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David Pollack put Molina Healthcare of Florida in a better position to grow Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2010

David Pollack barely had enough time to get his business cards printed when he learned that he would need to get them changed. The chief operating officer at Molina Healthcare of Florida was now the president.

His predecessor was moving on to lead a sister company in Texas, leaving Pollack with a company that was full of both energy and inexperience. Molina Healthcare of Florida had launched a month before Pollack was named COO.

Then, in July 2009, a mere four months later, he was the man leading one of the newest divisions of the 2,800-employee Molina Healthcare Inc.

“We had a lot of people in first-time leadership roles as director-level people in the company,” Pollack says. “We were going through a natural evolution of starting up and going through the go-live part of the company. We had our first member and had our first product out in the field. We were going from that transition to starting to grow and starting to figure out where we were going to go next.”

Pollack had executive-level experience, so he wasn’t too concerned about his ability to map out a workable growth plan to expand the company and build partnerships with hospitals in South Florida. But he first needed to find out what he had within his leadership team. He had to know what skills his team brought to the table and whether those skills would be helpful in the 121-employee company’s effort to achieve its growth goals.

“We really tried to understand where our operational weaknesses were and how we could shore those up pretty quickly,” Pollack says. “When you’re stepping into a new role, the first thing you really have to do is understand the people you’re working with and how you’re going to be working with them.”

See what your people can do

Pollack knew he needed to work effectively with hospitals and providers in South Florida if his company was to expand its presence in the region. At the same time, he had a young company with leaders who didn’t have a wealth of experience to fall back on.

But Pollack chose not to make any assumptions about the skills his people did or did not have. He would be ready to provide help and guidance if it was needed, but he would resist the urge to act as if he was the company savior.

“Just because you’re in a supervisory role doesn’t mean you have to micromanage or that you have to be involved in every single decision they are making,” Pollack says. “They were doing their job before you became their supervisor and they’re going to continue to do their job. As you learn what they are doing in a more detailed way, you can begin to coach them on things you want them to prioritize or do a little bit differently. But to me, you can’t go in there immediately and say, ‘I’m your supervisor and things are going to change.’ That heavy-handedness doesn’t work.”

If you go in with an open mind, you may find out that your employees already have a sense of how things could be done better.

“Usually an individual has ideas about what they want to change, what they would like to do differently and what they want to do better,” Pollack says. “So you can begin to bring that out by asking questions rather than directing immediately. My experience has been that most people really do want to do things more efficiently. … You can at least begin the conversation with those ideas and evaluate what they are thinking. Some of them may be great. Some of them may not be so good. But you can at least have an open dialogue about those ideas without feeling like it’s coming from the top down.”

Pollack recalled a prior experience with a woman who had been his peer for a long period of time. Then Pollack was promoted, and suddenly, he was her boss.

It offered him an enduring lesson on how to be an effective manager of people and why you shouldn’t make assumptions about what your people do or don’t know.

“I didn’t make her change just because she was now reporting to me,” Pollack says. “What we did do was really have an open discussion about priorities and about where she was spending her time, where she would like to be spending her time and how I thought she could better spend her time and the resources she needed to better her department.”

Pollack didn’t have a lot of time to get to know people at Molina before he became president. But that just meant he had to work even harder to build the important relationships that encourage people to open up about what they need to do their jobs better.

“People see how you treat people, how you react to people and how you handle adversity,” Pollack says. “To me, the leader has to be the calmest one in the group. People see that and they say, ‘Hey, this is something we have to resolve,’ rather than choosing to hide it for their own benefit.”

In order make it safe for people to bring concerns out in the open, you need to be the one out there asking the questions and showing them that it’s OK.

“You have to get out of your office,” Pollack says. “You have to talk to people. You can’t just talk to the people who you have your direct reporting relationships with. I’m not talking to them to put them on the spot or to grill them. You really just want to understand.”

Make a priority list

Pollack found that he had a lot of talent at his disposal. What the company needed now was a road map to lay out how best to use that talent to help build those strong and valuable relationships with hospitals and providers in the region.

“There’s a long workflow with how we interact with our providers,” Pollack says. “We had processes set up, but again, as you go live, those things change. It really was identifying those priorities and taking steps to make sure that we handled that workflow better. It’s really setting out where you want the company to be in 90 days, six months and a year. It’s understanding what priorities have to be set in order to do that and how the different departments and directors within the company fit into that puzzle.”

