Linda Matzigkeit | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND

A Happy, Healthy Workplace

By Karen Rosen

Linda Matzigkeit never runs away from challenges. She runs straight toward them.

And she’s pretty fast, too.

“Come up with something that people say, ‘You cannot accomplish that,’” Matzigkeit says. “I love that! I live that!”

Charged with changing the culture at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Matzigkeit ushered the pediatric hospital system onto Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, where it has stayed for eight straight years.

But Matzigkeit, now the Chief Administrative Officer, wasn’t content to just make Children’s a happier workplace; she was determined to make it a healthier one, too.

Matzigkeit leads the Strong4Life employee wellness program by example.

During a meeting last year with her 250-member division, Matzigkeit asked who was participating in the KP Corporate Run/Walk. Only a few hands went up.

“I said, “Come on, we can do better than that,’” recalls Matzigkeit, an avid runner and tri-athlete who has completed two marathons and numerous triathlons. “I then said, ‘I will give anybody in this room $100 out of my own pocket if you can beat me.’”

Although Matzigkeit quickly realized she could end up forking over a lot of money, “I decided I’m going to go for it,” she says. “I trained hard, hard, hard.”

Only two people in her division beat her.

“I like to kind of throw out crazy things at times,” Matzigkeit says, “but then I follow up on it.”

The programs and strategies she’s instituted at Children’s are a model of work/life success and wellness that other companies -- both within Atlanta and across the nation -- are increasingly trying to emulate. Representatives from hospitals and other industries have come to Children’s for a first-hand look.

Matzigkeit is also accustomed to callers asking her, “How do you get on Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list?”

“My response is always, ‘That’s the wrong question,’” says Matzigkeit. “The question you need to ask is, ‘How do we become a great place to work?’”

That was the challenge facing Matzigkeit in January 2003 when she joined Children’s, the largest pediatric healthcare provider in the country.

Former CEO James Tally “wanted to hang his legacy on that, and that was an awesome responsibility,” says Matzigkeit, who started out as a senior vice president in Human Resources. “I knew it was big, but that’s kind of what I’m known for:  ‘Dream big, then make it happen.’”

Three years later, Children’s appeared on Fortune’s list for the first time. When Matzigkeit told Tally, he drove to her house to personally thank her.

“He said it’s one of the greatest moments of his career.”  Matzigkeit says. “It wasn’t that he was going for that (Fortune list), which I loved. Because I told him, ‘Let’s not go for that. Let’s go for being a good place to work and then we will determine what awards we will apply for once we’re there.’”

Tally retired in 2008 and was succeeded by former COO Donna Hyland.

Matzigkeit acknowledges that Tally, “took a big risk” on her, since she was a consultant who had never been an executive. But Matzigkeit had a reputation for thinking out of the box. With the industry facing a nursing shortage and the Children’s board asking him what he was going to do about it, Tally needed a plan. And he needed a partner to help him deliver on his vision.

They crafted their strategy for transforming the culture at Children’s during their very first meeting, before Matzigkeit was even hired.

“The first thing that we did was we said, ‘Who do we want to be as an employer? What do we want to be known for?’” Matzigkeit says.

They then asked employees, “What does it look like when we’re the greatest place to work ever?” Using crayons, the employees drew pictures of what this meant to them. The illustrations provided unbelievable insight into what employees really wanted from Children's.

The result was an employee value proposition, which they asked all employees to sign.

“We said, ‘We promise to offer you these things that you’ve said would make this the greatest place to work ever,’” says Matzigkeit. “In exchange, from you we need excellence. Parents put extraordinary trust in us; we cannot let them down.

“We believe children are a higher calling, so we want you to believe that.”

The proposition included:

  1. Mutual respect
  2. Work/life success
  3. Total rewards -- which is compensation, benefits and recognition (including thank you notes, gifts and celebrations)
  4. Continuous learning and development

As part of the transformation, Children’s outlined leadership expectations and created a leadership development program to underscore the new philosophy.

“Initially,” Matzigkeit says, “there were some leaders that said,’ I’m not going to write note cards to employees. I don’t want to sign up for that. I’m just going to try to do my job.’ So we did have some resistance from leaders. We told them, ‘This is our new direction and we need you to embrace our people.’”

Some leaders left. The rest understood that in light of the nursing shortage, our focus on people was not optional.

“It’s not a hard sell when you’re trying to make the organization great,” Matzigkeit says.

Matzigkeit restructured Human Resources to make it a people-focused organization and brought corporate communications into HR. Among many things, she and her team developed consistent internal branding and started an award-winning magazine.

When Matzigkeit joined Children’s in 2003, there were about 5,400 employees. That number has grown to 8,400 at 20 neighborhood locations and three hospitals in the metro area.

Retention is at 92 percent, which is world-class in healthcare, while engagement is close to 90 percent, which is benchmark across all industries.

With 80 percent of its staff women, including 64 percent who are working moms, Children’s was seeing only about 60 percent return from maternity leave.

Matzigkeit led an effort called “Great Expectations,” which are essentially quarterly baby showers, which she kicks off by saying, “We want you to come back.” Expectant moms and dads attend to receive important information about benefits, child care, and receive unique logo wear like Children's branded onesies.

Now more than 90 percent return.

Once they do, Children’s offers backup daycare, sending someone to the employee’s home for $6 an hour if their regular provider can’t come. “I’ve used it,” Matzigkeit says.

