UPMC Health Plan heads in the right direction Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

Diane P. Holder wants more from her vision than to just create it, stick it on a shelf and then focus on the daily grind.

The president and CEO of UPMC Health Plan and president of the UPMC Insurance Services Division sees the vision as the company’s outlook on the future and as a creation that is constantly evolving. But, the creation of that needs to start with you, and as it evolves, others need to be involved, as well.

“Vision is something that your team helps to further,” says Holder, who oversees about 1,500 people at the company. “But I think the vision gets set at the top through boards and CEO levels. Then, your senior people — they help to shape it and evolve it over time. It’s a participatory process.”

In order to make it a process involving others, you need to articulate it simply so you can communicate it appropriately.

“You want to engage people in the process of actually understanding what it means,” she says. “It’s great to be at a 30,000-foot (level) in terms of where you want to go in the future and how are we going to get there. But, you need to be able to communicate that and engage people in that, and you then need to have strategies to actually employ it.”

Under Holder’s guidance and vision, the organization has grown from $2.3 billion in 2007 revenue to more than $2.8 billion in 2008 revenue. But vision isn’t the only thing you need to be successful.

Here are some other ideas Holder acts on to keep the company heading in the right direction.

Know your surroundings.

Market intelligence is important to help your organization succeed, so you have to have a clear sense of what is happening around you.

“It’s very important to talk to people in the industry,” she says. “You have your people or you, yourself, at meetings. Every company has a variety of vendors or people that they work with, that they partner with or that they purchase services from. They’re often excellent sources of bringing you feedback in terms of, ‘Here’s why somebody else is trying this that might not be in your immediate competitive market, but they certainly are doing things that are a little different.’

“For example, technology is sort of a ubiquitous need across multiple, multiple industries. The way technology might be used in health care — maybe you’re manufacturing similar applications, similar tools, similar quality processes, and there’s a lot of things that overlap across industries. Some industries, on the whole, are further behind than other industries. So, sometimes you can look at completely different industries from your own, and say, ‘Hey, look at their 10-year trajectory. Look how they made those things happen.’ How does that apply to the industry you’re in?”

You also need to ask the right questions. For example, you want to ask, “What are some problems people are having, and what are the solutions?”

You need to apply those same questions to those outside your industry because someone in another industry could be developing a completely different product or solution.

“What people need to do is be experts in their own areas,” she says. “But they should also be reading and talking, being in meetings that are outside of their core capabilities or their core methods, to see what is actually coming in from the right and left flank or coming up behind.

“You can actually make sure that the way you are doing it is going to be the best solution for whatever that market is, because everybody is out there being market-driven and you have to really understand what the market wants and how do you provide that product or service that the market values.”

Improve every day

Being a successful organization requires knowing where you stand, setting goals to get better and then holding people accountable.

“If you are in a company like mine, it’s how creative can you be for employers or government when they are seeking health benefits arrangements,” she says. “How high-quality is your service? How do you think about your customers? Then how do evaluate them? How do you benchmark? I think that benchmarking is very important and also your own willingness to kick your own tires really hard and put in place — it sounds trite — but put in place true continuous quality improvement across every variable that you know builds toward that product initiation.”

You need to have data that you can measure and compare to find out how you compare to others in your industry.

“We try to take all the functional components within our organization and then we try to benchmark against what would be considered a best practice in the industry,” she says.

For example, if UPMC was measuring how its call center stacked up, it would look at all the industry benchmarks and compare those to goals, like how satisfied customers are or how quickly they are answering calls.

“We’ve had basically a dashboard we’ve developed looking inside the company at all the different pieces that we think are very important for us in terms of meeting our goals and objectives,” she says. “So we do internal monitoring so that we know that we are hitting our metrics or hitting our benchmarks. We adjust those benchmarks when we think that we could be a best-in-class or we could be better than best-in-class.”

But developing a dashboard and using data can’t just be done on a whim. You have to believe in it and drive home the point that you want to be a data-driven organization.

“You have to have a value proposition inside your company that says you are about setting the culture and you’re about setting the practices against a best-in-class methodology,” she says. “So you have to actually believe there is a reason to do that and to very specifically say, ‘OK, these are the goals in my company.

“Part of that is really the leadership believing that they should be a data-driven organization. Then they have to say, ‘Where in the spectrum do I want to fall? Is everything I’m doing something I want to achieve a best-in-class in. If I am, who’s on my benchmarking list? What are the entities that I want to be like or I want to be better than and how do I know I am?’”

You then need to delegate and depend on your team to present that information to you as well as other team members.

“It’s really a question of what kind of dashboard do you set up for yourself,” she says. “Any company and industry can do that in terms of what is it you are trying to accomplish and achieve. Our methodologies are really to have people who are charged in those areas to really produce data reports that we can see and then we share that with the senior team, so everybody else can see everybody else’s metrics to see if they’re collectively, as a set of companies, are we meeting them?”

Without the data and metrics and passion to be the best, you won’t be able to fully know where you stand.

“It has to do with establishing a culture of excellence, establishing a data-driven set of methodologies, and then being very disciplined about how you set that vision. How do you set those goals and then how do you execute on the strategies that will allow you to improve your performance.”

>Find good people

Leading a successful organization is not something any one person can do alone; you are going to need a good team.

Holder looks for different skill sets and capabilities that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. While talent is important, don’t solely focus on it because it might blind you to a candidate who is deficient in other areas, such as talking over everyone and stifling creativity.

“Part of what I look for in senior leaders is, I look for people who are deep and competent in their particular domain,” she says. “But I also look for people who actually feel that they are on a continuous learning process, that they’re interested in learning from others and capable of working and talking with and listening to other people who might approach the same problem quite differently.”

When sitting down with someone you are thinking about hiring, remember that his or her knowledge is important, but it isn’t the be-all, end-all.

“Knowing their area of expertise is necessary but not sufficient to be a leader,” she says. “You have to know your stuff, but you also have to be able to take in what others are offering and be open to a creative process that allows you to do it differently the next time.”

Because Holder wants people she hires to have an open mind, she takes the same approach to finding people. If she comes across someone who looks interesting and could be an asset, she will bring that person in for an interview, even if she doesn’t have a position open.

“Sometimes I hire for talent as opposed to hire for a specific position,” she says. “You can’t do that a lot, but you should certainly, in my opinion, be open to it.”

Expand your pool of where you find candidates, or if you use a headhunter, challenge the headhunter to think outside the box in terms of who gets brought to the table.

For example, if you only hire people with years of professional experience in your industry, you could be missing out on a valuable employee.

“Sometimes you take a chance on a young person (who doesn’t) have a great track record but they sure do seem bright and energetic,” she says. “They’ve got a fire in their belly, and they’re really excited about what they are doing.

“It’s important to hire for attitude and energy and passion. The people that I’m the most interested in being surrounded with and spending my day with are the people who, when they get up in the morning, they are excited about what they are doing, and they want to do more of it.”

How to reach: UPMC Health Plan and UPMC Insurance Services Division, (888) 876-2756 or www.upmchealthplan.com