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Healthcare Operations, Workplace Wellbeing & “Daring Greatly” in FM Leadership

Jill Johnson, FACHE is Vice President of Operations at MedStar Harbor Hospital and Regional Vice President of Behavioral Health at MedStar Health where she is a key architect of strategies that define the hospital’s growth and drive its journey from good to great. Mike Petrusky asks Jill about her career experiences, her passion for healthcare … Continue reading "Healthcare Operations, Workplace Wellbeing & “Daring Greatly” in FM Leadership"

Healthcare Operations, Workplace Wellbeing & “Daring Greatly” in FM Leadership

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Jill Johnson, FACHE is Vice President of Operations at MedStar Harbor Hospital and Regional Vice President of Behavioral Health at MedStar Health where she is a key architect of strategies that define the hospital’s growth and drive its journey from good to great. Mike Petrusky asks Jill about her career experiences, her passion for healthcare and her desire to make a difference in the lives of the people in her community. Building a culture of caring in the workplace is essential for innovation, productivity, and success in not just the world of healthcare, but in all industries. Jill and Mike share real-world stories about leadership that will inspire you to be a workplace innovator in your organization!

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Read the full transcript:

Mike Petrusky (00:02):

Hi everyone. Mike P. here, and I have two big announcements for you. First. I am thrilled to tell you that we have just launched a new website to serve as the home of this podcast. You can check it out now at There, you will find not only the latest episode of the show, but a link to our complete searchable archive of interviews. Plus, the new site has available for free download research reports and white papers about the latest industry trends and available technologies.

            Also, I’m excited to announce that registration is open for the annual iOffice User Conference. Our Summit 2020 will take place April 14th to 16th, and I really hope you will plan to join me there. We will bring the future to life with amazing speakers, educational content, and you’ll have the chance to interact with our community forward thinking workplace leaders. So join us in Vegas baby, Vegas, where you will be inspired to create connected workplace experiences for your organization.

Jill Johnson (01:05):

That environment helps the patient heal, it also helps our associates. If you’re treated well during your workday, you’re going to be more focused. You’re going to be more productive. So that built environment has a lot to do with that.

Mike Petrusky (01:21):

This is the Workplace Innovator Podcast, where we talk with corporate real estate and facility management leaders about the industry trends and technologies impacting your organization. This show is powered by iOffice, the leading employee experience focused IWMS Software that delivers real-time data and mobile tools to help you intelligently manage your digital workplace.

            Hey everyone and welcome to the show. I’m your host Mike Petrusky, and this is episode 95 of the Workplace Innovator Podcast. And we’ve got a great one for you today folks. My guest is Jill Johnson, the Vice President of Operations for MedStar Harbor Hospital, which is a member of MedStar Health, the largest healthcare provider here in the Maryland and Washington D.C. region. She also serves as MedStar’s Regional Vice President for behavioral health.

            And I talked with Jill about her career journey, which has been highlighted of course, by her expertise in operations and strategy and planning. But we also discussed her passion for healthcare and her desire to make a difference, is really what this show is all about. And I just know, regardless of the role you currently have, you will be inspired as I was by Jill’s inspirational leadership and her real world stories. So let’s get to it.

            The Workplace Innovator is on location at MedStar Harbor Hospital here in Baltimore, Maryland. And I am thrilled to welcome my guest today, the VP of Operations, Jill Johnson. Welcome, Jill.

Jill Johnson (02:56):

Thank you. Wonderful to be with you and welcome to MedStar Harbor.

Mike Petrusky (02:59):

Good to see you again.

Jill Johnson (03:01):

It’s been awhile.

Mike Petrusky (03:02):

It has. We met last year at a facility management conference in Washington, D.C. I had the privilege of moderating this amazing panel discussion about women in facility management, and you were part of that. And it was a really interesting time, went by way too fast.

Jill Johnson (03:02):

It did.

Mike Petrusky (03:20):

It was like a 20 or 30 minute panel. But what do you remember from that day?

Jill Johnson (03:24):

I remember the juxtaposition, it was an all women’s panel and a mostly male audience, which is kind of the story I think of all of our lives. There’s just not a lot of women in leadership in general. Particularly in healthcare, outside of nursing, and particularly in operations, so it tends to be a more masculine field. And I remember we had a great rapport and I think I made you laugh a few times, which is why you said, “Let’s get you on the podcast,” which I’ve been looking forward to.

Mike Petrusky (03:52):

I loved your personality that day and I knew you’d be a great guest. I think my audience will really benefit from hearing from you too. And you know I like to start on the show Jill, by getting to know the personal side of my guests. So can you share with me your favorite kind of music?

Jill Johnson (04:07):

So I love music that tells stories.

