Staffing Expert’s Advice: ‘Lean Into Your Passion’

Thirty years ago, Jennifer Dean would have thought it was a bad idea to try to look 30 years into the future and think about where she’d be.

But 30 years later Dean, the founder and president of Dean’s Professional Services, is managing one of the most successful medical industry staffing companies in the nation as a multiple winner of Best and Brightest Companies to Work Force honors.

In 1992, she said, she couldn’t have imagined being in 20 states with more than 2,000 employees. But that’s where she is.

“If you focus on where you’re going to be in 30 years … I was in my 20’s, so we probably don’t want to do that,” Dean said. “I’ve been really blessed. Thirty years is a long time; we’ve changed in technology, we’ve changed in young people, we’ve changed in a number of things.”

Dean talked about the success of her company, based in Houston, Texas, and provided her perspective on a variety of other issues, during an appearance on the “CEO Thought Leadership Series on LinkedIn Live,” discussion series hosted by the National Association of Business Resources.

Produced in conjunction with the Best and Brightest Companies to Work For and Corp! Magazine, the series is hosted by NABR CEO Jennifer Kluge and features business leaders from around the country.

Jennifer Kluge: You have some resources, and books … the theme is being outspoken. Is that also your theme?

Jennifer Dean: Most people who know me know I’m a pretty outspoken person. I don’t usually bite my tongue on many things, so you shouldn’t ask me if you don’t want to know.

Our orientation is about three weeks, the first couple of days is about the president’s philosophy and expectations, so I certainly go through and explain to everyone that I’m very outspoken and direct. But I would do anything for any one of my employees, and they know that, too.

Kluge: Sometimes being outspoken is viewed as a bad thing, especially for a woman. But I think it’s gotten you where you are today. How have you leveraged being outspoken?

Dean: I believe that if you speak the truth, people will listen, and that to me is being outspoken. Not necessarily rude or abrupt, but knowing I’m going to stand by what I say. If I say it, I’m going to do it. That’s more my (definition) of outspoken.

I’m more outspoken than I may have been in my 20s. I’ve learned that I have the ability to speak, I’ve gotten a few things under my belt now so I probably speak a little bit more because I’ve become an expert at what i do.

Being outspoken is something … as women we have a tendency to conform. We stay in our place, we don’t get out of our box. I don’t ever say that. I tell people to expand their box. However God made you is probably how you should be.

I would say that people should probably speak up and speak out a bit more. The consequences of that are if you don’t, what do you get from that? Other than a huge guilty feeling of, ‘I should have said something.’

Kluge: There’s been a talent war, there’s been a pandemic, we’re facing some very interesting economic conditions right now and a lot of companies are still navigating it. You are in one of the hardest-hit industries as it relates to talent economy. Hospitals are struggling financially, there’s a lot of burnout, there’s a lot of talent woes. How are you getting clients through that?

Dean: About 70% of our business is outpatient, not inpatient. We believe you should be paid on experience and market rate. If there’s a nurse who’s been working for 15 years and a nurse who’s been working for one year, yoy should be paid on a scale.

What I hear in the market is … they would prefer to be outpatient right now, not on the floor. Not just burnout, I think just the psychological effect of seeing that for three years, I don’t think it’s gone, I think we just don’t talk about it as much.

For me, I think it’s more of finding people who have the integrity to work in that capacity. Nowadays a lot of people take on a role as a nurse because it pays a great deal, you get to travel, there’s a lot of perks that come with that.

My mom, my sister and my brother were nurses. My mom was a nurse with the white uniform and the white hat. They went into it for a different reason, that nurturing spirit of theirs. I think it’s a little different today.

Kluge: Are there any best practices that have come from the last couple of years? What are you seeing now compared to 30 years ago, what are the challenges you have running your company and how you navigated those?

Dean: I get between 700-1,200 applications a day, so finding the talent may not be my biggest issue. Being able to sift through and find the best talent takes a lot of manpower.

When we were at the height of COVID, you could almost say, ‘Can you breathe?” and they’d say “I think so” and we’d tell them “I’ve got to send you.” That’s very different than where we are today.

