Value #4: Controlled Experimentation and Applied Learning

“The true method of knowledge is experiment.” — William Blake

The Scientific Method is the foundation of all provable knowledge and of technical and intellectual progress. This deceptively simple 6 step process is how we progressed from reliably making fire all the way to blasting off into outer space. It’s why computers and phones get better every year.  It’s also, sadly, how we inevitably learn that everything we love to eat is actually bad for us.  The Scientific Method is not just for folks in lab coats – it can be present literally anywhere that learning or discovery happens.  At HealthAxis Group, we honor that spirit of constant progress through our value of Controlled Experimentation and Applied Learning. It is how our team will become ever more capable, our software will get ever more powerful, and our methods will become ever more effective.

A thriving company ought to make time and space for a virtual laboratory of ideas.  A lack of experimentation is a declaration of one of two things. It either says “we are doing this in the best conceivable way”, or “we are not interested in finding or incorporating a better way”. Both notions are death to progress. And if progress dies, innovation and competitiveness will die shortly thereafter.  It is essential, then, for us to have the will and desire to try new things with the discipline to get the most out of each experiment and apply the best of what is learned.   We will have to cycle through a lot of ideas, nurture the best ones, and also be very objective in recognizing the ones that don’t move us forward.

All of our values work in support of the others, and this one is no exception. What is discovered through Controlled Experimentation and Applied Learning can mature into the Purposeful Acts and Measurable Results that mark our value of Efficiency.  Controlled Experimentation and Applied Learning also reveals new paths for teams, products, and even the entire company to pursue Intentional Growth.  And when we talk about establishing a culture of Continuous Learning, Innovation, and Improvement, perhaps no value speaks to that ideal more than Controlled Experimentation and Applied Learning.

In promoting the value of Controlled Expirementation and Applied Learning, we are recognizing that sometimes to find the greatest success there must be room to risk small failures.  It’s acknowledging that those who only make time to do what they know have no time to discover what they don’t. Controlled Experimentation and Applied Learning is a method and an invitation for all of us to make progress, personally and collectively.


Value #7 – Trusting in Team, Sticking Together, and Having Fun

“We must all hang together, or assuredly, we will all hang apart” – Benjamin Franklin

The Mindset & Why

As mentioned in discussion about Intentional Growth, our mission and vision define us as being on a voyage of discovery – a group of pioneers seeking to prove all the ways the pieces of healthcare can work together.  Stories about pioneers usually end one of two ways – the first is a group of people who, through the journey become more bonded to one another and leave meaningful, positive and lasting impressions upon their fellow voyagers.  The second group is overwhelmed by its environment and sinks into chaos, distrust, and usually devolves into cannibalism.  So…let’s not devolve into cannibalism.

The reason these 3 phrases are presented as one value is because they are deeply intertwined.

[Sticking together] is the first element of achieving meaningful goals with others.  We begin with a commitment that we are here for more than ourselves.  We are here for others, and others are here for us.  [trust in team] Through collective effort and the ability to rely on one another, the scope of what we can accomplish grows and grows, and so must our trust and ability to collaborate.  As expectations and challenges grow, it’s natural that pressure and tension can rise.  [having fun] The best remedy is to keep respect, sanity, and fun in all of our interaction.

These 3 seemingly simple concepts are the glue that keeps communities and teams together. At HealthAxis Group it plays a role in enabling all our values.  A group living this value will find more benefit and less risk from practicing Candor or Doing the Right Thing.  They will find more support and satisfaction when pursuing Intentional Growth.  And on the thankless path that Humble Service sometimes puts us on, it is reassuring to know we have the support of others who understand and appreciate your contributions.  I would bet that if you ask almost any highly effective team how they remain so dedicated to hard work and execution, they will tell you that some flavor of Trusting in Team, Sticking Together, and Having Fun is a big part of what allows them to give their best on a constant basis

The Practice

  • Showing courtesy respect, and understanding for one another, expressing gratitude and demonstrating support when needed
  • Keeping our promises. We put tremendous emphasis on being aware of the commitments you are making and coming through on them. When people come through on their promises, Trust In Team is validated
  • Upholding the values of the company together. We can’t realize our values without being unanimous in respecting and supporting one another when we exercise candor, strive for growth and to apply learning, and possibly stumble along the way.


What it Isn’t

  • It isn’t about sticking together to do the wrong thing. We aren’t here to be “partners in crime”, in the end doing the wrong thing does not reinforce trust, it creates division, and in the end it’s not very fun to deal with
  • It isn’t about prioritizing amusement over upholding our primary commitments. Our commitments and our customer must come first. 

