(Jason Cohen Photo/Courtesy Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana)
THE EXECUTIVE: Dr. I. Steven Udvarhelyi, president and CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana
THE SESSION: How to ensure a smooth leadership transition in challenging times
Dr. I. Steven Udvarhelyi, the new president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, is a Philadelphia transplant. He’s charged with a Rocky Balboa-sized battle—taking on the leadership of the state’s oldest health insurance company during a time of unparalleled competition, rising health care costs, financial pressures and industry change. Here are five tips from Udvarhelyi on how to lead in times of change, challenge and transition.
1. Communicate. I am coming into an established organization during a time of change, so two-way communication is vital. Listening is a priority, as much or more so than talking. In a transition it’s important to build trust and relationships instead of blindly pursuing an agenda. Listening and communicating are a big part of building trust. A colleague shared this advice with me before I started my new role as CEO. He reminded me, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” It’s great advice during times of transition, and it’s great advice across the board.
2. Know your industry and company inside and out. It’s important to know where your industry is going and to understand your organization’s strengths and weaknesses in relationship to industry changes. Once you are clear, recalibrate the organization to understand the importance of being nimble. But this should be in the context of preserving your company’s core strengths, while exploring new opportunities. There must be balance. Just because it’s a new opportunity doesn’t make it the right opportunity. And that’s where a good understanding of your industry and your organization’s strengths and weaknesses comes into play.
3. Create a culture that rewards the right behaviors. Teamwork is one of those behaviors. Which is to say, working as a team is more important than working as an individual. It’s also important to encourage employees to challenge each other and to be candid and share information. No person has a monopoly on good ideas—not the CEO or anyone on the leadership team. For instance, Gmail was created by a Google employee working on his own time. It wasn’t part of a company initiative. So it’s important to create an environment where people are sharing information, ideas and are speaking up.
4. Balance entrepreneurship, innovation and financial discipline. If you want to move an organization forward in a changing industry, you need to create an environment that fosters creativity, new ideas and innovation. And you need to try new things. However, at the end of the day you only get credit for what you finish, not for how many things you start. When you’re exploring new ideas within your organization and see one that’s not panning out, let it go and move to something else. That takes courage and discipline, but it’s an important success factor.
5. Be clear on your direction. When you know this and have a good strategy, then create a culture where there is a bias for action. This will lead to rapid success or failure. And if you’re going to fail, fail fast. Bottom line: you need a strategy and a willingness to take action. After all, it’s hard to win without a game plan. And you can’t win at all if you don’t take action—or if you’re afraid to risk failing.
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