Inside Highmark Health’s Transformation Initiative

Written by

Davin Wilfrid

Published on

September 11, 2019

Highmark Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) Larry Kleinman is a featured keynote speaker at this year’s Velocity Summit. We caught up with Larry to ask about the game-changing work his team is doing to transform Highmark Health into a more agile, adaptable, and successful business.

How long have you worked at Highmark Health? 

I joined Highmark Health in 2015 after several HR leadership roles at other healthcare organizations. I’ve also held leadership roles at Campbell Soup Company, Nabisco, and SAP. 

You have a reputation as a “business-first” HR leader. Is that uncommon? 

I think it’s fair to say that most CHROs were at one time very focused on their own functions, but I do believe the CHRO of the future is more likely to be more focused on driving business outcomes. My point of view on HR is pretty simple: As long as I understand the competitive landscape and our company strategy, I can look inward and find the right talent and how to design the organization to win in the marketplace. 

Tell us about the thinkUP initiative at Highmark.

In 2015, it was clear that we needed to change the way our organization worked. We were very dependent on outside consultants at that time. That cost a lot of money, but it also wasn’t clear to us how much value we were getting from those projects. About a year and a half ago we launched thinkUP, an initiative to centralize and standardize how Highmark Health engages across its business units and with many outside consulting firms on important work within the organization. 

What kinds of projects does thinkUP tackle? 

We started small, with just four or five people, but we had a few key principles we followed. First, we wouldn’t accept any projects that would last more than 15 or 16 weeks. Secondly, we would only accept projects in which we could measure the outcome. We treat our project portfolio like an investment portfolio, committing 60-70% of our time to projects that will drive value beyond just cost savings. As we’ve grown, our team has started tackling more enterprise-wide initiatives to drive as much value as possible. 

What results are you seeing? 

In our first year, we completed 15 projects and delivered almost $60 million in value to the company. From there we’ve ramped up our delivery capability significantly, to the point we believe we can consistently drive value back to the business. This year we’ve completed over 60 projects and are ahead of our financial projections. 

Any advice for others driving big transformation initiatives?

This is a lot of what I’ll be sharing at the Velocity Summit. We started with a grand plan that has morphed a lot along the way. We have strong support from our CEO and an amazing team that is really capable of navigating a large, matrixed organization. We’ve learned a lot about how to work with the rest of the business, how to drive adoption, and surface insights. I’m looking forward to sharing in October. 

Larry Kleinman

Chief Human Resources Officer

Highmark Health

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Author

Davin Wilfrid

Davin is the Director of Content Marketing for Catalant. In his spare time, he builds terrible-sounding instruments.