Erin Hoeflinger isn’t afraid to get out and talk with her employees. It’s not unusual to see her out meeting with employees at
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Ohio or even picking up the
phone to talk with them about a question or concern they might
“If they feel strongly enough to send me an e-mail or give me
a call, because there are times and levels that feel like that has to
take a lot of guts, I’ll pick up the telephone and have a conversation with them,” she says. “There are points in which people are
surprised — I think they are less surprised now; the rumor is out
that I will call you back.”
Hoeflinger has worked hard to establish
that openness and transparency since stepping into the president
and general manager’s role last February, after spending four years
in the same role for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maine.
“We continue to evolve and improve communication,” she says of
the $4.2 billion subsidiary of WellPoint Inc. “We are continuously
focused on how and what we need to communicate.”
Hoeflinger not only works to keep communication open and
transparent with her 4,800 employees at the health and medical
insurance company but also with her many clients, consumers and
members. With health care costs rising, she wants users to have
ample information to better understand their benefits.
“People are paying more,” Hoeflinger says. “They need to understand how to use their dollars more effectively, and they need to
understand more clearly what they’re purchasing.”
Remaining open and transparent with employees requires
Hoeflinger to set a vision and goals and then staying active and visible at Anthem’s 14 locations across Ohio. When that happens,
employees understand exactly what is required of them on the job,
and engaged employees are more productive.
Set a vision and goals
When Hoeflinger first came to Cincinnati, she took some time to
meet with her employees and some of Anthem’s 3.3 million members to learn more about what was important to them. This
allowed her to establish a vision for the company to “make health
care more accessible and understandable” and also to set goals
that are aligned with that vision.
“That’s the opportunity the leader gets when they first come into
a position, is to take stock of what’s been going on, where we’re
headed and where we need to head,” she says.
Hoeflinger traveled around the state and met with different
groups, from brokers to employer groups, to understand the needs
of customers in the different parts of Ohio.
You can make time for these types of meetings by putting external meetings on the same agenda as an internal trip.
For example, a business trip to Cleveland might include meeting
with her leadership team there, and then getting out and spending
time with brokers, groups and members.
“We do make sure we balance the internal and external,” she
says. “Certainly, there are weeks when I feel like I’m more external than internal, and then you just have that internal time clock
where you can feel you’re not hitting on all cylinders, you haven’t
been where you need to be, and you just roll back around again.”
Once Hoeflinger learned what customers were looking for, she
met with her leadership team to discuss the priorities and what the
company would be able to accomplish. You then have to set internal goals that can help you reach the vision. They also have to be
specific to each employee.
“The key is linking everyone’s job to the broader goals of the
company,” she says. “Associates want to know how their work
impacts our results. Everyone has an important role. My job is to
help them understand how broad their impact is on our success.”
The goals also need to be something that you can come back to
and measure employee productivity against.
“The goals have to be smart — they have to be specific and measurable,” she says. “... And then you have to come back at the end
of the year and say, ‘Did we hit them, and how did we do on each
one of these?’”
Every employee at Anthem has a performance plan set for them
each year. The plan has five specific goals for their area of work,
and then actions to take to meet those goals that are aligned with
the company vision.
“You have to be able to check back — is there information I can
gather to find out whether or not this was accomplished?”
Hoeflinger says. “You never want to set a goal that you are going
to have to argue about later. You need to have the information and
technology to be able to verify what happened.”
Hoeflinger has formal meetings with associates each quarter to
check how they are doing on reaching goals and to address any
problems sooner than later.
“Your management team should always know where they stand
in your mind according to their plan,” she says. “You don’t want to
wait and check in at the end of the year, because then they haven’t
hit for a full year. You do need to do check-ins — I certainly would-n’t wait for a formal check-in if I thought something wasn’t working, that would be more of a pick up the telephone and let’s get an
opportunity to meet and talk that through.”