Mike Petrusky (04:09):


Jill Johnson (04:10):

And I’ll totally say something about my age, in that I like Garth Brooks.

Mike Petrusky (04:15):

All right.

Jill Johnson (04:16):

Before he kind of went off the rails and did the Chris Gaines thing and [crosstalk 00:04:21] took his hiatus, which I respect. He took a long hiatus to raise his family.

Mike Petrusky (04:26):

Right. He’s back now, right?

Jill Johnson (04:29):

Yes. He’s back in full force and out there.

Mike Petrusky (04:33):

Touring again.

Jill Johnson (04:33):

Touring again. But back when I was in high school and college, there were a few songs that came out that spoke to me and they all have the same theme. It was about kind of getting into life, getting off the sidelines and just trying. Probably my favorite one is, How You Ever Gonna Know?

Mike Petrusky (04:52):

I know it, but what’s it about?

Jill Johnson (04:55):

The theme of that is how are you ever going to know if you don’t try? So even though you’re told you won’t be able to do it, it’s way out of your league.

Mike Petrusky (05:04):


Jill Johnson (05:04):

How are you ever going to know if you don’t give it your best shot? You may fail, you may succeed, but don’t go through life with a what if; just give it a shot. And that has been kind of the underlying theme for my whole career.

Mike Petrusky (05:18):

That’s fantastic. Wow. Awesome. Do you want to sing some Garth Brooks? [singing 00:05:24]. That’s all I know; Garth. We do like to help people face their fears and inspire my audience. So with that in mind, do you have a favorite motivational quote you could share with us?

Jill Johnson (05:45):

It’s one that’s I think a lot of people know, Theodore Roosevelt, quote about kind of that same theme, of being in the arena and not having the influence of others who sit on the sideline judging you, be what keeps you from acting.

Mike Petrusky (06:03):

It’s the Brene Brown, famous; she made it famous?

Jill Johnson (06:05):

It is, indeed. And actually my wife built an entire consulting company called Any Arena Consulting around that quote, because it’s very much a theme that she and I live by.

Mike Petrusky (06:17):

Do you know what off the top of your head? I know Brene Brown can quote it.

Jill Johnson (06:21):

I have it, I’m not as cool as she is.

Mike Petrusky (06:25):

Is it dare greatly or something.

Jill Johnson (06:27):

Daring Greatly is her book. You know what, I’ll do my best. It’s not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who’s actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.

            But who does actually strive to do the deeds? Who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in the worthy cause. Who at the best knows in the end, the triumph of high achievement. And who at the worst, if he fails at least fails while daring greatly.

Mike Petrusky (07:10):

There it is very nice. Thank you. Speaking of great leaders and great quotes, do you have a favorite book or leader that has influenced your career?

Jill Johnson (07:20):

Early in my career before I got into healthcare, I worked at Lucent Technologies back when Carly Fiorina was named the most powerful woman in business.

Mike Petrusky (07:29):

Oh. Is this before her HP time?

Jill Johnson (07:31):

It was before, it was when she was working at Lucent, right before she left. And I was a campus manager, so my role for Lucent was to travel the country, looking for the best and brightest and offer them jobs as scientists and leaders. So she was speaking at MIT and I had to be her handler for the day.

Mike Petrusky (07:52):

Really? Wow.

Jill Johnson (07:52):

Which was fantastic.

Mike Petrusky (07:53):


Jill Johnson (07:54):

And I decided to dare greatly, and I followed her into the restroom before she had to give a speech. And while we’re washing our hands, I asked her if it would be okay if I traveled to the airport with her to just get time with her to ask questions. And she took a little moment, she said, “Yeah, absolutely.”

Mike Petrusky (08:14):


Jill Johnson (08:15):

So I took that chance and I rode to her private jet in an airfield somewhere outside of Boston. And I just had an hour with the woman-

Mike Petrusky (08:24):

Just one-on-one?

Jill Johnson (08:25):

One-on-one. And she was absolutely fabulous and gracious. And we talked about work life balance and how she got where she is, what she would do differently. And she gave me just so much time and kindness and said, “Keep going. If you have the stones to ask me to drive to the airport, just to get time with me, you’re going to go far.”

            So I’ve watched her career; some, I agree with, some I don’t. But what I appreciate-

Mike Petrusky (08:53):

Future candidate, amazing leader, yeah.

Jill Johnson (08:55):

She gave it a try. She put herself out there to stand up for something that she believed in personally. And she gave it her best shot. She hasn’t always been successful, but she keeps trying. And that I truly appreciate. And I’ve had that in mentors, my whole career. I look for people that dare greatly that say, “You know what, you may not think I’m going to make it, but I’m going to do it anyway.”

