thraen financial action making the hard calls header
How to Make Hard Financial Decisions with Your Team
System leaders Iona Thraen, Jake Van Epps, Ischa Jensen, and Clint Reid provide guidance for frontline leaders to make the hard financial calls a little easier.

ow we talk (or don’t talk) about financial decisions is important. We can choose to emphasize teamwork, creativity, and sustainability, or we can contribute to a sense of unease and worry. When it feels like it’s tough to make a financial decision that impacts the team, that’s exactly the time to include the team, not shy away from the conversation.

We’ve developed U of U Health’s Financial Action Plan to guide decision-making at the local level. Don’t feel like you need to make decisions alone; take the opportunity to build trust through transparency by including your team to find solutions that align with our values of people-centered care.

Start by understanding the goal of the Financial Action Plan

The goal of a financial action plan is not budget cuts—it’s to find creative solutions to improve quality while reducing costs. It is a multi-year initiative that cultivates opportunities for future growth. We aim to accomplish this by:

  • Increasing patient throughput
  • Boosting our net revenue generation
  • Reducing costs through enhanced operational efficiencies

Above all, we want to ensure that you, our leaders, feel confident in navigating these conversations with your employees. We’re here to support you every step of the way.

How to make hard financial calls easier

Financial health can be a sensitive subject. Often, our gut reaction is to assume that our department will shoulder the burden. In reality, the majority of our departments won’t be impacted at all.

Remember—this is not a top-down initiative. We’re relying on our employees’ feedback to help us find cost-saving strategies. As a team leader, you know your department best. One of the easiest ways to show your team that they are valued is by including them in the decision-making process.

Here are four ways you can empower your team to be part of the solution:

1. Get the team’s input.

You may feel obligated to take complete responsibility and make tough calls on behalf of your team. While you will ultimately make the final decision, involving employees in the process builds morale and helps them feel more invested in their organization’s success.

Nothing fuels rumors faster than secrecy, so remember to use transparent communication. Give your team a head’s up before your discussion so they can process the information and gather their thoughts.

Begin by listening to their questions and concerns and then open the floor to suggestions. By encouraging participatory management, or engaging staff in organizational decision-making, we hope to inspire trust and collaboration.

2. Identify the organization and team’s non-negotiables.

Work with your employees to identify what’s essential to your team. This may include quality care, patient safety, experience or staff morale. Once you’ve recognized those non-negotiables, cost-saving measures will likely become more apparent to everyone.

Reaching these decisions together can shift the perception of “This is being done to us” to “This is something we can do to help.”

3. Make a business case. 

One of the greatest challenges we face is making decisions that are focused on patient safety and quality of care, while also recognizing the constraints of the business environment. Instead of viewing this situation through the lens of “cutting costs,” encourage your team to embrace a “savings” mindset.

Improving our organization’s financial health is much like trying to improve our own personal well-being. Drastic changes may yield rapid results, but they aren’t sustainable. We need to identify healthy, maintainable cost-saving strategies to ensure our company’s long-term success.

4. Prepare for an emotional response. 

Keep in mind that people react differently when faced with obstacles. While some feel energized and optimistic, others may experience apprehension or discouragement. Be prepared to help your employees process their emotions before empowering them to be part of the solution.

Ultimately, University of Utah Health will always prioritize our employees and patients. Your input has the power to shape the future of our organization. Over the next few years, we look forward to working with you and your team to address these short-term challenges and build sustainable solutions.


Iona Thraen

Director, Patient Safety, University of Utah Health

Jake Van Epps

Associate Director, Resiliency Center, University of Utah Health

Ischa Jensen

Associate Executive Director, System Planning, University of Utah Health

Clint Reid

Associate Executive Director, Finance, University of Utah Health

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