Employee bonuses are also tied to the goals. Employees receive
a score at the end of the year on a scale of 1 to 5; that then goes
into a system that will determine the bonus for the year.
For example, if you score a 3, that score goes into the system and
says where you are on the pay range and what is recommended for
“Their increase is specific to how they scored on the performance
plan,” Hoeflinger says. “Key to being successful is lining incentives up with what you want, so the goals and the incentives
have to be lined up together.”
Having a vision and goals in place allows employees to understand what they need to do to move the company forward.
“People want to understand how they fit, people want to understand how the work they do improves and moves us forward, and people
want to understand whether or not they’ve done a good job,”
While it may take time to set up those performance plans and
meet with employees about goals, there is a better return on
“You can be more effective in delivering a strategy and what you
deliver is going to be more relevant to the customer,” she says.
Hoeflinger says the worst thing you can do when leading a company is sit in your chair in your office and manage from there. To be
effective and create an open and transparent culture, you need to
get out and be seen and interact with your employees.
“The higher up you get, the lower you are on the food chain of communication.” she says. “... It’s harder to get that direct sense of where
you are going as a company any other way than getting out there, getting involved, managing by walking around, understanding what’s
going on day to day and understanding how it’s impacting the customer.”
With her employees scattered across the state, Hoeflinger relies
heavily on constant communication to make sure she is connecting with them.
“You have to do it more than once, and you have to do it in several different ways,” she says.
Keeping communication open sometimes requires it to be a little
less formal so that employees feel comfortable coming to you with
questions and concerns. Meeting with employees on their level is
one way to do this.
For example, Hoeflinger spent some time recently in customer
service to learn more about what types of calls the representatives
were receiving and what they were hearing from members. She
says it sometimes can be a little scary at first for the employees on
the front line when you come to meet with them. But if you just sit
down with them and start to have a conversation, they understand
why you’re there and their fears start to fade.
“You can’t just shoot off an e-mail and ask what our top three
calls are,” she says. “If you’re not getting out and understanding
from the people who are taking them what’s going on, then you’re
not getting a flavor.”
Being a hands-on leader requires you to set your ego aside and
not get emotionally tied to your title.
“You are now in the position of your people who work for you
will make or break you,” Hoeflinger says. “So ensuring that you
understand what motivates them and ensuring that you’re out
there energizing them and moving them in the right direction,
(because) without that you won’t be successful. And if the teams
from them on down don’t believe in the direction or they don’t
believe in you because, A, they never see you or, B, they never hear
from you and the only communication you’re getting is from sitting
in your chair, you’re going to live a short life in that seat, so enjoy.”
When you’re out meeting with employees and they tell you about
a problem or issue they’re having, they need to know you’re actually listening to them. If you follow up on the problem, they know
you are hearing their concerns and you will develop trust with
Hoeflinger makes sure she has accurate information on the
issues so she can follow up properly. For example, she might have
the head of her sales team take notes during a meeting on follow-up items. She’s then able to follow up with that employee, whether
it’s through e-mail or a note or phone.
“They’re always surprised when you make that call,” she says. “But it’s fun. A great part of my job is being able to reach out and
work one-on-one with people.”
If an employee brings up something that can’t be done, you still
need to follow up and be honest with them about the situation.
“If they ask a question, I tell them exactly what I know, and then
I continuously have to follow through on where we are,”
Constant and open communication does take a lot of work, but
it also keeps people energized and moving forward on achieving
the vision and goals. Hoeflinger has seen higher employee engagement at Anthem through her transparent communication, and
those engaged employees are, in turn, more productive.
“It’s so much about getting out and communicating in different
formats, in different locations, and getting the message out and
hearing the message back,” she says. “It’s two-way communication
and feet out on the streets from that perspective. The way you’re
going to learn how things are going, how your message is being
received and what the vision is on the ground is to get out there.”
HOW TO REACH: Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Ohio, (513) 872-8100 or www.anthem.com