Innovative People Processes with Forbes Small Giant, Zawadi Bryant, CEO and Co-Founder of NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care

Zawadi Bryant founded NightLight Pediatrics Urgent Care with Dr. Anastasia Gentles and Connie Cazares in 2007 with a single location in Sugarland, Texas. It’s ten years later and they’ve expanded to seven locations across the Houston area. It’s this incredible growth that landed NightLight Pediatrics on the 2017 Forbes Small Giant list and on the Inc 5000 list. As CEO, Zawadi has put in place innovative people processes and has empowered employees to do what they do best: provide fantastic care. Zawadi and her team are in the people business and on this episode of the podcast, you’ll learn how they’ve been building their best possible team. 

Listen to this episode on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Interested in learning more about the business side of NightLight Pediatrics? Read this fantastic interview with Zawadi Bryant in Forbes. 

Full show transcripts:

Adam Robinson:


Zawadi Bryant is here today on the program, CEO and co-founder of NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care, which currently has five locations across the Houston metro area and expects to open two more locations in the near future. NightLight Pediatrics was founded in 2007, has 71 employees, is bootstrapped and was recently named a Forbes Small Giant in 2017 — very cool. Zawadi, we are so excited to learn from you today. Welcome to the show.
Zawadi Bryant: Thank you for having me.
Adam Robinson:


I am the proud father of four children, and I might be my local urgent care’s best customer. We’re on the first name basis and I have often said, “Man, would it be better if they had these dedicated to kids?” I can tell you in the Chicago metro area there’s nothing like what you do in Houston. Why don’t you start today, give us the 30-second pitch on NightLight? And, I know anyone with children will understand in three seconds exactly why what you do is so successful, but go ahead.
Zawadi Bryant: Right. Thank you. Thank you so much for the opportunity. My business partner Dr. Anastasia Gentles was an ER doc in a children’s ER, and she realized while working the night shifts that a lot of the children that were sitting and waiting to be seen didn’t have emergencies, and so they were low on the totem pole. They could have been seen by their regular doctor had their doctor’s office been open. She had the bright idea. I give her all the credit because she’s the one who realized, “If these kiddos had a place to go after hours, they would not have, A) have the inconvenience of sitting in the ER and, B) the big expenses of going to the emergency room and, C) not clogging up our emergency rooms with non-emergent issues.” She came to me asked me if I thought it was a great idea.
At the time, I was IT in oil and gas, and I just knew how to run numbers. I ran the numbers for her and helped her put it together, her business plan, and said, “Yes, this sounds like a fantastic idea. There’s definitely a need out there.” We did quick and dirty business case and ran that around a few pediatricians, and they thought it was a great idea, and so off we went to start NightLight.
Adam Robinson: Fantastic. That’s just awesome. If listeners want to learn more, particularly those in the Houston metro area, where do they reach you?
Zawadi Bryant: Our website is We’re located in the suburbs of Houston. We have five locations: Sugar Land, Pearland, Cypress, Webster, and Humble. Soon to be in Tanglewood and  Garden Oaks, which are neighborhoods within the Houston area, so we’re growing actually inside the city this summer.
Adam Robinson:


Fantastic. Congratulations. Well, I’m so excited to focus on the people side of your business. I want to start with the story or anecdote you told in your Forbes interview, and you mentioned there was this moment where you realized that going from one location to two locations, the second you or your business partner weren’t at the location, it wasn’t working as well and you realized the need at that time for structure and the right people and the right management. Talk about that moment where you realized the impact that focusing on better hiring and better people was going to be a benefit to your business.
Zawadi Bryant: Yeah, that was a definite big aha moment for us as we were building the second location, which was 20 minutes from our first location. We realized that the first location although we had great people there, we hadn’t set up any processes, or policies, or expectations for them to work independently without us, and so when we went off to the second location, we got a lot of phone calls about, “Hey, the lights went out in exam room five.” Or, “The paper got jammed in the printer.” You guys are totally capable of doing these things, but they were so reliant on us being around and having access to us to ask us for everything that we hampered them. We hindered their growth and their productivity just by always being there. When we left, we realized, “Oh, my gosh. We’re going to have to empower these amazing people to do what they need to do independent of us.”
Adam Robinson: How did you start to do that?
Zawadi Bryant: A lot of documentation, a lot of training, and coaching, and development. Just encouraging them, telling them, “You guys got this. You can manage this clinic by yourself. The five or six people that are working on the shift, you guys are capable. You’re doctors. You’re nurse practitioners. You’re radiologists and front desk people. You guys are fully capable of answering your own questions.” We would have cheat sheets for them, just things that you would not even imagine. What I’ve learned over the course of being in business is common sense is not common.
Adam Robinson: Absolutely.
Zawadi Bryant:


Writing every little detail down that I would just, immediately, I would think would do so something as simple as making sure that when you are putting the paper in the printer, you check that there’s not anything clogged in there. Just simple stuff. You guys can do this. With the manual, I think them having that crutch there after a while didn’t even refer to the manuals. “Let me think through this thing before I go to the manual.” Soon enough they were able to handle most tasks by themselves.
Adam Robinson: I got it. You’re clearly a systems thinker, right? I’m getting that.
Zawadi Bryant: Yes.
Adam Robinson: The business is fortunate that that’s the case, it sounds like. Once you have these systems and processes in place and you know how to execute the business model, how has that changed the way you approach putting the right people in the seats?
Zawadi Bryant: Right. We read this great book and I can’t remember the name of the author but it was The Energy Bus. It talks about putting the right people in the right seats. It was really helpful for us because as we were defining our culture and values -because there are three partners: there’s me, Dr. Gentles and our other partner, Connie Cazares. We thought we were living embodiments of our values and culture and people would just get it by osmosis, by being around us. But, what we realized is that as we became further removed from the day-to-day business that we had to encapsulate and write what our values and culture were so that even our managers and front desk people could communicate and articulate what our values were, and they could interview to those values and compare people while doing the interview to our values.
We decided or we realized we had to write down everything. Everything that was in our head, we have to write it down, which … It’s very helpful because what you have in your head may not be easily communicated to someone else until you write it down and you have a discussion about it. What does it mean to say “We do the best”? which is one of our values. What does that mean to you? Because I know what it means to me. What does it mean to you? Then when we’re interviewing someone, it’s interesting to hear back from them. What does it mean when we say or you would say “I do my best?” How do you exhibit that? Give me an example of how you do the best, how you went above and beyond and did the best. Having an engaged conversation with someone about what I believe to be core to our company, it’s very important to have these values written down because I can’t assume you have those values just by an interview unless I ask you these questions.
Adam Robinson: This is so encouraging. There are so few people that execute these core values, exercise and make it real and authentic and then translate it into their interviewing process, which it sounds like you do. Now, who taught you to do this, or is this something you just figured out you needed to do?
Zawadi Bryant: Well, I like going to a lot of conferences, and I love connecting and networking with much smarter people, and so I believe we’ve been on the Inc. 5000 list for the last three years and I think it was the year … I believe it was 2015 that Tony Hsieh was there at the Inc. 5000 conference and he did his whole values and the Zappos delivering happiness talk. It was just like, “Oh, my gosh. That’s exactly what we need to do.” Because we were going through this transformation where it’s like: how do we find the right people? “That’s exactly how. We have to write our values down. We have to speak the language and values. We have to talk about our culture because if we don’t exercise our culture, someone else is going to come in and take over our culture. If we don’t create, define and promote our culture, then our culture is going to be kidnapped, taken over.”
That was a big aha, opportunity or moment for me when I went to his presentation. Since then, we’ve been engaged with that delivering happiness methodology and engaged with his consulting team and stuff like that. That’s helped us along the track of defining our culture and our values.
Adam Robinson: Got it. Well, what you allude to is something certainly I’m a big believer in. You have a culture and it’s either by intent or it’s by default. It sounds like you’ve taken steps to take control of your culture and absolutely make it by intent. Let’s talk for a second about your process for hiring. It sounds like you have some core values, targeted questions. What other approach or approaches do you use that help you zero in on that person with the highest likelihood to succeed at your organization?

Zawadi Bryant:

We just went to a methodology of using the industrial psychology assessments because we’re hiring a lot more people. For me, we’ve gone away from references. We still do references but we don’t rely a lot on reference checks because that hasn’t always yielded us the best value. For me, I want to model or clone if I could our top performers.
Adam Robinson: Sure. Don’t we all? Don’t we all?
Zawadi Bryant:


What we’ve done recently is we’ve utilized a company that has done an industrial psychology assessment on our top performers. Any new applicant that comes in takes that same assessment and it compares the candidates to our star performers and it allows us to see are they within the range of what we consider as a star employee? It’s hard to ascertain what those core competencies are and unfortunately, I’ve done enough interviews to realize that some people are really good in the interview.
Adam Robinson: Oh, yeah. Yes, they are. They’re professional sales people.
Zawadi Bryant: They are good. Even the best, even after 10 years of interviewing and I’m like, “Ooh. Wow. I missed that one.” We’re trying to define and narrow that scope of the type of person we’re looking for based on our values, based on our star employees and their performance.
Adam Robinson: How many folks are on your management team that participates in the interview process?
Zawadi Bryant: I would say each of our hiring managers for each of the locations is always involved in their hires. Then they are partnered with a peer, with someone else. We always have two people in the interview just because one person is asking, the other person is observing, and then they back and forth. Then they convene afterward and share notes, and I want it to be a shared decision if that candidate would then go forward in the interview process.
Adam Robinson: You’re hitting off all the best practices on the list here. You have tandem interviews going off. One listening, one talking. You don’t need any … You don’t need any help at all with this stuff. Speaking about those managers then, what do you think is the most important quality for them as managers? You’re such a people-intensive business. You deliver service to parents with sick children. There’s no higher stakes or more anxiety-ridden conversation than what’s wrong with my sick child? Tell me about how you identify future leaders now in your organization. How does that differ and how does that change as you scale?
Zawadi Bryant: It’s always been my dream, as the company grows, that there are more opportunities for these star employees to matriculate and to grow and develop. We have this one staff member right now who has since graduated and now has really graduated out of a job. We’re like, “We need to find her a job because we need to keep her and retain her because she’s going on for higher education of which we can then hire her back at a provider level.” We’re like, “How do we create an opportunity for her? How do we engage her and develop her management skills while she’s going to school for her clinical skills to retain this amazing employee?” Right now, we’re developing a pipeline management development track to identify where are you on the management scale or leadership, it doesn’t have to be managed but leadership, and what skills are you lacking so that we can train you, develop you for those and give you opportunities like projects?
I tell people we have so much on our plate right now as we’re growing. There’s plenty of projects for people to get their feet wet on leadership, time management, delegation, analysis, all of those skills, communication, spreadsheets, presentations. All of those skills we’re developing a pipeline for people to pick up modules in those areas along the way so that we can develop and identify the future operations managers, district managers and things of that nature because I would love for us to retain people and grow them as they develop and they want to stay with the company.
Adam Robinson: That’s great. You are investing in the highest potential of folks that you have way ahead of time. Did you pick this up at any big corporate jobs or is this just instinctual to you? I’m fascinated. This is not something they teach you at big oil and gas companies.
Zawadi Bryant: Well, actually it is. You’d be surprised. I have an engineering background and I have an MBA, but my partner always used to tell me, especially when we started, like, “You don’t know this?” I’m like, “They don’t teach you how to run a company in business school. They teach how to work at someone else’s company.” That has since changed. There’s a lot of great entrepreneurial programs in business school.
I think for me I’ve always been a researcher and super curious about stuff. Having an engineering background, a problem solver so I know enough to know what I don’t know and I will find somebody that does know it. I think for me, coming out of grad school, the best opportunity I could ever have had was working at Hewlett-Packard where they had rotation program for new hires that were coming in that were on the track to be managers. You went through a rotation in marketing, in research and development, in manufacturing, in finance. You got a great cross section of all those important departments in a company of how to run a company. A lot of people come to our company and they’re shocked at how many processes and design and systems we have in place. And that’s just because that’s how I was trained. Even though we’re small, we can still adopt a lot of those systems in our training, our development, our onboarding process. Just because we’re small it doesn’t mean we have to be mom and pop and thin in execution.
Adam Robinson: That’s awesome. That’s great. What a difference it’s going to make for you as you cross into that next stage of growth. That’s great.
Zawadi Bryant: Thank you.
Adam Robinson: Let’s talk for a second about your philosophy about rewards and feedback. Now, you’re getting up to a relatively large employee count across the network. How are you approaching rewards, compensation, and feedback? Do you have a philosophy about that? Is that every location for themselves? Is it structured? I’m guessing there’s a system for that, too.
Zawadi Bryant: Yeah. That’s actually an area, a gap for us that we’re working on right now. We just recently made a major hire for us. We hired a director of operations and that took us a long time to find the right fit for that job because essentially I was operating as COO and CEO, and we needed someone to do more of the operations, day-to-day operations, so I could do a lot of the strategic stuff that I need to do for our growth. We brought her onboard because we have some gaps that we need to address such as compensation, performance reviews, and rewards. She’s digging into that. She brings 20 plus years experience working at other clinical operations, larger operations than us so that’s helpful because I don’t have that healthcare background that she does, so she brings a lot to the team.