            And that has been kind of a central tenant for me as I don’t give up, and I do the things often that other people won’t do. The projects that may not be sexy or super interesting, that will most likely fail, I’ll take them on. Because that’s where you make or break your career, not on the easy stuff.

Mike Petrusky (09:37):

Wow, fantastic. Now there you go folks, inspiration overload. I’m really thrilled for you to share the stories. And let’s talk more about this career of yours in the world of operations, and maintenance and facility management. And here in the healthcare setting, I don’t get this perspective often on the show, because we tend to talk about folks in the world of corporate real estate and the office, but the built environment is what it is, wherever you are, and people are people. The occupants of this facility have expectations and needs and want to be cared for and have an experience as they enter this campus.

            Well, tell me more about the role you play here and about your role as VP of Operations. That can mean a lot of things, depending on the setting and the organization. What is it you do here?

Jill Johnson (10:26):

So all physical plant components, so operations, as it relates to environmental services, food and nutrition, clinical engineering, the lab, the pharmacy. If you’re not a physician or a nurse, you’re in my portfolio.

Mike Petrusky (10:41):


Jill Johnson (10:42):

So I have a team of directors, each in charge of a different component of the physical plant and, or an ancillary service division, like the lab or pharmacy or imaging.

Mike Petrusky (10:51):


Jill Johnson (10:52):

So they’re all experts in their own right. And when I call them an interdisciplinary team, people say, “Well, how could a pharmacist and your Director of EVS Services consider themselves a team, right? They do such different work.” But what I say is, they have very different skill sets, but the same common goal, which is to provide an environment that supports health and growth and wellness. So they can often help each other, even though they don’t have the same technical background, but they have the same mission and vision for what they do every day.

            So we have a relatively small campus compared to MedStar Georgetown, MedStar Washington Hospital Center, that are exponentially larger. But we’re also unique in that we sit on the waterfront, so we have a particularly respectful environmental bend to everything that we do on this campus.

Mike Petrusky (11:46):

Sure, yeah. I want to ask you about the new year, 2020 and a new decade. What gets you most excited as a leader in the world of operations going forward into this new year?

Jill Johnson (11:57):

Well, I think the main thing that we talk about all the time is innovation. And not just innovation for innovation’s sake, but having it be purposeful, and using the new technology that we have at our fingertips to make lives better, not just more hectic. We’re in healthcare. There is a glut of information, there’s data around every bend. So that’s not the issue, we can collect data on anything. Your wearable is sending your information on your heart rate and everything else. So that’s a clinical example, but we have the same on the operation side. Every system that we put in has 15 computers attached to it that are sending information that frankly, we don’t necessarily know what to do with yet. So I think that’s going to be, what are the next 10 years going to be about. It’s, what do we do with that data to turn it into something that we can actually make actionable and improve our lives?

            So looking at cost reduction, that’s the name of the game for all of us, particularly in healthcare bending that cost curve. How do we do more with less and try to take out some of the unnecessary costs from the system. And that’s often what we have to do in operations. How can I lower our utility bills? How can I lower my cost per square foot, so that we can focus some more of our dollars on clinical care? Doing things in a less expensive way without compromising quality.

Mike Petrusky (13:20):

Excellent. And that reminds me of the event we participated in last year for the Mid Atlantic Hospital and Facility Summit. Shout out to Glen Fisher, thanks for putting us together on that panel. Do you participate in associations like that, organizations where you can come together with fellow practitioners that are in a similar situation, a similar role? I know there’s ASHE, that’s more of a healthcare focused facility management and operations group. Where do you go? How do you find the latest innovations and technologies, and really stay on top of this curve you mentioned here in this age of acceleration?

Jill Johnson (13:57):

There’s a glut of information out there. My facility’s director, Bob Decker, who’s just a fabulous human being, was the former president of ASHE.

Mike Petrusky (14:07):

Oh, excellent.

Jill Johnson (14:08):

And he brings a ton of information my way. MedStar is a large organization, so we have a nice internal network where we share data and information. I’m a fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives. So that is another way that I can kind of stay current. I’m still getting magazines, believe it or not. I hate to admit that, but-

Mike Petrusky (14:29):

Print magazines, all right.

Jill Johnson (14:30):

I still get a few. There’s a pile of them over there on my desk.

Mike Petrusky (14:33):

Veteran of the printing world. So that’s nice to hear.

Jill Johnson (14:35):

It’s still nice to sit with a cup of coffee on a Sunday and flip through your trade journals and stay current. Stu Levine, our president does the same thing. We laugh at each other because we’ll actually trade paper copies of the Harvard Business Review and dog ear them for each other.

            So particularly around this time of year, when you’re talking about kind of, what do you do at the beginning of the year to kind of level set your expectations, it’s budget time.

