A Scrappy And Highly Practical Approach To Develop Frontline Leaders with Collective Health’s CPO

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The Culture Code

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Over the course of 40+ interviews with chief people officers (CPOs), each shared their approach to developing first-line leaders. Many CPOs had large budgets and equally large programs. Some CPOs even had the budget to scale one-on-one executive coaching to first-line managers. However, many others had smaller budgets or faced such rapid growth that they had to quickly implement a new program. Often, it was the companies that had to work quickly and with a limited budget that had the most effective and creative approaches.

Here are a few examples:

  • manager power hours with the CPO of Box
  • teaching at scale by conducting live post-mortems of leadership mistakes with a group of peers at Alto Pharmacy, and
  • a “manager digest” of timely monthly topics centered on key skills at 10x Genomics

In this recent interview, CPO of Collective Health Abbie Buck shared a best-in-class example of how a rapidly growing tech company can still deliver highly effective leadership development opportunities to the frontline on a budget.

Collective Health is a healthcare tech company with approximately 750 employees. The company focuses on making health benefits work better for everyone. “We know that the healthcare system in the U.S. is convoluted and costly and that the burden of navigating, understanding, and paying for healthcare typically falls to the individual,” Buck explained. “Collective Health wants to change that through proprietary and highly configurable technology.”

Abbie Buck, CPO of Collective Health
Abbie Buck, CPO of Collective Health

Cultivating a Customer-Centric Culture With ‘Love Letters’

The best way to obtain a realistic depiction of company culture is to ask your employees how they see it. That’s exactly how Buck approaches culture. She said, “If you asked one hundred employees why they're at Collective Health, all would say that they're here partly because of the mission of the company.”

Naturally, as a mission-driven healthcare company, it follows that their culture is also highly customer-focused. To foster this sense of connection to the customers, Buck and her team use a “love letters” initiative. “At every monthly all-hands meeting, we share customer and member love. We call them love letters, and they are direct feedback from clients and members to reinforce our values.” Being a healthcare company, the stories can be highly emotional. Buck shared, “In our all-hands meeting yesterday, we shared customer stories, and I actually cried. We talk about people in their most vulnerable moments. The impact that we can have on members is really heartwarming and important.”

How Collective Health Created a Highly Effective System of Development for First-Line Leaders

As a baseline for frontline leaders, Buck starts with core management training. “I refer to it as Management 101, and we cover topics such as effective feedback, delegation, and how to support the development of your team members.”

In addition to this core management training, Buck has experimented with and proposed scrappy ways to accomplish a lot. She said, “I think back to my days at IBM, or PayPal, or eBay, larger companies where I had more resources. One thing we've done at Collective Health is tailor to our unique needs. We operate in an incredibly complex industry, and the learning curve for people who aren't experts in healthcare is steep.” One way Collective Health has addressed this learning curve is to implement a program that's really intended to build acumen around the industry and the company. They do this for all managers, regardless of their department. The program covers everything from Healthcare 101 to healthcare economics, how the company positions itself externally, how to sell to clients, and a complete overview of their products and services suite. “We also record each session so that others can tap into those topics over time,” Buck shared.

Every Employee Takes a Sabbatical After Five Years

Buck and her team developed an initiative to reward employees for their tenure and to give them time to refresh and recharge. “Being in a growth-stage company is not always for the faint of heart,” Buck explained. “It can be a really intense environment. One of the things I introduced last year is a sabbatical awarded to employees after five years of employment. The sabbatical enables employees to take a dedicated chunk of time off to recharge and recommit. It's been really well received, and everybody has returned. It's also a great recruiting tool.”

Advice for other CPOs: Adopt First-Principle Thinking

Buck’s advice for anyone stepping into a CPO role was to learn to use first-principle thinking. “When you work in an ambiguous environment, you don’t necessarily have all the facts, and you’re trying to piece together the puzzle of what will be most impactful for employees who have a gazillion different opinions and needs. First principles thinking is highly valuable,” Buck explained. “It’s become a mantra. I ask ‘What is most important? What am I solving for? How is that prioritized? How do these actions square with our values?’ This can be incredibly clarifying.”

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CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at https://leadx.org/preview.