When my son was less than a year old, he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a condition where there is an excessive buildup of fluid in the brain. Due to a proactive pediatrician and a renowned pediatric neurosurgeon, we caught it early and he never displayed symptoms.

Two months after his first birthday, he had brain surgery – an endoscopic third ventriculostomy – which creates a bypass for the fluid to drain from his brain. It worked and it very likely saved his life.

It was the scariest day of my life, yet it somehow doesn’t seem like it ever actually happened.

What does this have to do with Blue Shield of California?

Because back then, I was a member.

It was on the day of my son’s pre-op that I went to interview at Blue Shield. That sounds crazy, I know. But I was intrigued about turning my very real and timely experience with the healthcare system into an opportunity to change it.

When I met the internal communications team, two things immediately stood out:

  1. The people I met lived and breathed the company mission of creating a healthcare system worthy of their family and friends.
  2. The team’s philosophy is that communication is the bridge business strategy and human connection.

I connected deeply with both of those things.

What appealed to me about the role itself was the chance to support the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Paul Markovich. Being a member who was having very real (and not always so pleasant) interactions with Blue Shield, I saw an opportunity to play a role in ensuring that what was said and done at the top of the organization was reflected in every single member interaction. I wanted every employee to think about the members they serve. I wanted to ensure that the mission wasn’t just a formality, but truly a driving force.

Deeply personal corporate mission

What I’ve learned in my career as a communicator is that a big part of being a great leader is not just setting and driving strategy, but helping others align their work to that strategy. When people find meaning in the work, they feel a sense of ownership. When people take ownership of the work, they are more committed to it and they are more motivated and engaged. Ultimately, that makes for better performance and a better member experience.

My job is to help employees feel that sense of purpose in the work they do at Blue Shield. I get to take the strategy and direction set by our senior leaders and help our 7,000 employees understand it. When they can make meaning of it for themselves, they can give their best to the member who is dealing with a lot more than a prior authorization when they call Blue Shield. That member, like I was, may be staring at the complexity of the healthcare system and feeling scared of losing someone very dear to them.

Health care is personal. Working for a health insurance company is too. 

Fast forward to today and my son, Lincoln, is a healthy, happy almost-three-year-old. While we undergo annual MRIs to check on his condition, we consider ourselves lucky that is the most difficult thing we endure these days regarding his health.

And, almost two years into my time at Blue Shield, I can honestly say the mission of the organization truly is a driving force for every single employee -- including our CEO.