of Employee Engagement there.
A fully integrated healthcare provider, Aspire offers both primary medical and behavior healthcare but also addresses social drivers of health, like employment and housing. Their support programs are numerous. Way too many to list here. I tried. I couldn’t read it all in one breath. They do a lot at Aspire, and they employ about 600 people in the state of Indiana.
Dr. Gina, Marcos, welcome to the show.
Dr. Gina Forrest (01:19):
Thank you so much. Thank you for having us.
Marcos Navarro Garcia (01:22):
It is great to be here. Very excited for this talk.
Amy C. Waninger (01:26):
We’re doing something a little bit different today. Normally I have one guest per episode, but Dr. Gina, you had a different idea for today’s episode. Can you tell us a little about why we’re shaking things up?
Dr. Gina Forrest (01:37):
Sure. Shaking things up on a personal note, number one, I’m here. I’ve been in this role for a while. I’ve been doing this for a long time. And I want to be that role model to our younger professionals, as how do they get this experience in having these kinds of conversations? So I wanted this, and you are so gracious enough to say yes, to let this be a joint venture between both Marcos and myself as we talk.
Also, to provide those different lenses. I identify as a Black woman. I’m 48. That’s not how Marcos identifies. So as much as I try to be as inclusive and keep up on things, he’s going to have a different lens. I think it’s important for your listeners to hear from both sides to get that more well-rounded perspective, because we are so different in both of our identities.
So I thank you for this opportunity, and so happy to be here with Marcos to have this conversation.
Amy C. Waninger (02:36):
I’m excited to have both of you. Marcos, we had a couple of conversations early on. I actually contacted you first to say, “Hey, do you want to be on the show?” And you said, “We need to bring in Dr. Gina.” So you two have referred each other to this episode?
Marcos Navarro Garcia (02:51):
We really have. I’m really grateful for her mentorship. I would say we’re a dynamic duo, if I had to say so myself. I think we work really well together.
Really thankful to be here. One thing that I found in this role, I’ve been with a lot of people who are maybe just now realizing that Gen Z has arrived in the workplace. And so that’s why I’m really excited because I think there’s lots of, oh, studies show. Oh, experts say. Well, you have a Gen Zer right here who’s in the workforce, who has feelings, has opinions on things, and I’m ready to share. It’s exciting because I think this change is coming with this new generation. Every year, another class of Gen Z is graduating college and entering the workforce.
It is an exciting time to be working in people and culture, and I’m really excited to share about it.
Amy C. Waninger (03:42):
That’s fantastic. I want to reiterate that point because a lot of folks are still talking about millennials as if they’re 19 years old, and that is just not the case. We have moved on. A whole generation has turned over since this conversation started, so it’s time to update our understanding and our lingo around young professionals.
Marcos Navarro Garcia (04:01):
Yeah, I 100% agree. It’s really interesting too. I think millennials and Gen Z are very different, very different. So yeah, just excited to get into the weeds of that today.
Amy C. Waninger (04:12):
Excellent. Let me start by asking you, why is diversity and inclusion so important at Aspire? What is it that is driving the investment and the focus on this work?
Marcos Navarro Garcia (04:26):
Diversity, equity and inclusion, it really permeates everything we do. We serve clients who, in many cases, really are living on the margins of society. They’re coming to Aspire and sometimes their experiences are a result of these various systems that did not allow them to have adequate access to the resources they needed to prevent some of the illnesses we’re working with them to treat. For example, some of our addiction services. They’re dealing with that addiction because of numerous amount of factors, numerous amounts of barriers. They’ve had to face trauma. They didn’t have resources to take care of without resorting to addiction beforehand.
We’re doing the work. Our organization is doing the work of trying to meet our clients where they’re at and really help them take control of their life to the extent that’s possible. For us, we’re doing the work in a lot of ways. It’s just how can we label that? How can we talk about it and establish a common vocabulary and understanding that we are serving people who are in need? We should be proud of that. We shouldn’t try to politicize it. The term “woke” is being thrown around as some sort of insult. People get caught up in the weeds of other personal politics. They don’t realize you’re doing the work. You’re advocating for people who need it most.