Where it comes with performance reviews, we’re working right now to streamline our performance reviews to one time a year. It’s been all over the place and then the raises had been all over the place and looking at how much we do in raises, it’s really expensive. By going to a one-time a year where we have not a bell curve but a pot of money that we distribute equally, fairly based on well-defined skills, and values, metrics, and people understand these KPIs for the company, like the number of patients. This is how that drills down to your specific performance plan, this is how you impact the number of patients that come in the door. When people understand that, then they don’t have any issues if I get a small raise or a huge raise because I understand individually how I impacted that major KPI of the number of patients coming in the door. We have not had that transparency before so that’s what we’re currently working on right now. I’m super excited about that.
Adam Robinson: Wow. All right. You’re all over it as I would expect. Let’s talk big picture. You’ve been at this for a number of years. It sounds like you’ve learned and adapted. What’s the biggest lesson learned been as you’ve scaled the business related to people? What’s the thing that you’re sitting here thinking, “Boy, I wish I would have known that five years ago?”
Zawadi Bryant: We’re in the people business and I think any business, as you grow, you will soon realize that you’re in the people business, people development business. For me, the biggest learning was people really want to grow. I believe the people that we hire, they really, really want to grow.
I’ve been surprised by when I talk to people about what we’re doing, the shock of people. They’re like, “You really invest in your people like that? You really spend that much time developing your people?” I’m like, “They touch our patients. They are the walking embodiment of NightLight. I’m not. They are.” Our patients experience and touch them, not me. I’ve been really blessed and very encouraged by the response that our team members have to the amount of attention and development we give them. That’s been the greatest blessing to me. That’s been the greatest impact to me is seeing them develop and seeing them light up when they learn a new task or push themselves to finish a project that they didn’t think that they were capable of doing. That’s just been the greatest blessing of having this business, not the financial rewards and all of that kind of stuff.
I was talking to our accountant today and she’s like, “Do you realize how much money you guys spend on this stuff?” I’m like, “I understand that. That’s never been a driver for me and my partners to take home the biggest pot of money.” As we continue to grow and develop, I’m just super encouraged by all of the new opportunities that we have to really blow minds, not only our patients but our employees via the opportunities for growth and development we have. As we grow, I’m seeing people that started off making $9 an hour have the potential to make 25, $30 an hour. That’s just amazing to me.
Adam Robinson: That’s awesome. Well, listen, it sounds like you are offering a service that is sorely needed. You’ve got market pull. It’s great. But, I think the success is coming from your investment in people. I think you understand exactly the return you’re getting on that investment so that’s very cool.
All right. A final couple of questions here. What book are you reading right now and would you recommend it to our audience?
Zawadi Bryant: The book we are reading as a company is I think everyone has heard about. I don’t know people have read the Simon Sinek book, Start With Why.
Adam Robinson: Absolutely.
Zawadi Bryant: We just recently went through a rebranding campaign where we were asking ourselves why do we exist? Why are we here? Not the how, not the what, but why? We did the values but we still didn’t have the why. Why do we exist? What makes us get up and get super excited about the service we provide? And, that’s been a great book that the management team has been reading. Once we read a book, we then put it out in the libraries for the team members and the different clinics to read as well. I’m excited for them to read that book but that’s been really helpful, not only just in the business, but we also have a Bible study. My business partners, we have a Bible study. We open and make it available to our employees and the community. We read Why on Earth Am I Here? by Rick Warren. The same thing, why are we here? A lot of people are asking the question: why? I think that’s an important question to answer for yourself.
Adam Robinson: Absolutely. If you were to look out a year from now and think about where you want this business to be and what you have on your plate right now and the one thing that’s most important as it relates to the people side of your business, looking out a year, what looks different?
Zawadi Bryant: I think what looks different is I think more of the team is elevated. We’ve gotten amazing kudos, amazing exposure but what I’m excited about is that we have these great managers that are doing amazing things, and I’m encouraging them to go out and speak and get expert knowledge on certain things. What I see is as we expand to other cities, which will happen over the next year, is just the amount of opportunities for growth and development that are going to explode for not only our managers but our team members to be elevated to managers and then district managers. This is the next year to two years. It’s going to be a huge explosion of growth for the people in our organization. Super excited about that.
Adam Robinson: It sounds like a breakthrough in the making. Very awesome. That’s great. Well, congratulations on all your success. That’s the final word. You’ve been learning from Zawadi Bryant, CEO and co-founder of NightLight Pediatrics. Zawadi, thank you so much for being with us on the program.
Zawadi Bryant: Thank you for having me.