Naomi Cramer’s Four Steps to Connection

How the chief human resources officer maintains open communication at Banner Health

When she became chief human resources officer at Banner Health, Naomi Cramer had to find a way to connect with all 550 people in the HR department. Meeting in person wasn’t always an option, so she turned to the next logical approach: email. Every other week, she sends an email she calls Five Bullet Friday. She starts each email with a personal note, then discusses the HR strategy, recognizes her team’s accomplishments, shares an inspirational story or quote, and measures the pulse of what’s happening at Banner.

Early in her career, while working at Target, Cramer was intimated by her senior leaders. In meetings, they often focused on the issues rather than seeking ways better serve their reports and their customers. “I made a vow at that point that if I ever got to a senior-level position, I wanted to be somebody who would be more vulnerable—to share what I was working on, to talk about my personal life a little bit, and also to be a little bit more in the vein of service to others,” she says. Since making that vow, Cramer has focused on this mission and learned four major keys to
fostering transparent communication in the workplace.

Naomi Cramer, Banner Health

Share Personal Challenges

Cramer learned the importance of sharing personal challenges with her colleagues the hard way. Early in her career at Target, her first child was born with unforeseen special needs. For eighteen months, Cramer kept her child’s health status private at work.

“I worked really hard, and I did fine at work, but I was struggling so much at home finding the right doctors, finding the right day care, and finding the right support mechanisms,” she says. After attending a leadership development class that discussed transparency and vulnerability, Cramer decided to share what was happening at home.

Her team helped her find doctors and day cares, and many told her about people with special needs in their own lives. “It was like a weight came off of my shoulders because they wanted to support me,” she says. “They always supported me at work, but when someone supports you outside of work, that’s a different feeling. It really it made our bond even stronger.”

Meet in the Middle

Not all team members respond well to these approaches. In some cases, Cramer has had to find other ways to connect with her peers. “In HR, you sometimes have a tough customer—somebody who doesn’t understand the team component,” she says. “They want to do the work at the expense of team engagement and morale.”

She experienced this with a partner in operations at Target. “He didn’t care whether his team was happy or engaged,” she says. “I really started to avoid him because everything we tried to do, he would be the first to say why it couldn’t work.”

But avoiding him only made the issue worse, so Cramer decided to call him every Friday to discuss one operational feature that he was passionate about. “I knew I had to approach him in a different way or we were never going to collaborate together,” she says.

At first, she dreaded the calls, but once she connected with him, he began to ask questions about her team. “This synergy just came together,” she says. “By the end of my Target career, he was one of my best partners.”

Build a Transparent Feedback Culture

Cramer is extending this transparent feedback culture throughout the organization, and her first step is to simplify the feedback process. Previously, it took leaders forty minutes to complete the administrative form that accompanied each performance review. Cramer’s team streamlined the process with customized drop-down boxes and auto-fill information. Leaders can now complete the form in under two minutes, leaving them more time for the conversation that follows. “The conversation’s going to be longer than a minute and twenty-two seconds, but the administrative piece shouldn’t have to be,” Cramer says. “It’s the richness of the conversation that matters.”

Cramer’s goal is to replace the performance review process with quarterly check-ins, thereby creating a consistent feedback culture. Her team has implemented a feedback process they call ARC, which stands for aspiration, results, and capabilities. Following this conversational road map, leaders discuss their reports’ career aspirations, their results, and the path that will get them where they want to go. “You can update every form you want,” Cramer says, “but if you don’t have a cadence or a routine that helps you do that in a very simple way, then it’s not going to stick.”

Put One Foot in the Field and One Foot in Corporate

To make sure the tools they develop are working, Cramer and her team regularly visit the end users. They alternate between having status meetings in the office and in the field—at hospitals, urgent care settings, and clinics.

After implementing the new review system in the HR portal, Cramer and her leader of HR operations went into the field to see what users thought. “We don’t just go out in rounds to meet people and shake hands and recognize them—we go out to check our work,” Cramer says. They gathered feedback and learned which features were working and which weren’t. Then, they updated the technology to make it more user-friendly.

“The people who are based at corporate build the strategy, and the people in the field have to bring that strategy to life,” she says. “If it doesn’t work, it’s tough for those field leaders to bring it to life.”


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Photo by Paulson Photo/Graphic