For me, I think that’s really important about keeping that in front of mind. At Aspire, we are doing that work, and I’m really excited to help navigate this journey on just getting everyone to a place where they can be proud to say that we’re doing DEI work every day.
Dr. Gina Forrest (06:04):
I couldn’t agree more. If you think about an organization internally and externally, just what Marcos said, we are serving clients and participants, who being on that margin of society, whether it’s race, ethnicity, LGBTQ, whatever ailment they might have, how are we reaching them? We’re doing a pretty good job. But if you think internally, are we also doing a good job with our diversity, equity, and [inaudible 00:06:39]?
I think we’re fortunate to work at Aspire, and we’re fortunate that our CEO and the board felt that there was value in our roles, so we can actually take a strategic look at what are we doing internally to make sure all of our employees feel like we’re celebrating diversity, we’re embracing inclusivity, we’re embracing and living belonging as well. And then that will hopefully, of course, just have a trickle effect that if our internal folks are trained and have that understanding, they’re just going to increase how they treat the people that we’re serving.
So it’s just very important to our mission, vision, and values that we focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and that whole intercultural competency piece.
Amy C. Waninger (07:29):
It is so important, because when you’re dealing with healthcare, you don’t know who’s going to walk through your doors. These are extremely personal issues that people are dealing with. Their health, their mental health are very personal, but the lack of support, the structures, are systemic. And so when we fail to notice that we may treat this person in a clinic or in a hospital room, but we’re sending them out into a world that may not be supportive of them, that may not give them a soft place to land, that may not be physically safe for them, we’re not treating the whole patient. And I think it’s such an important thing to recognize and to invest in and to educate your employees about.
A lot of my clients are healthcare clients. We talk about people coming in are so vulnerable in a healthcare setting, they’re vulnerable just in general, but when they walk in, there’s such a difference in knowledge. There’s this huge knowledge gap. There’s a huge power gap. And that’s under the best of circumstances. When we think about if the dominance of your clientele aren’t in the margins or they’ve been pushed out of the central hubs of society, now we’re really getting into some important soul work and spirit work for the employees but also social justice work in the moment.
What have you done at Aspire? Is there one or two initiatives that really have moved the needle for you in terms of the work that you’re doing and marching forward with this message and bringing everybody on board?
Marcos Navarro Garcia (09:12):
Yeah. I’m really proud to say that a lot of that is the crux of what my team, so to speak, is doing. I work with a wonderful colleague named Tiffany. We make up the Employee Engagement and Experience team. This is a new department. It’s new to Aspire. Dr. Gina has also taken a really bold step forward with it because we’re not under HR. I think a lot of places you’ll see it’s a person or just an office under a wider HR scope. She’s taken us out of it because she wants our focus to solely be on the employees, on their experience. How engaged are they? I know in some organizations when you have these teams under HR, what ends up happening is a lot of us are HR generalists who focus on engagement 15 hours a week or so. No. Our focus full-time is the employee experience at Aspire Indiana.
Number one, I think it’s that. It’s re-envisioning how to structure an organization on the people side like that and really removing us from the HR functions. Number two, just to dive into some of the things our team is doing, we’re really proud to be partners with Culture Amp, proud customers of Culture Amp to implement employee engagement surveys, amongst other surveys that we’ll be distributing annually. But right now, we just closed our first engagement survey to have some meaningful data on how are our employees feeling? What is the everyday experience like at Aspire on both our clinical and non-clinical sides? It dives into so many aspects of our culture, whether leadership, management, communications.
We’re really excited. We have meetings coming up to really dive into those results and to develop some action plans on how to move forward. Because one thing we’ve been learning throughout this process is people don’t get survey fatigue; they get action fatigue, follow up fatigue. They’re like, “I’m tired of taking a survey, and then nothing is done with that data.” So we’re really proud that we are moving forward with that data to push our organization forward.
Part of the Employee Engagement and Experience team as well will be diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. We can call them resources, trainings. We’ll be offering trainings. We’ll be offering educational pieces. So really, again, spread that vocabulary, raise that consciousness in the organization about what does this look like in practice? What does it look like beyond the definitions? How do we actually interact with these ideas every day in our lives?
I would limit it to those two for now. We’re really moving the needle in terms of our culture at Aspire.
