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How Donna Hughes Guides Teams along the ‘Curve of Change’

“Donna Hughes found her passion for the field of human resources by way of law. In her years as an attorney, Hughes focused on employment and labor issues as in-house counsel at Circuit City Stores before later working on fast-paced mergers and acquisitions in the pharmaceutical industry.

She then rerouted her path, taking a job as senior vice president of HR at a pharmaceutical company in 2015 before leaving in 2018 and taking time off from her career to care for her ailing parents. They passed away within five months of one another, an experience that drastically transformed her perspective on how to advocate for people dealing with health problems.

“COLLEAGUES EXPERIENCE DIFFERENT FEELINGS ALONG THE CURVE OF CHANGE. A GOOD LEADER HAS TO BE IN TUNE TO THAT, TO HELP FOLKS ALONG THE WAY.”

That was her mind-set when the opportunity to become EmblemHealth’s chief human resources officer came along. Nothing else resonated with her like that role did.

“And not just because of what I had just gone through,” she says today. “But also because EmblemHealth has an eighty-year-old legacy, but it has an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Hughes joined the company — one of the largest not-for-profit health plans in the US — in March 2019. During her time, she has worked to break down communication silos, led an initiative to improve the onboarding experience for new employees, and more.”

Her background as an attorney hugely shaped her approach to leadership today. The profession of law is often one of “command and control,” as she describes it. Over time, Hughes came to believe that she can win more hearts and minds as a servant leader, rather than by being overly prescriptive — especially when an organization is navigating significant change.

“Because it’s not easy,” she says, “and colleagues experience different feelings along the curve of change. A good leader has to be in tune to that, to help folks along the way.”

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