Proper perspective Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2010

Shan Padda needs employees to buck the status quo.

“Part of the challenge of being a CEO of, hopefully, a fast-growing company, is how do you create a culture and employees that are comfortable with constant evolution and constant change?” Padda says. “Embrace it as opposed to being something that they’re afraid of.”

To set a culture that supports rapid growth, you need employees to see change as a positive and you need them to take everything in stride, even setbacks. The ability to do so comes down to how you communicate and what you communicate.

“It’s very important to be honest and not be misleading,” says Padda, chairman and CEO of Health Integrated Inc. “When things are going well, share that, and when things are not going well, also share that, but also explain why and what can be done about it so that people get energized.”

That philosophy has helped the innovative health plans partner grow to 220 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Padda about how to form a culture around growth.

Create a culture around communicating change. In order to create that kind of a culture, it’s really important to communicate, and from the very beginning, be very transparent and vocal about the fact that change is a natural part of the landscape. The ability to change is one of the advantages that a smaller company has, i.e., it’s nimbleness in meeting customers’ needs. Help people understand or frame the thought process around the ability to evolve and change as a positive trait versus something that they’re afraid of.

In order to do that, you certainly have a lot of different mechanisms for communicating with employees, but what I’ve found is most effective is you have to get in front of people and communicate with them.

We try to accomplish that through something called all-staffs, where we’ll get up or I’ll get up with other members of the senior management team. We probably do this once every six weeks to communicate with everyone on both what’s gone well, what hasn’t gone well, and then also to share with them what’s changing, what’s different, and why that’s good and why that’s a part of the process.

I think what’s important is you need to help people get a context of why it’s important to be able to change. The bigger message you have to communicate is that every company that is successful is successful because it’s providing value to its customers. In terms of being able to provide value to your customers, inheritably in that process is the ability to shift products and functions so you continue to be relevant to your customer base.

Also as a corollary to that, as I was mentioning earlier, the fact that one of the advantages of a smaller company is just the ability to move very quickly to innovate. It’s important for employees to recognize that, and that applies with the proper context of why it’s a positive not a negative.

Maintain a sense of optimism during setbacks. For a leader in an entrepreneurial environment, there’s always going to be setbacks, there’s always going to be so many challenges to overcome, and if you’re not optimistic, if you don’t think the glass is half full, you’ll never be able to be, first of all, yourself successful in overcoming this obstacle, even more importantly, you’re not going be able to convey that conviction to those who work for you.

People generally know when there’s a setback, so the first step is [to] acknowledge what happened. People will be more open-minded if they feel you’re being truthful to them. But then the key is to help them provide the context, help them understand that all companies and all people have setbacks from time to time. Anyone who says that they don’t is not being truthful. Make them get comfortable with that — it’s just a part of the process of building a company, part of the process of running a company.

The next step then is to frame out with their input in terms of what happened — why did the setback occur? Lastly, help lay out a plan in terms of how you can fix it and how you can overcome it.

Show employees there is meaning in their work. I think that another really important thing, in terms of from a culture perspective — how you build a culture of a company — is to help communicate why what you do as a company matters, that gives meaning to work and everything else.

People want to believe that what they’re doing at work, which is a significant part of their life, means something. In our case, it’s actually easy because what we do is we help people who are ill with chronic health care conditions stabilize, and that keeps them out of the emergency room and keeps them out of the hospital, so in one sense, that’s easy for us because we’re having a meaningful impact on people’s lives on something that is very important to them, health care. But my point is that every company needs to come up with a way of framing how what they do matters.

Create an environment of inclusion. (The culture is) not going to work if you have a very rigid, hierarchical environment where, for example, management lives in an ivory tower. The core essence of having people be comfortable with that is to create an environment where people feel included, and that goes to everything from titles and approachability of supervisors, the approachability of management. It’s a combination of a lot of different things.

As a small example, we’re a clinical company. Most of our employees are clinicians or perform clinical functions. My office is right off of our main work floor, so when I’m coming or going, I’m walking right through the middle of where most of our people in our facility in Tampa are working.

How to reach: Health Integrated Inc., (813) 388-4000 or www.healthintegrated.com