Change is coming. How do we get ready?

William Fleming, President, Healthcare Services at Humana, recently posted this blog on LinkedIn:

How to be prepared and drive change before it drives you (out of business and relevancy)

“To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often.” –Winston Churchill

My oldest (daughter) is going off to college, and it has me reflecting and talking a lot about change. It’s something we all know is an inevitable part of life. In business, change is a constant, too, especially in modern times with the rapid pace of technology, the deluge of information that the internet has put at our fingertips, and the subsequent thirst for more and better “everything.” The healthcare industry is no exception. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we persistently have to be at the top of our game – to deeply know our consumers, anticipate change, and be ready to deliver a “perfect experience,” with an ever-shifting definition and expectation.

All of this is necessary to stay relevant in business AND serve the customer in the best possible way so that they are fully satisfied and, in our best moments, delighted. But it’s one thing to know and say things like, “Change is coming. We need to be ready for and/or drive disruption in the industry,” and quite another thing to prescribe how, when, where and what. These are the questions that inevitably come back to me after I discuss change with my colleagues:

  • HOW do we know WHAT to look for?
  • HOW do we stay ahead of it?
  • HOW do we prepare ourselves as leaders to be uber-aware of customer needs, the fluctuating climate, and other factors so we can proactively help shape the change and not be shaped by it?

These are hard questions, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. However, I do believe we can do a few things to make it easier:

Walk a mile in their shoes. (And don’t discount your own journey.)

Understanding the customer through their lens is a relentless pursuit. It requires a very conscious, deliberate, open mindset. It also means you’re persistently paying attention – staying curious, watching, listening and making connections.

Obviously, we do the customer interviews. We seek input and feedback in all sorts of ways, both qualitative and quantitative. We see which programs and services resonate with our members, and we regularly mine the data, dig into the research and derive insights. But one thing that I think is particularly helpful and often overlooked or minimized is that, at least in the healthcare arena, we ourselves are all healthcare consumers. In other words, walking a mile in our customers’ shoes can often mean paying attention to our own steps (and missteps!).

Are you frustrated when you have to complete the same personal health information / insurance intake form each time you go to the doctor? Do you or your family members struggle with medication costs? Do you ever find it difficult to choose the right physician? Do your parents or grandparents feel overwhelmed in managing chronic conditions, like diabetes or heart disease? These are common challenges many of us face and, as we put on our problem-solver/innovator/improver hat, let’s leverage those to take us to a better place – one of deeper customer understanding and empathy – so we can be one step closer to delivering a more perfect experience. Sometimes, we separate our personal and professional lives into discrete categories. However, in this instance, we do ourselves – and our customers – a disservice if we compartmentalize. Our experience is relevant experience. Use it.

Then, look beyond that. And then, even farther … and wider.

Just as important as looking close to home – considering yours and your immediate customers’ experience – is looking past it. It’s easy to get caught up in our own industry-speak and the territory in which we live, breathe and work every day. Like many of you, I frequently read the news and commentary that is specific to my trade. I attend and speak at conferences relevant to my profession, and many of my colleagues and friends are in the same business as me – healthcare. This is all valuable and necessary. However, it’s great to spread your wings and travel to new places, both literally and figuratively. 

Being successful in life – and work – is at least partially contingent upon being a continual and adventurous learner. That means exploring beyond the rote and familiar, seeking out new people and experiences, and letting your imagination follow. Don’t let yourself become so focused on the “here and now” that you can’t see the “thereafter.” We live in a huge, amazing universe, full of infinite variety and knowledge, ripe for the taking – if you’re open to it. Some of our best world and business leaders have stumbled upon their most paradigm-shifting revelations or innovations by stepping outside of their norm and seeing things from a completely different perspective. Challenge yourself to think, connect and be different. Stepping up as a leader often means stepping outside of what you know and becoming more comfortable with the uncomfortable.

And, to get there, it requires a few things, including priority, focus, and, importantly, courage! Anyone can do the easy stuff. Anyone can take the easy route. Just like in running a marathon, the great things come from pushing yourself (and your body) to new boundaries. My years of running taught me about the need to be able to push through the pain or discomfort (at times) to get to that finish line. Innovations in the workplace require that same type of resolve to do something you haven’t done before – and to push beyond your comfort zone. When you do, great things may sprout!

Be courageous and fail fast. But keep your eye on the prize.

I’ve talked before about fear and its crippling effect. It’s something I know we, at Humana, work hard to eliminate in the workplace so that our employees feel comfortable expressing their ideas and trying new things. We have to feel empowered to push the boundaries, when needed, to serve our customers.

This requires a culture of courage and one in which you can “fail fast.” It means being able to test the waters, trying out new, sometimes “iffy” initiatives or ideas – without the weight (and potentially higher cost) of long-term commitment – and then quickly but solidly evaluating if the path is right before proceeding. Failing, in this scenario, is really just another way of saying “learning,” and it’s important to be okay with that to make meaningful and swift progress to keep pace in an ever-changing industry. It allows you to try a multitude of options and cast the net wide before you reel in the one that’s the catch of the day.

Being courageous is also how you win by delivering the unexpected to your customers. It’s casting aside skepticism and doubt to make way for the potentially unique and utterly differentiating. As long as you continue to track by your North Star, being bold and experimental is worth the risk.


The only thing constant in life is …

We all know the punchline here: Change. It can be intimidating, unnerving and, sometimes, downright scary. But improvement is not possible without it, and to be forward-moving is just as powerful — and much more positive – than the fear that may hold us back. I encourage you to acknowledge the stress that may come with uncertainty and change … but rise above it. Moreover, try to anticipate, driving the change that will inevitably impact your business. In sum:

  • Do your best to intimately and comprehensively understand your customer, keeping in mind that your own experience is often a tremendous source of insights;
  • Look beyond the trees to see the full forest (and explore it!) so that you keep an open, fresh perspective; and
  • Be brave and bold enough to try new things, quickly transform “failures” into learnings, and surge forward in the most promising, sometimes unexpected direction.

Finally, be bound only by your noble promise of delivering the perfect experience to your customer, realizing that the definition of “perfect experience” is bound to change. Then, you’ll be ready!

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