A Culture of Quality: An Interview with Laurie Havanec

How to create the future of work? What is the role of HR executives in upskilling the workforce? What advice can a renowned CPO give to aspiring talent? These were only some of the questions The HR Digest discussed with Laurie Havanec, EVP & CPO at CVS Health.

Laurie Havanec

The HR Digest: Rethinking the future of work is at the top of many executive teams’ agendas. What according to you will define the new frontiers of the future of work?

Laurie Havanec: The pandemic created such a rapid period of change for employers, but we’re really at the beginning of that change. All employers should be preparing for massive change in what their employees will expect and need in the future. Going forward, employees will be seeking more ways to balance their work and lives by managing where they work. Employers will need to provide employees with the tools they need to connect, collaborate and innovate no matter where they are working. At the same time, the power of personal connections in a shared space can’t be underestimated when it comes to building and maintaining a strong and inclusive company identity and culture and allowing colleagues to take advantage of development and relationships that will help them grow their careers. So, I think that the words “flexibility” and “hybrid” will be key components of any future of work strategy. We’re working hard to define how that will work best in our company, but I fully realize that it will evolve over time. One of our company mantras is that we are never done learning, which certainly will be true for us with the future of work. It’s also important to note that at CVS Health we are focused on serving our customers each day. Two-thirds of our employees never stopped reporting to work in our stores, pharmacies, distribution centers, clinics, and home care environments, even during the height of the pandemic. I’m so grateful for their commitment and service.

How are you preparing your employees for this new reality of work?

First, we’re listening to our employees. Over the course of the last year, we’ve continuously gathered feedback about what our employees needed as they adapted to working remotely and balanced work life and home life in the same space. We’ll continue to listen and learn as we begin to reopen our offices and evolve our approach. Second, we’re focused on our culture. We have a strong history of collaboration and innovation. As we look to the future, we plan to modernize the environment in our locations to create space in which colleagues can connect with people they may not work with each day and continue to develop new capabilities, but still find it easy to engage digitally with colleagues in other locations or who are working remotely. We’re building guidelines to help leaders think about how to continue to accelerate results while meeting colleagues where they are in terms of the need for flexibility. And we’re working to get everyone comfortable with collaboration tools that will make working in a more flexible environment feel seamless.

By creating a purpose-driven culture, CVS Health has found itself in the constant process of cognitive transformation. This is an extraordinary asset in today’s world, where organizations must transform frequently, rapidly and economically to thrive. How do you keep the people at CVS Health motivated for change?

Our purpose-driven culture and obsession with caring for our customer is embedded in the fabric of our company. Our colleagues are deeply committed to putting our customers on the path to better health. So, our colleagues are motivated to innovate and improve how we care for our customers and their health. Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example of how CVS Health colleagues were able to quickly and nimbly coordinate across all the parts of our business to meet our customers and our nation’s health needs, from quickly standing up testing and vaccination sites to helping members maintain access to quality health care.

What is CVS Health’s secret sauce for being recognized several times as “Great Place to Work?” Do you still see room for improvement in your employment practices?

Our 300,000 colleagues bring our vibrant purpose-driven and customer-centric culture to life every day. Our mission is to foster an inclusive and collaborative culture that puts our colleagues at the center of all we do. We are always looking for ways to make our “great place to work” even better! CVS Health thrives by listening and learning from each other to continuously improve the colleague experience. Our comprehensive listening strategy through surveys, idea platforms, and listening tours, enables colleagues to provide innovative ideas and feedback on how we can all elevate the colleague experience at CVS Health. We believe our culture differentiates CVS Health as the employer of choice for top talent who can thrive in diversified career paths aligned with their aspirations.

And there is always room for improvement in our practices. The moment that we stop focusing on continuous improvement and making ourselves better, we will lose our ability to attract and retain great talent. We aspire to have the best talent and therefore need to relentlessly push ourselves and constantly listen to our colleagues to learn what will make their experience with us more compelling. We see our employees as our best spokespeople for talent to join CVS Health.

Upskilling has a strong place on the strategic agenda of CVS Health. If you had to make the case for the value of upskilling in workforce decision-making as succinctly as possible, how would you frame it?

Providing customers with the expert care and high-quality experiences they need in a health care environment is our primary mission at CVS Health. And because each customer is unique, very often, so is the type of service or support they need our colleagues to provide. This means our colleagues must take in information and respond with customer-focused decisions, every day.

To equip our clinicians on the front-line with refreshed knowledge and skills needed to make these decisions, we rely upon a simple, but high-impact approach to upskilling. Our approach to upskilling ensures learning and development can easily take place on the job, with minimal disruption of workflow. Upskilling significantly minimizes colleagues’ falling behind on valuable information and approaches that drive their ability to make decisions in real-time and fuel our differentiated customer care and service. CVS Health listens and acts on colleague and customer feedback to continue to improve our training and development and empower our colleagues with the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to make high-impact, high-quality decisions, every day.

What experiences, people, or philosophies have most influenced the way you view and practice leadership, and why?

My personal leadership philosophy centers around four principles:

  • Bringing our best self to work every day. This means celebrating our successes and growing and adapting from our mistakes. It also means making decisions, innovating, moving quickly with intention and course-correcting to get to the best answer before the competition does.
  • Doing the right thing; especially when it is hard. The second part of this element is what really matters. We all do the right thing when it is easy but showing the leadership courage to make the hard decisions under difficult circumstances is often the hardest and most important fingerprints we can leave on an organization.
  • Relentlessly building relationships with trust and candor; sideways, up, and down. These relationships are the key enablers to achieving our own vision and helping others achieve their vision. Aligned organizations are faster and more efficient at driving an agenda.
  • Empower, develop and support your team. This will allow decisions to be made at the right level of the organization and engage, inspire and recognize leaders who want to be accountable and own what they do. It will guarantee that we are developing, supporting and sponsoring the next generation of talent for our organizations.

What’s the key lesson you want future HR leaders to take away from your work?

Be willing to take risks and be uncomfortable. Don’t wait to finish the work you are doing to move into a new role. Define the fingerprints that you want to leave on an organization and hold yourself accountable for making them happen. Proactively seek feedback from a variety of stakeholders as committing to your continuous development is essential for growth. And most importantly, always remember that people are the one thing that truly distinguish great companies. Invest heavily in people and culture because, in the end, strategic execution cannot happen without aligned and engaged colleagues working together in an inspiring and compelling cultural environment.

Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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