In response to these efforts, Working Mother magazine has named Children's as one of the "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers for eight consecutive years."

Employees who reach their 15th anniversary are invited to a gala event at a local hotel ballroom. If they’ve been there 35 years or more, they also get a day at the spa and a limo.

Once Children’s landed on the Fortune list, there was a huge spike in applications. Matzigkeit said about 80,000 applications will be submitted this year, but only about 1,300 will be hired.

By 2008, Matzigkeit says, employee engagement and retention was where she wanted them to be. “We were just as high as you could go. Then the problem is, ‘How do you hold it?’”

One solution was making a huge investment in employee wellness. Board members had hinted, “You’re not the picture of health over there at those hospitals. If you’re going to go out and be role models in the community for kids, don’t you need to look inside?”

In July 2008, Children’s launched Strong4Life, a name shared by its employee wellness program and its community outreach efforts.

“I would say that we have one of the top employee wellness programs in the country,” Matzigkeit says, “because we monitor and measure and we’ve shown improvement, but also because of the unbelievable support.”

Knowing that caregivers are typically not so great at taking care of themselves because they are taking care of others, Children’s gave them the confidence and tools to do it.

When new employees walk in the door, they receive their health metrics, a pedometer and find out about the gyms, walking trails, nutritionists and trainers available.

Matzigkeit changed the food- focused celebration culture, replacing ice cream and cake with healthier snacks like fruit popsicles.”It was a very hard cultural push,” she says. She also pushed for healthier food in the cafeterias and in vending machines.

Every other Friday, employees can pick up a basket of fruits and vegetables for $15.

Children’s employees have lost more than 60,000 pounds since 2008, and more than 25 people lost more than 100 pounds apiece. They’ve also walked about 5 billion steps.

Children’s stopped hiring smokers in 2011, which increased productivity by eliminating smoke breaks and avoids the cost of smokers to employees each year.

And because employees are healthier, last year Children’s did not have to raise insurance premiums.

As she began instituting the changes, Matzigkeit knew she was being watched. “If they have a brownie, people still love to say, ‘You’d better look out, here comes Linda,” she says. “But it’s OK. I love it.”

She realized that if she was going to lead the effort, “I need to be the ultimate role model.”

At the press conference announcing the Aflac Iron Girl triathlon which benefitted the Aflac Cancer Center of Children's, Matzigkeit impulsively stood up and said she would do the event. ”I didn’t even own a bike,” she says.

She was able to get 200 women to participate that year, followed by 250 the following year. Matzigkeit, who is now training for the Chicago Triathlon, is constantly looking for “the next big thing that I’m going to get a bunch of people from Children’s engaged in. People get bored with wellness programs, so you’ve got to continue to innovate.”

Outside its own workforce, Children’s is focused on the Strong4Life movement to reduce childhood obesity and is partnering with the Georgia Department of Public Health and with Gov. Nathan Deal on these efforts.

Last year, Children’s received 2 billion media impressions with a very provocative, edgy ad campaign which received attention around the globe. Matzigkeit appeared on ABC’s World News Tonight and was named one of Atlanta Magazine’s “Ground Breakers.”

Children’s also touched 300,000 kids at schools and camps.

“Hopefully I’m inspiring and helping people to live a long, healthy life,” Matzigkeit says. “And that’s the legacy that I want to leave – that I have helped people learn how to eat right, exercise and make it just part of your life.”

Her “next big idea,” which she’s working on now, is helping moms who want to get back into the workforce. Matzigkeit is trying to find a way for them “to bridge back in” and get experience, with a start date hopefully this fall.

“Nobody knows how the heck we’re going to do it,” Matzigkeit says.

No doubt, she’ll figure it out.

Growing up in Champaign, Ill., Matzigkeit became interested in healthcare after hearing a pharmacist speak during a seventh grade career day.

Although she initially began college as a pharmacy major, Matzigkeit switched to healthcare administration, which had fewer chemical and more human interactions.

“At that time I wanted to be a hospital CEO,” Matzigkeit says. “Imagine my surprise when there were no jobs for CEOs for people who were just graduating from college.”

She earned an MBA with a focus on human resources and moved to Atlanta, where she got a job  in human resources before working for two years with a home healthcare company.

Hewitt Associates recruited Matzigkeit for healthcare, but then assigned her to work with large Fortune 500 clients. In 10 years with Hewitt, Matzigkeit learned the importance of collaboration, symbolized today by the white board in her office, customer service, and excellence.

When she got tired of missing her son’s “firsts, first words, first food,” Matzigkeit was open to a job that required less travel. That’s when a friend told her about Children’s.

Matzigkeit quickly moved up within the company. After starting with Human Resources and Internal Communications in 2003, she took on customer service in 2005, and four years later added strategy and child wellness efforts. Then in January 2012, Matzigkeit became the chief administrative officer and began to also oversee marketing, communications, legal and compliance.

Despite the workload, she maintains a healthy work-life focus and doesn’t miss any of 12-year-old son Grant’s baseball, basketball or football games.

Her son loves the fact that she works at Children's and he loves to say "Mom, when are you going to be president?" Matzigkeit smiles and says, "Anything is possible".

“I love my job. I feel like I still have opportunity to grow and do big things. For now, I just feel blessed. Honestly, even though I started out thinking I wanted to be the CEO, I think in reality I’m amazed at where I am.

“I have the best job in the company.”


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