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Leading Forward in Health Insurance: The New Mandate for Industry Leaders

By Anna Gill and Debra Walker

Anna Gill and Debra Walker

How do we get there from here? This is the question for health care insurers now that the legality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been definitely decided by the Supreme Court. In the last few years, insurers have gained some experience with the public exchanges and accumulated important data on buyer demographics and product performance. But looming large, as the massive transformation of health care kicks into high gear, is the question of leadership. Do organizational decision-makers have the necessary skills to meet strategic objectives and move ahead of the competition?

In our dealings with colleagues and clients, we hear all the time that new leadership skills are needed, but few can put their fingers on exactly which skills. And, while some senior executive teams make talent initiatives a top priority, HR is often in reactive mode: updating processes and services, creating new positions, staffing to counter turnover, ensuring regulatory compliance, sorting through copious analytics, etc.

For HR to operate with greatest impact, it needs to do what it can do best—create a steady stream of ready leaders who can help translate the emerging business landscape. It must break down the WHATs of change and ensure the leadership in place has the skills and know-HOWs to manage that change. To help with this formidable challenge, let’s look closer at pressing industry imperatives and explore what leaders need to do differently to achieve organizational goals.

1. Cultivate commitment to a shifting paradigm

Health insurers must respond to the shift in the organizational paradigm. The growing influence of individual buyers and new competition created by provider-based health plans has transformed insurers’ go-to-market strategy. Simply stated: True north is now wellness. It’s the leader’s job, therefore, to embrace this brave new world and, more importantly, cultivate commitment to this colossal course correction.

2. Drive process innovation

The post-ACA landscape necessitates an intensified focus on innovation. New, high-impact processes and products with simplified designs are essential to meeting sales and customer retention targets. Let’s dispense with a common misconception: leaders, themselves, need not be creative to drive innovation. Instead, they must be capable of creating a culture that inspires those they influence to generate novel solutions and experiment with problem-solving techniques. The stakes for failed experiments are higher here than in almost any other industry. What’s important is finding the right balance—to recognize that innovation can actually facilitate adherence to regulatory requirements and, as a result, better the lives of individuals.

3. Create a customer-centric culture

We’ll state it clearly: There’s a new number-one stakeholder in town and leaders are responsible for seeing that this customer is served and his needs (guidance, better health, etc.) are met. As part of the royal treatment, leaders must ensure that “human first” drives all strategic priorities, business decisions, and workforce activities. This requires knowledge. Leaders must motivate those around them to get to know this stakeholder and walk in his shoes to understand the two things this buyer really wants: an “elegant” experience (no muss, no fuss) and a trusted advisor.

So, what does this new kind of leader look like?New Healthcare Mandate

  1. Ambidextrous” leaders are needed who, with the same high level of skill, can foster engagement and drive execution. We’re not talking about cheerleaders who simply yell “Let’s go!”; these leaders must also articulate where the organization is going and how it’s going to get there—then take charge of delivery.
  2. The industry needs leaders who can drive innovation. Not “big idea” creators who can push through their own ideas, but those that inspire others to consider the needs of all stakeholders and be bold in their efforts to satisfy those needs.
  3. Agility is key. For organizations, HR, and leaders to manage continuous change and not be overwhelmed by it, people and systems must be agile. In the midst of radical transformation, HR should place special emphasis on assessment and selection for two reasons. One, to identify candidates with difficult-to-develop attributes (including agility and conceptual thinking) and two, to target specific development needs and reduce ramp-up time in a new role.
  4. Finally, the new leadership mandate requires leaders to have bifocal vision—an ability to see not only what’s in front of them, but also what’s further off in the future. They must be able to execute today...and envision (and plan for) tomorrow. 

Anna Gill is executive director of business advisory services at Aetna Inc.
Debra Walker is a senior consultant for DDI. 

Read more about the three imperatives and the future of leaders in your organization in the full article: Leading Forward in Health Insurance.

Posted: 15 Feb, 2016,
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