Contracts with hospitals and providers were a priority, but it wasn’t No. 1. Some time had to pass before it could be addressed. But Pollack needed a clearer sense of what were the top priorities and which ones could wait.

“We kept trying to decide when the right time was,” Pollack says. “When did we have enough data? When did we have enough membership? When did we have our operational processes under control to know we were administering the contract correctly?”

Pollack decided to begin the process of getting things in order by making his own priority list.

“That really becomes the starting point of where to go,” Pollack says. “People like to know that there’s a plan and there’s a vision for the company. The president of the company should be the one to be leading it. I also think it’s important as a president or leader to know enough about what’s happening at the individual department levels to set those priorities appropriately. They’ve got to be based on reality.”

Pollack got his dose of reality from the conversations he had with his people to assess their skill levels. Now it was time to turn that feedback into specific priorities that would address the company’s larger performance goals.

“When you start to break it down into the different levels, you’ve got financial stability, you’ve got growth, you’ve got compliance and you’ve got customer service,” Pollack says. “Any priority that you set really has to fit into one of those underlying tenets for any company. What I always try to do is, I try to break things down to their lowest level. You can generally get started at the lower level. You may say, ‘Well, I want to grow 10 percent this year.’ What does that mean? How am I going to do that?”

Each priority needs a reason as to why it’s a priority and it needs action items that will help you accomplish the goal.

“So you may say, ‘I’m not growing, because my customer service problems are keeping me from growing,’” Pollack says. “OK, now you’re starting to get into customer service. ‘Well, why is customer service keeping you from growing?’ You keep breaking it down and that’s a good way to get started.”

Pollack put his list together and shared it with his senior leaders and asked them for their input on what he had come up with.

“So we’ll take that initial list and either expand it, collapse it or change it based on some of that input. It’s important for the leader to take that first look and say, ‘This is where I think we need to go.’ I would involve other people once I’ve gotten through my initial thoughts.”

The key to making a priority list work is that you find a way to keep it front and center in your workday and make sure it’s a constant in your daily routine.

“It’s just got to be easy to use,” Pollack says. “It can’t be complicated, and it can’t take a lot of time to develop or change. It’s in a prominent position on the left part of my desk. It’s in a different colored folder, the only one I have of that color. When I’m sitting at my desk, you can’t miss it.”

Make it happen

our people need to know what’s expected of them to help your company meet its goals. Molina uses scorecards, a method that Pollack was only too happy to bring to his division in South Florida.

“Everybody is on the same page with expectations,” Pollack says. “‘Here’s how your performance is going to be measured. Here’s what we think is important for you to be doing.’ Part of the process in developing the scorecards is the communication between, in our terms, we call it the player and the coach.”

Everyone in the company, including Pollack, has a scorecard that tracks three to five metrics for which that individual is responsible.

“You don’t actually do the scorecards until the player has suggested the scorecard that they feel reflects how they contribute to the organization and the coach has signed off and said, ‘Yes, we agree with that,’” Pollack says. “This is about finding out where your weaknesses are and working incrementally to improve them. You use it as a counseling tool and a coaching tool, because there should be incremental improvement. It’s not about finding a way to fire somebody. It’s about making sure the expectations are set correctly and that people understand what they should be doing.”

Pollack uses the scorecarding method to make sure that everyone understands what needs to be done in the effort to build strong relationships with hospitals and providers. Ideas are first discussed with people he has gotten to know and then put on a priority list to make sure they are addressed.

They then are funneled out to people’s scorecards to make sure those goals are accomplished.

“It’s having agreement that, ‘Here’s the tasks that are going to be done and here are the time frames they are going to be done in,’” Pollack says. “You can look at it and say, ‘We’re doing what we should be doing.’”

Eventually, the hospital contract renegotiations rose to the top of the list. Data had been gathered, relationships had been built, and Pollack and his team felt like they were ready to embark on accomplishing this objective.

“You have to understand the data,” Pollack says. “What are the pricing points? What are the operational points that are required to work with the hospital? We’re just on the cusp of finalizing those renegotiations on a successful basis. It really is a lot of communication and face-to-face discussions that this is the right time to go forward.”

Pollack’s company generated $102.2 million in 2009 revenue, and he feels confident that things are on the right track to keep growing.

“There’s really no magic,” Pollack says. “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”

How to reach: Molina Healthcare of Florida, (866) 422-2541 or www.molinahealthcare.com