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Practicing What You Preach in Health Tech: A Practical Guide to Living Your Company’s Values

I’m going to pick on health tech a little in this post. But let me be clear, I’m an ally of the industry, not an adversary. I’ve worked at my fair share of health tech companies, and the work has been the most exciting of my career. One thing I’ve seen, however, is that leadership teams can get so passionate about developing their products and nurturing their relationships with customers that they inadvertently drop the ball on building an internal culture that aligns with their company’s mission and vision.

Most founders have good intentions, but as the business scales, the pressure to successfully woo venture capitalists, get acquired, or sell becomes all-encompassing. They don’t realize the error they’ve made until they’re living its consequences: high turnover, difficulty recruiting top talent, and being bashed in the press—or, worse, on Glassdoor. By then, the brand may be tarnished in the eyes of customers and investors.

So, what can leadership do to avoid losing sight of what made their company great in the first place?

Treat Your Employees as Your Most Valued Customers

In the awkward in-between phases of growth that occur after securing Series A funding and before achieving profitability, most health tech companies are kind of a mess. Success means they go from 5 to 50 employees (or even 50 to 100 employees) in a matter of months, and it’s difficult for supporting infrastructure to keep pace with this growth. Leadership often continues to operate in “survival mode” even as the balance sheet trends toward black. They can’t justify focusing attention on internal culture when last quarter’s numbers were down, and they’re hesitant to spend a big chunk of change on hiring yet another FTE or consultant to do this when they have 15 open reqs for sales leads, product managers, and developers.

Not prioritizing an HR, Head of People, or Internal Comms hire is a big mistake, though. How employees experience their days – and the culture that experience cultivates—must be tended to as carefully as customer experience and brand perception. Because your employees are not only brand ambassadors—they are your brand. They speak for you and about you whether you want them to or not.

Recognize Your Special Status as a Healthcare Company

In no industry is reputation more critical than in healthcare, where missions and visions are built on a commitment to improving the lives of the people. Imagine how hard it hits new employees when they observe a disconnect between how your brand is presenting itself publicly and their own experience—“Isn’t it ironic that we make products that improve access to care and we don’t even have an affordable health insurance option?” It’s even worse for early employees who feel betrayed by unfulfilled promises—“I trusted leadership to take care of me once we got funded. But after three years of working on this health coaching app, I still don’t have good enough work/life balance to implement any of the tips in the app for myself.”

Every aspect of the employee experience in a health tech company—from team dynamics to benefits packages to buying into the business goals communicated by leadership—must demonstrate that leadership is just as committed to improving the health of its own employees as its customers’. Wondering if there’s a connection to your bottom line? Here’s a stat that should convince you; companies in the top quartile of employee engagement enjoy 10 percentile higher customer ratings.

Use Benefits as the Building Blocks for a Culture of Good Health

Here’s a list of benefits that can serve as a practical starting point for health tech companies dedicated to living their values as they grow. Leadership can work through this list even before an official Head of People comes on board to look at culture more holistically:

  • Affordable and comprehensive health benefits. If you’re leading a company that’s trying to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for the masses, it’s essential that you do right by your own employees. If you can’t fully subsidize their insurance premiums, then pay for a reasonable portion. Look for plans with lower deductibles and competitive co-pay and co-insurance rates. And think beyond traditional insurance: Offer telehealth, health coaching apps, and flu shots in your office. Do everything you can now, and continue revisiting your offerings as you grow.

  • Flexible work schedules. Ditch the outdated 9-5 paradigm and trust your employees to contribute to the business in a way that works for them, leaving time for self-care. Flexibility can mean working remotely, adjusting hours to accommodate medical appointments, or even allowing an FTE to fit 40 hours into four days instead of five.
  • Support for parents. Offer generous maternity AND paternity leaves, revisiting the portion that’s paid as the company grows. Consult moms on your team about the design of your mother’s room. See above bullet on flexible schedules so parents feel comfortable altering their hours when their kids are sick or daycare is closed.
  • A PTO policy that encourages actually using PTO. Employees with unlimited PTO wind up taking less time off than employees with a set number of vacation days.   Examine your current PTO policy and how it’s used. If employees aren’t taking time off, revisit it. Blaze the trail by taking your own R&R, and being loud and proud about its restorative effect.
  • Fitness incentives. Whether it’s bringing in a yoga instructor once a month, doing a steps challenge, partnering with a local gym to provide discounted memberships, or offering a stipend toward the cost of exercise classes, this one is a no-brainer. In the short term, exercise gets adrenaline going and gives employees more energy to do their work. Long-term, of course, we all know the innumerable benefits of exercise.

Honestly, this list of benefits is just the beginning. But checking these boxes is still a good start, and even a true accomplishment. Because in healthcare, living your values shouldn’t be optional. It should be the way you do business. 

To learn about more of the common pitfalls health tech and services companies encounter, download our webinar. 

November 1, 2019
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