Pulling Back the Layers of Workplace Excellence: Q&A with Kathy Webster
When I first met Kathy Webster a year ago I was immediately impressed by her passion for betterment. This was evident from her commitment to drive operational change initiatives to inspiring individuals to live more healthy, thoughtful lives through her fitness coaching practice.
Kathy has over three decades of experience in employee wellness and correlating employee well-being with bottom line revenue. Most recently, she spent the last 11 years with Preventure in various senior level operations positions. In January of 2018, Preventure was purchased by Virgin Pulse, providing Kathy with an opportunity to pursue another entrepreneurial dream, the launch of her own company ShipShape™.
I had the opportunity to meet with Kathy as she reflected on her success in building and evolving Preventure’s operational efficiencies to positively impact the bottom line.
You spent much of your career at Preventure. To begin, can you talk a little bit about your most recent responsibilities as VP Compliance?
The two key areas that I oversaw in that role were Security and Compliance and Corporate Contracting. Due to the type of data we collected, Preventure had to meet the healthcare industry standards and HIPAA regulations, along with high security practices to minimize risk of cybersecurity breaches. The proliferation of cybersecurity in every industry was the reason my role at Preventure evolved from Senior Vice President of Operations to VP of Compliance. This allowed me to more intentionally focus on the impact of this movement to ensure that we were current with the evolving set of security standards and regulations now required for compliance.
Because of these evolving security expectations within the industry, my key responsibilities were to maintain, monitor and track compliance of all security policies. I developed and led our internal “prevent.secure team,” a cross-sectional team of employees that was focused on education, awareness and compliance with our privacy and security policies. I was also responsible for ensuring that our client partnerships were compliant and met the required security regulations.
The second key area of responsibility was in regularly updating our corporate contracting to remain current with our evolution of our products and services. I led an initiative with our legal counsel, sales and account management team on revising our corporate contracts, managing the sales and renewal process, and developing and maintaining contracted Preventure partner accountability standards.
Was the change in your role to focus more on compliance something you had previously seen yourself doing?
To be honest, I never thought I would be interested in compliance because it was so very different from where my education and experience had been. But it was such an important part of keeping the individual’s, client’s, and our own organization’s information protected, that I developed a personal interest and passion for it.
In your role, what are some of the biggest evolutionary shifts you witnessed that impacted your job?
I was the seventh employee hired at Preventure, which grew to over 80 employees during my tenure. I saw a lot of change! In addition to the personnel and financial growth, we also expanded into technology and developed our own proprietary wellness platform two years ago. With such rapid growth, it became important to develop new processes and update old ones.
One area I thought was important to improve was our documentation of critical information and processes. Getting this critical information out of our heads was imperative, but I found that adoption is much easier than adherence. You may get a certain level of initial adoption with a new process, but it’s much harder to guarantee adherence for the long run. In 2015, I launched a Lean initiative to focus on identifying, standardizing and automating our most critical processes—like receipt of paper forms and mapping the contract lifecycle. I wanted to really understand the amount of non-value add steps and waste that we were experiencing in every role and, like most organizations, it was really hard to get our arms around that. We were very successful in our initial launch of Lean but, as is very common, it was hard to sustain that momentum. We saw a lot of repeat issues because we were putting Band-Aids on solutions instead of taking the time to identify the root cause and get to a sustainable solution.
Another big shift I experienced over 11 years was an increased focus on engaged employees and building our company culture. The reality is that when you are growing this fast, you are often reactive and in a survival mode, rather than being proactive and forward thinking. In order to manage this evolving workforce, a main focus of mine was to continue to evaluate the efficiency of our operational model and support reorganization. We were focused on developing our employees and ensuring they were in the right role for them, as well as for the company. We supported their continued growth through a tool that leveraged their strengths and clearly outlined their responsibilities and contributions to the success of the organization. We also recognized the importance of communication and feedback loops between individuals and teams, and fostered this type of continued learning throughout the organization.
All of this experience and change, I would imagine helped shape your definition of workplace excellence. When you hear the term “workplace excellence,” what immediately comes to mind?
My definition has evolved over the years. My feeling is that workplace excellence isn’t an initiative; rather, it’s a lifestyle. I believe it’s achieved in a culture where employees have a clear understanding of their role, their responsibilities and how their contributions impact the success of the organization. It was important that we created a culture that supported change at all levels, provided the tools necessary to accomplish this, and, communicate throughout the lifecycle of change. I see a strong similarity between workplace excellence and the wellness and fitness industry. For behavior change of any type, individuals need a supportive network, tools and resources, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and the self-efficacy for success.
If workplace excellence is the end goal, what gets in the way? Why is something so seemingly simple hard?
Perception of time and priorities. The biggest challenge we have is that we don’t acknowledge that taking time to do something actually can make time. We know that if you are more efficient in the way you do work, getting the actual work done takes less time. We also know if you are healthier, stronger, and mentally and physically on your game, you are more efficient and time effective. But taking time to make time is a difficult thing to do, especially when you’re faced with the rest of your job each day.
What are the single most important qualities needed in today’s business leaders, particularly when they are striving for impactful results?
I see two main qualities: listening and humility. I think everyone needs to improve their listening skills. Leaders need to listen to their employees, clients, partners, and industry leaders to adjust for continued impactful results. They also need to be humble and take ownership when things are not going well, and embrace when change is necessary.
Can you give an example/story of a point in your career when your own beliefs about leadership were shaped?
I had a real “aha” experience about five years ago that was instrumental in shaping my personal leadership. Preventure was a Gallup Strengths-Basedorganization and my top strengths are: Achiever, Activator, Focus, Arranger and Relator. I came to find that they were not only my greatest strengths but also presented me with my greatest challenges. My intensity and drive to get things done had blindsided me in my communication. I needed to learn to listen to my team and leverage their strengths to lead, collaborate, and achieve, to accomplish their personal and our team goals. This provided an opportunity to participate in executive and personal coaching which was instrumental in building a more collaborative personal leadership model.
Against your experience at Preventure and passion for continuous improvement, you have launched your own wellness company, ShipShape™—officially launching in May. Congrats! Tell me about ShipShape™.
ShipShape™ is “fitness for the mind and body.” I am excited to get back to the one-on-one work I did when I owned my own fitness consulting and management company at the start of my career. In my new business as a professional fitness coach, I will be applying the same problem-solving skills, to build support, trust and rapport with my clients, to improve their mental and physical fitness.
I have come to find that there is a lot of synergy in workplace well-being and personal well-being. I firmly believe that an individual’s “success” in meeting their personal and professional goals is directly related to their mental and physical well-being. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, self-efficacy and social support are attributes of “workplace excellence” that also align with personal well-being. In every behavior change there is a challenge of gaining not just adoption but, more importantly, adherence. Adopting any change requires an individual to break old habits and develop new ones. The factors that motivate an individual to change are not the same factors that will keep them adhering. This longer-term commitment requires motivation that gives behavior direction and purpose.