Dr. Gina Forrest (11:45):
I love that. Thank you so much, Marcos. You are right.
It’s an exciting time. I’ve been in my role since May. Marcos has been in his role since September. In this time, what we’ve been trying to do is understand the organization currently. What does that look like? What are the units, the departments, the offices? What does that look like from a structure point of view?
Then we’re on a listening tour right now. We’re actually meeting with every department to say, here we are. This is what you’ll see from us. So those listening tours are giving us that valuable information that we’ll be able to take, again, to tweak and to add to the programming that Marcos and his team, Marcos and Tiffany, will be able to create.
Another thing that we’re doing is a new department called Career Success. Again, we’ve moved that out of HR so we can have that focus on not only employee engagement and experience, but also on career success. So we’re taking a deep dive look at orientation and how orientation is so important, so you can have that new candidate that’s connected to the organization’s mission, vision, and values.
That team will also do some mapping for us as far as career development and career mapping. We know that studies show, and we’ll get to this I know, the younger millennials especially and the Gen Zs, they want to be able to say, “I’m hired in here at this level or at this position, but if I want to stay here for more than a year, where will I go? It doesn’t always have to be equated to a promotion or salary, but is there career opportunities for me?” So they’ll look at that.
Another thing that that team will do, we’re going to separate out, and we’re going to call it success with synergy, and actually spend time with our supervisors, our managers, our directors, talking about the soft skills. The soft skills also incorporate DEIB. How do you have that active listening? How are you bringing your empathy to that conversation?
One thing Marcos didn’t mention, which is amazing, is he’ll start a Communities of Connection, which is our employee resource groups. I can’t wait for him to get that going. Just, again, another layer of that connectivity piece for our employees to feel like, “You know what? I belong here.” That, yes, you’re doing a great job. 39 hours a week. You’re doing a wonderful job. This one hour; let me take that hour weekly or biweekly or monthly… I don’t know how we’re going to do it yet, but that one hour to say, “You know what? Let me be in my employee resource group or my communities of connection so I can have that bonding feeling.”
Yeah, I’ll stop there. Those are just a few of the things that we’re doing with his department, with another department. Again, just re-imagining what does HR look like? But let’s come out of some of those pieces so it can be highlighted on that same level so we can say that, “Yep, this is just as important as other functions because what is our greatest asset in any organization is our people?” And so to be able to really say it is, that’s why we have all these departments dedicated for the people and they’re touching the person at their whole life or their best self, and how can we help support that?
Amy C. Waninger (15:10):
That is beautiful. I want to commend you first of all on all the things because there was so much in there, but particularly on this notion of orientation and onboarding because so few companies get this right. It’s a shame because if you can make the first day, the first week, the first 90 days of employment a positive experience, where people are not wandering around wondering what they’re supposed to be doing, who they’re supposed to be talking to, what are the rules here, when they really understand not only are they hired, but they’re welcome and they’re invited and they’re cared for early on, that sets the tone for all of the things that happen afterward. And done well, that can really lead to amazing retention results. But done poorly, you’re going to have a revolving door of talent.
In the healthcare space, we are seeing tons of burnout among nurses, doctors, support staff, administrators. I have to imagine that strategically just that piece alone would be something that would make you very much more competitive for talent in the healthcare space in Indiana, than some of the other facilities around. Would you agree?
Dr. Gina Forrest (16:29):
I would agree, most definitely. We know that when you hire someone, when they leave, one of the biggest reasons that people will always give will be salary. It’s really easy to say, yeah, I left because of salary. But if you do a little digging and we have, why are you leaving, yeah, salary’s up there, but it’s not our number one. When you do the digging, it usually does come down to the people, the belonging, the education, the knowledge. Do I feel that I have the tools that I can do my job efficiently? Do I get along with my manager? Do I get along with my colleagues? Who do I turn to for help? What if I feel burnout?
Salary’s important, obviously, but we feel, and we’re trying to build that our competitive edge will be our culture in our organization. And it’s these pieces that we’re hoping to do that will set us apart, focusing on that person and focusing on all the DEI lenses of that person so they feel like they can bring their self to work in that authentic way.
