The Power of Empathy

April Anthony understands that she can’t control the environment in which her employees work, but she can create a company that acknowledges and appreciates their victories, big and small

An Encompass home-health professional takes the blood pressure of a patient.

After leaving the audit division at what would eventually become PricewaterhouseCoopers, April Anthony received four job offers and decided to take the one that made no sense: a controller position with a home health-care company, an industry in which she had no experience. When one of the company’s subsidiaries was experiencing significant challenges and had no buyers in sight, Anthony asked the owner if she could step into the losses. There was one catch: if she was able to make up the losses by the end of the year, she would be given the subsidiary for free. And if she couldn’t turn things around, she’d be responsible for covering the losses.

In June of 1992, this is how a then 25-year-old Anthony, with just 58 days of experience in home health care, found herself as the owner of Liberty Health Services—with six months to get out of a $150,000 hole. Anthony was successful, and the challenging experience enabled her to learn the industry from the ground up. Now, she is the CEO and founder of Encompass Home Health, an award-winning home health-care company based in Dallas, Texas, with more than 130 locations sprinkled across the United States. Here, Anthony discusses why Encompass Home Health is consistently named one of the best places to work at local, state, and national levels.

April Anthony
April Anthony has grown Encompass Home Health into a 4,600 employee company

April Anthony: It goes back to our mission statement, “A better way to care.” It really is a guiding principal and it applies to our employees, our patients, and our stakeholders. These five words have been transformative. We tell our employees that if you do one exceptional thing a day, it would lead to a million exceptional outcomes a year. That’s how our organization gained momentum and power. How do you become a great organization to work for? You attract the best people. In turn, they provide the best care and we get referred again and again, which equals financial success. Financial success allows us to invest in our people and our culture; we perpetuate this cycle of success. It’s a simple philosophy with a huge impact on our organization. It’s what makes us special.

Encompass Home Health won 19 Best Places to Work awards in 2013 alone. What does this mean to you?

Anthony: You know, it honestly amazes me. I know that we care for our employees and I believe that translates, but if you think about it: health care is not the most fun job out there. You’re caring for very sick people; you’re around very stressed out families; you’re working very long hours; you’re working under conditions that are totally out of your control. It’s out of my control, too. Other companies in other industries can control the environment in which their employees work; I can’t control the environment my employees work in. Despite this being a very hard job and despite working under circumstances out of our control, we continue to win these awards. In spite of all these challenges, we continue to win because we empower our people to make a difference in the lives of our patients every day. And when they do, we go out of our way to acknowledge their success and make sure they feel appreciated and supported.

The company’s growth has been phenomenal. How will you maintain the special culture as you?

Anthony: Communication. I visit 130 locations every year. The entire staff is included in the meetings, and we spend the first hour of the visit discussing recent events. The second hour is a Q&A where our employees can ask questions while we share a meal. Communication is huge. We’re a $300 million company, but the employees of each location can feel like they personally know April Anthony; not just be vaguely familiar with their huge company’s CEO. I want to maintain this small company feeling, which is also why I personally e-mail employees who are doing a great job. Maintaining this culture of acknowledgement requires doing a number of small and big things every day—and it’s worth it.

How do you ensure that employees are a good fit for Encompass’s culture and what the company sets out to do?

Anthony: We are very different than other home health-care companies, and new hires come to understand that quickly. We’re very dedicated to the education process. The Encompass Development Center is a large part of how we operate. Three to six-months after being hired, new employees spend between three and four days in training classes to develop an understanding of our culture, and we provide them with the tools and skills they’ll need to do the best job. This program and facility is a huge investment—$3.5 million a year, including lodging, transportation, and the actual building itself. It’s not an inconsequential part of our business; it’s crucial to who we are and who we want to be as we continue to expand.