Now, the challenge is to take your time and find the person who’s not going to be fickle. I have hired the best talent to be able to review those (applications) and to be able to talk to them, work through it and determine who’s best qualified. That’s not always on skill, some of this is on service. I call it patient services — the ability to commit yourself and work through the process.

Kluge: Has it slowed down some?

Dean: We’re busier than we’ve ever been. I don’t think it has slowed down. The physicians’ offices, the hospitals are still challenged with now you have to be vaccinated and maybe boosted, and some people still don’t want to do that. The hospitals are very strict about their policies and procedures around that, so you have to weed through those who will do it and those who won’t.

We’re in a business of organized chaos. You’re always at the emotional urgency of your client.

Kluge: We did a survery of the Best and Brightest Companies, and 84% of the talent is working harder than they did before the pandemic, and 44% are working harder than when the pandemic first started. Almost three years … there’s a lot of CEO burnout, a lot of supervisor burnout.

How are you handling the intensity of the work with your team? What advice would you give to other CEOs regarding this ‘organized chaos.’

Dean: Any person may get to a point of burnout, but I don’t think it’s necessarily all work. It depends on how much stress you have in your life that would contribute to everything working together for your level of burnout.

I spend a great deal of time with my employees. I know them well. We do a lot for them. I want them to take breaks when they can. In our business we have a lot of fun, too.

You ask people out there and it’s positive stress, and I work well under positive stress. The fish rots from the top down. You won’t find me saying anything about stress. I’m excited, I have opportunities … I think it’s how you look at the situation that makes your body respond in a more positive manner.

Kluge: You try to make a fun environment for your team. What do you guys do for fun?

Dean: We have a family and friends day once a quarter. We will feed them as many times as they like – you’d be surprised how much that helps for a person not to have to go out, buy something and bring it back in.

I want them to go home, and I want them to enjoy. The philosophy here is God, family and work, and I won’t change that. If you don’t like it, you probably shouldn’t work here. Family is really my core.

Kluge: Let’s talk about hybrid work, and working from home.

Dean: I’m not a fan. I do have some employees who do … I have an employee I’ve only met once. But … we’re in a people business, and it’s really important that you’re dedicated to being able to see  who you’re working with, you interface with the people you work with on a daily basis. If you had a great football team and they were all virtual, would you be a good football team?

There are people who could do that every day (but) I am not that person. I have people who travel a lot, and they are certainly virtual, but I expect to see them walk through this office every once in awhile, so I can see who you are.

Kluge: You’re certified as a woman-business enterprise, and you’re a woman of color. Talk about that journey.

Dean: My only journey is being Black, I don’t have another one … and maybe being a woman as well. My experience is … there’s a lot of ‘old money’ in medical, and a lot of old thought process. I’ve had people tell me ‘don’t send anybody Black, if you send Hispanics send high-class … I’d really prefer not to be either one.’ They don’t know who I am.

I have been turned down … because I’m Black. I have been turned down for people to join my organization who have said, “You are Black and I don’t want to work for a Black company.”

Kluge: How do you handle that?

Dean: I tell them, “We’ll send you the most qualified person we have.” Sometimes it’s just educating people that whatever your thought is in your mind, you’re talking about people. Everybody is different … it’s not by the color of their skin, all skills are different, integrity is different, how they were raised is different. That’s not how it works. That means a lot to me.

You have to have the ability to speak up and say, “This is not going to be a good match.”

Kluge: If there’s a young woman of color in high school, and she wants to go into business and eventually run and own her own company, what advice would you give her on her path and journey?

Dean: I would tell her she needs to find her purpose, she needs to lean into that for her passion, and if she finds peace, she’ll know she’s there. I would never have chosen this business – I thought I’d be an attorney, to be honest – but it chose me.

You have to find something that lets you lean into your purpose and allows you to be passionate about it. Once you do that, you’ll find this calmness about it. Every bit of who you are has to go into it. You have to find what works for you. And when you find what works, lean into your purpose.”