Amy C. Waninger (17:39):
Thank you, Dr. Gina.
Marcos, I want to go back to this notion of not only are you doing employee engagement surveys, you’re also doing listening tours. A lot of companies will choose either a quantitative approach to understanding employee sentiment or a qualitative approach, which is the listening tours, to understanding employee sentiment, and then sometimes they’ll start with one and move to the other, but it sounds like you’re doing them both at the same time. Can you talk a little bit about what you feel like you’re learning by taking that approach that you might miss if you were only doing one or the other?
Marcos Navarro Garcia (18:15):
Yeah, of course. Storytelling is such a powerful tool. It is such a powerful tool for connection and understanding. We love our data that we’re getting from our engagement survey. It is so useful. Some feedback that we get from people when they’re taking these surveys are, I wish you would’ve asked me this, or there wasn’t really an appropriate place for me to share this story, and I really wanted to share it. And so when we’re doing these listening tours, we’re finding these stories.
We have a lot of employees that are like, “I’ve been here 15, 20, 25 years? No one’s asked me why I’ve stayed so long.” In these listening tours, we’re finding the reasons that people stay. We’re finding these deep connections that people have to their clients, the work that they do. Some of our employees started out as our clients, and that’s how they came to meet Aspire Indiana. As they went on their journey, they were eventually eligible for employment, and now they’re giving back and serving people who used to be in the position they were once in.
This listening tour is really allowing us to hear those stories, connect with people on those stories and factor them into our culture, because if our culture’s just numbers, it’s a little cold. It’s almost a little dehumanizing. And so integrating that qualitative approach keeps those stories alive and really embeds those in our culture. That’s one thing we’ve been finding is just it really helps us connect all the data together through stories.
Amy C. Waninger (19:44):
I absolutely love this approach. I’m curious, what results are you seeing? Dr. Gina, you said you’ve been there almost a year at the time of this conversation, Marcos, a little less than that. What kinds of results are you already seeing with the work you’re doing and what do you hope will come from this?
Dr. Gina Forrest (20:03):
What we’re seeing so far is just one, I would say from the listening tours, we’re learning just what Marcos said, which is the things that they didn’t know where to put it. Or who do I tell this to? Who would I share this with? Does this information go to my supervisor or what? It’s like we’re that neutral ground for them to tell us those stories. So that’s been really nice and enlightening.
We’ve been hearing positives and negatives. And let’s be real. That’s what’s going to happen. There’s positive and negative, and that’s okay. We need to be okay with hearing the negative just as much as we’re as okay as hearing the positive. We can’t change what we don’t know. We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge. So we want to hear it all.
From the quantitative survey, we haven’t dug into the results yet. It actually just closed a couple of days ago. But just glancing at it, I would say it’s pretty even with the qualitative data, which is we’ve got lots of great results of I love it here. I would never leave here. But then there’s the other pendulum, like, I’m not happy here. Here’s why. Again, not really any surprises, but I think what it will do is it’ll give us that now we know it. It’s not an opinion. It’s not a guess. Now we have it not only from quantitative, but we have it qualitative. And now let’s look at it. Let’s be transparent with the data. Let everyone know. And then what is our action from that?
I’m just excited about that piece. I’m excited about the front end, of course, the listening tours, but I’m more excited about actually seeing the data and then developing those strategies between Marcos’ team and maybe Career Success’ team to be able to say, “We heard you. We might be weak in this area now, but we’re going to strengthen it up because we heard you.” We don’t want to miss that opportunity by asking and then not doing action. We are going to do the action.
Amy C. Waninger (22:04):
One of my guests on this show previously, named James Thomas from Alaska Airlines, he had this quote that I love. He said, “Don’t just admire the data; do something with it.” I thought that was such a beautiful sentiment because, Marcos, as you were saying, when you survey people and nothing changes, they stop responding. And when you actually take the time to listen and put things into action short term, I always advise my clients do some short term quick wins so people can see traction, that’s what builds trust, but also have some strategic long-term plays so that you’re capitalizing on the momentum and your data will actually change over time. People will forget the quick wins after a while, but you need that traction to get going.