Mike Petrusky (15:01):


Jill Johnson (15:01):

When I’m looking at capital and what our expenditures need to be, what our re-investments need to be, I’ll often go to those trade journals and look for new ideas. What are my competitors doing? What are my strategic partners doing? And in this industry, particularly when you’re looking at an out of market colleague, we’re very good at picking up the phone and talking to each other. Which, I think in this kind of digital age can be lost. We count so much on sending an email or a Twitter feed, that we forget to pick up the phone sometimes and really connect with people like we’re doing right now. And it makes a big difference when you can actually look somebody in the eye and say, “How did you build this? What would you do differently? How can I learn from it?”

            And we often host folks from other companies, particularly on our behavioral health unit, which we built a few years ago, and we did it in a bit of an innovative way. So I host folks all the time that want to come and see what we did and how we built it, that’s different in a best practice.

Mike Petrusky (16:06):

Obviously, technology has impacted us all, all generations, but the younger folks coming into the workforce, maybe have some different expectations than some of the more seasoned employees we deal with. What are your thoughts on culture? Is that something you get involved with, or is that strictly an HR problem?

Jill Johnson (16:22):

Oh, culture is a central component of everything that we do. As a strategist, the first thing you learn is that culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So you can have the best laid plan, but if you don’t have the culture to make it successful, it will absolutely fail. And culture starts with leadership.

            So in any organization, you’re setting the tone from the executive office. So that is critically important, particularly in healthcare environment. If you are putting forward a patient first mantra, that is where everybody’s head goes and MedStar just changed its tagline, if you will, to, It’s How You Treat People.

Mike Petrusky (16:22):

I like that.

Jill Johnson (17:06):

I love it.

Mike Petrusky (17:06):


Jill Johnson (17:07):

It can be used against you, right?

Mike Petrusky (17:07):

For not living up to it, sure.

Jill Johnson (17:10):

If you’re not living up to it. So I think it’s an inspirational step forward for us. And when I think about the physical plant here, the lived environment, that’s in the back of my mind, it’s how you treat people. How would you want to be treated? And as we’re rounding, one of the things I started doing about nine months ago, when I do a room inspection, when it’s just been turned over and cleaned, I’ll go in and I’ll bring whatever associates are nearby. And I’ll ask, “What makes you proud about this room? What makes you embarrassed about this room?”

            Trying to change the lens, that kind of flips the perspective, because we get so caught up in turnover. How do we get people into that bed quickly? How do we care for them? How do we get them treated? How do we get them discharged in an efficient and effective manner? And we forget that the experience is important as well. That environment helps the patient heal. It also helps our associates.

            If you’re treated well during your Workday, you’re going to be more focused, you’re going to be more productive. So that built environment has a lot to do with that. What does the break room look like? What does the patient’s room look like? And how do you feel when you’re in it? It can make a world of difference. So that culture of caring is pervasive.

            And that mantra of, It’s How We Treat People, it really gives you the answer. Why should we do this? Well, it’s how we treat people. How would you want to be treated if you were in that room? How would you want to be treated if you couldn’t get your results quickly or your computer to work, which I think is a common struggle for every human right now is, is balancing, how do we use that technology, but still stay connected?

Mike Petrusky (18:56):

Well, that’s great stuff. This has been inspirational. Jill, I can’t begin to thank you enough for being on the Workplace Innovator Podcast.

Jill Johnson (19:05):

My pleasure. Thanks for having me

Mike Petrusky (19:07):

There you have it, everyone. Jill Johnson sharing some amazing inspiration for our Workplace Innovator community. Leadership, no matter what role you have, what industry you’re in, it really comes down to serving the people around you. And I really hope that you enjoyed that conversation as much as I did.

            Thank you, Jill, for being on the podcast and thank you for listening to this show each and every week. Please, if you’re getting something of value from it, share it with a friend. And also, I invite you to visit, connect with me there, send me a note, drop a review at Apple Podcasts. Whatever you can do to spread the word, is really appreciated. As we continue each and every week to encourage and inspire you to be a Workplace Innovator. Peace out.

            You’ve been listening to the Workplace Innovator Podcast. I hope you found this discussion beneficial as we work together to build partnerships that lead to innovative workplace solutions. For more information about how iOffice can help you create an employee centric workspace, by delivering digital technology that enhances the employee experience, visit


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As the host of both the Workplace Innovator Podcast and the Asset Champion Podcast, Mike's role at Eptura is to share thought leadership with CRE, FM, and IT leaders in the digital and hybrid workplace. As an in-demand public speaker, Mike engages audiences with his focus on the human element of workplace and facility management at International Facility Management Association, CoreNet, and other industry events.

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