Leadership at the Speed of Transformation

Today’s fast-changing world of work is transforming companies large and small and spurring change in models of talent development, organizational design and leadership. To be successful, businesses have to create new levels of transparency, flexibility, collaboration and empowerment, and leaders have to play an active, transformative role to prepare their organizations for the future.

That’s the view of Humana’s Busy Burr, vice president at Humana and head of healthcare trend and innovation, and Roger Cude, Humana’s senior vice president of human resources. The pair gave a presentation titled Leadership at the Speed of Transformation at a recent Leadership Louisville Summit.

What are the attributes of successful leaders in the new world of work?

In an onstage conversation, Busy and Roger put forth a number of leadership attributes which, taken together, they believe will help employees thrive and drive successful business outcomes, including:

• Shaping culture. Demonstrating critical behaviors through their interactions and work habits, and living the organization’s values;
• Building talent. Treating every employee as a game-changer with pent-up potential, and showing up themselves as results-drivers who exceed expectations;
• Being a “systems thinker.” Having a broad view of the organization and the internal and external business forces that enable innovation, integration, optimization and honest evaluation.
• Seeking partnership. Working across the company, bending trends and anticipating future opportunities.
• Leading change. Innovating through technology and analytics, while integrating and optimizing with a mindset of “fewer, bigger, better.”
• Demonstrating empathy. Being agile and resilient, communicating openly, and creating the best possible experiences for internal and external clients.

“We are advocating a focus not only on the foundations of building a great place to work, but on spending a lot of energy on the employee experience,” Roger said. “Much the same way organizations are focused on customer experience, we need to also pivot toward overall employee experience. This requires us to be more resilient and adaptable, and it requires leaders to ‘walk the talk’ in new and more intentional ways.”

Busy agrees and added, “Leaders have to know their teams, which means listening to them, coaching and mentoring, and celebrating successes. They have to deliver the goods — both in near-term operations and long-term strategy – while sustaining a high-quality experience and an environment of testing and learning.”

How do we work in an environment that is transforming minute to minute?

Roger and Busy said the pace of change is accelerating, citing technology, social trends, new regulations and government influences. Consider that organizations now have multiple generations of workers, with different workstyles. And technology trends – including robotics and automation — are drastically remaking the workplace, with devices beginning to take on activities traditionally tied to human reasoning.

“I talked to a group of associates in the past few weeks whose full-time work is ‘tagging and teaching,’ Roger said. “They are tagging transactions with the people we serve and teaching machines to get smarter to do it for them. Then my next question was the obvious one – ‘Are you worried that you are teaching a robot to do your work, putting you out of a job?’ Their answer was “not at all”; it was going to allow them to do much different and more interesting work.”

He said organizations must reimagine work, develop new growth models, and ensure the right skills and capabilities are in place to prepare their organizations to operate competitively, today and in the future.

Busy echoed that point, saying that just three years ago, when she joined Humana, health plans thought one of their biggest competitive advantages was claims data – a high-level view of members’ doctor visits, scans, blood tests, etc.

“But claims data is actually pretty old; there’s a long lag,” she said. “New forms of data are going to surpass claims data – data from wearables, phones, smart sensors in the home. How about a glucometer that can send someone’s blood glucose data to the cloud – in real time – and if it’s out of range it triggers a phone call from a nurse or diabetes educator within two minutes?

“You can’t do that with claims data. So what happens? How do we change how we engage with our members, when data is coming at us in real time? How do we analyze and understand data in a matter of minutes, and how do we respond to it?”

Busy said her job is to drive digital health solutions, the member-facing experiences that are built off of this new digital world. It requires partnering with companies on the leading edge of digital health — companies like Livongo (of the digital, cloud-based glucometer) and Omada Health, which helps people with pre-diabetes go through a program to help them or slow the progression of the disease.

The key for these companies has been to build themselves from the ground up as data companies – recognizing that digital health isn’t about apps – it’s about speed, personalization and access. And the key for companies like Humana is to partner with them, learn from them and succeed together.

So how do we adapt to this new reality?

Roger said motivation is accomplished through a shared vision and a unified purpose – one that helps each employee see how their work ties to the bigger goal and where their voices matter. This environment enables employees to develop the right skills and competencies for the future. He said Humana has launched an initiative called Career Framework, which highlights the skills necessary to meet the technological advancements taking place. He said it will help employees align their goals and growth opportunities, while helping the organization upskill where needed.

Busy agreed, saying, “Many large corporations are built from an old model. They find a market need, build an operating model to go after it, and grow to scale by focusing on efficiency. Companies become good at running the trains on time but they lose agility. We need to be more like sailboats and many tech companies – built from day 1 to move fast and expect shifting winds.

“Today I use the same philosophy of purpose and agile sprints with my team. Everything we do is in a sprint. You propose what you are going to do over the next 30-90 days, do it, then come back to share and integrate what you learned into your next sprint. On our team every month we celebrate graduations and graveyards – both are wins, as long as we learn what we can from the projects that are killed. As leaders we need a ‘train’ mindset around efficiency and a ‘sailboat’ mindset around adaptability, speed and constant adjustment.”

The result is that organizations will be able to move more quickly, fail more quickly, assess results more quickly, and do more things without losing focus. And employees will need guidance and role models as they learn these traits and skills.

Leaders in this new world will need a sense of purpose that matters and the ambition, boldness and optimism to think big. They’ll also need the wisdom to build teams and create the space for them to flourish.

“What matters even more is who we are and how we help our teams become successful,” Busy said. “It’s about our soul, heart, and spirit. While the world is changing faster than ever, it’s still our humanity and our compassion that matter most.”

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