It sounds like you’re doing some amazing things. I know you’ve got ERGs or your Communities of Connection coming up. You’re doing a lot of training. What else is in the pipeline for you at Aspire?
Marcos Navarro Garcia (23:01):
Yeah, just a subulate on the ERGs. Thank you for bringing those up, Dr. Gina. We’re really excited about those.
One of the components we’re adding with the ERGs also too is we want to cultivate a space for allyship. We’re not exactly sure how it’ll look like yet. I do think a lot of times there are people who really want to go on a DEI journey, so to speak, and they just want a space for that and maybe they don’t feel it’s appropriate to join an identity focused ERG as an ally. If they’re not really sure how to really walk into that space, respectfully, mindfully, intentionally, they don’t know where to begin.
So we’re really excited that we’re going to implement that component as well, and we’re thinking about making it even more specific. Especially when you focus about race, I think there’s a lot of white people who would like to be allies. They grew up being taught, don’t talk about that. If we just stopped talking about it, maybe it wouldn’t be an issue. They’re realizing that it’s not a feasible solution, but they don’t know where to begin. How do you talk about race in a culturally competent way?
Or what actually happened? I grew up being taught that this happened, and now we have people in the 1619 Project, for example, that are pushing us to really reimagine how we look at race relations in America and the origin of it. For us, we’re thinking about also specifying it with the group focused on that, focused on teaching our white colleagues how to talk about race if they don’t know how to already. Whereas the allyship group would really be for everyone. For example, maybe there’s a person of color in our organization who wants to be an ally to LGBTQ folks. They don’t have LGBTQ friends, or there’s no one in their family that they know of, and they want to know how to begin.
So we’re really excited about those components to it as well. Because even though I think ERGs are to build a more inclusive culture, that’s the premise, I understand that there’s a hesitation to join if you’re not part of that membership. So we want to really create a way to address that hesitation and then hopefully get rid of it. Hopefully, as a result of these programs, people are like, “You know what? Yes, I do feel comfortable going to these events. I do want to support. And now I know how to. I have a toolkit. I’ve had those conversations, asked questions that felt awkward.”
That’s another thing we’re doing is that we want to build a space where, yes, you can ask questions. Yes, you can walk in not knowing. Let’s just have some intention behind it. Let’s be willing to learn and willing to grow even through the growing pains, to get us to a place where everyone can feel like they belong in our organization.
Amy C. Waninger (25:36):
I am so excited for your employees. I am even more excited for your clients and patients because what you are building is going to give them a world-class healthcare experience that they are probably not accustomed to. I think this is phenomenal work across the board. I am so glad that you are here in my community doing this work. I’m an Indiana native and I live here. I am so grateful for your time and for you sharing your talents and your insights with my audience today. Thank you.
Marcos Navarro Garcia (26:15):
Thank you so much for having us. It’s been a pleasure. Make sure to follow us via Indiana Health. We’re on all social media platforms. This is on LinkedIn, so make sure to follow us. Keep up with what we’re doing because our Marketing Communications team is just as impressive as we are; if we have to pat ourselves on the back.
Dr. Gina Forrest (26:32):
I love that, Marcos. Yes, definitely. Our Marketing Communications team, they’ve won lots of national awards, so I’m proud that they’re with us as well. Thank you, Amy, for this time and for allowing us to share what we’re doing at Aspire Indiana. And any other time you want us back to talk about us, we’ll definitely be there. Or any other topic as far as DEIB, we are happy to do so from the lens of whatever, from my identity lens, from Marcos’, just to get that comparison or anything. We’re happy to be here, and thank you. Thank you everyone for listening as well.
Amy C. Waninger (27:07):
Thank you so much. We’ll have all the links in the show notes.
Voiceover Announcer (27:12):
If you’ve enjoyed this episode, follow Lead at Any Level on LinkedIn and YouTube. Then join us for Including You video simulcast every Thursday at noon Eastern. Including You can also be enjoyed each week as part of the Living Corporate Audio Podcast Series available on all major podcast platforms. Learn more at living-corporate.com.
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Amy C. Waninger (27:57):
That’s it for this week’s episode of Including You. Join me next week when my guest will be Errol Pierre, author of, The Way Up: Climbing the Corporate Mountain as a Professional of Color.