Our Values in Action

To move beyond rhetoric, these are some examples of what Trusting in Team, Sticking Together, and Having Fun looks like in our business:

  • Promises take many forms – they are implicit in our job descriptions and role charters, they are the explicit commitments we make to other people, and they are represented in the form of tickets, TFS items, and all the different methods of work assignment and task tracking.
  • Doing things together outside of work – socially, in the community, fitness-wise, educationally. We hope we bring together a group of people who do more than share a workspace, they make one another’s lives better and more enjoyable
  • Organized events such as Family Picnics, happy hour, or lunches and recognition events during the work year
  • Finding ways to bring a sense of play to the workplace. Lighthearted recognition, organizing simple competitions, and making the achievement of our goals fun.

Value #2: Humble Service to our customers, colleagues, and community

“Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi

The Mindset & Why

Humble Service is a declaration that we will achieve our goals by thinking of others first.  [Service] As daughters or sons, as siblings, parents, spouses, friends, colleagues, caregivers, and so many other important roles in our lives, we never fulfill them – and THEY never fulfill US – more completely than when we serve.  There are cultures and value systems throughout the world that honor the notion of service to others over service to ourselves, on the principle that the path to our own rewards is found by helping others attain theirs. That is what we believe here.

[Humble] Service is a pretty commonly cited value….but why humble? A culture of service commits us to handling frustration, confronting forces beyond our control, and sometimes not getting the recognition or appreciation equal to our effort.  That’s just life as a hero, and staying humble will help us maintain that mindset without wavering.  We all have personal goals, desires, and reasons driving what we do, however most cannot be achieved in a vacuum. Our peers, our customers, our partners, the communities that we do our work in – all of these are part of what make HealthAxis Group a place where we can accomplish those personal goals. Humble Service compels us to honor those connections constantly, not just when they appear to suit self-interest – only by looking beyond ourselves will we ever accomplish something bigger than ourselves.

An organization or community committed to Humble Service can achieve unparalleled success in collaboration.  As Harry Truman said, “It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit”.  At HealthAxis Group, we believe that Humble Service is the best of humanity on display.  When we are in an environment where everyone shares a commitment to a goal, and where you look out for others and know others are looking out for you, great things are possible.

I think that when you reflect on why a person willingly chooses to do tough things in her life or his life, the motivation comes from one of our top two values – embracing a challenge for the sake of Intentional Growth or an act of Humble Service from the heart.

The Practice

A commitment to Humble Service means putting our egos to the sideline.  Ego can put us off from doing the right thing if we are unsure adequate reward or praise will follow; or if doing so could expose us to criticism or ridicule.  When getting something right matters more than being right, getting credit, or looking good, our other values can flourish– it allows us to accept Candor and Feedback with an open mind and without defensiveness; it helps us process the possibility of looking bad or even failing on occasion as we strive for Intentional Growth; and when Controlled Experimentation gives us insights that contradict our assumptions or the idea we advocated for, it will help us quickly and objectively Apply the Learning.

Humble Service entails awareness of goals – your goals, the goals of others, and the goals of what you’ve committed to be part of.  The spirit of Humble Service is sustained by understanding of and belief in what you are signing up for, and confidence that it lines up with what you believe is important.  Our vision and mission lean in to the idea that what we do can make healthcare more proactive, personal, and effective.  As an organization, our solutions can improve and save lives, and this company is full of people who believe it’s worth getting out of bed and working together to achieve.

What it Isn’t

Humble Service is not about:

  • Discouraging pride in one’s work or abilities or the absence of recognizing achievement.  We strive to honor teams for meaningful accomplishments, and we count on our people to take pride in the quality their work.
  • Ignoring your own responsibilities to contribute elsewhere.  With very few exceptions, the first and most direct avenue of service (and a keystone of living out Efficiency, another of our values) is to complete the responsibilities entrusted to you.
  • Blind obedience to instructions.  The best service is rendered when we don’t just react to a request, but strive to understand the context and goal of the request.  We can serve through offering new and useful ideas if we avoid the mental trap of thinking the request and the problem are one and the same.
  • Suffering pointlessly.  While Humble Service may urge us out of our comfort zone, it is not a pretext for people to impose hardship upon one another or abdicate responsibility presuming some safety net.

Our Values in Action

To move beyond rhetoric, these are some examples of what Humble Service looks like in our business:

  • Asking questions like. “what challenges are my clients and colleagues facing?” “what did I do for a client or colleague today”? Taking care of ourselves is important, but it is not what makes us important. Humble Service is about empathy and consideration.
  • Checking our egos. Coming to work with the intent to grow our potential and support our mission, vision, values, and our fellow human beings
  • De-emphasizing rank and hierarchy. From senior executives to fresh hires, it takes effort at all levels to turn one person’s work into a fully realized solution. Hierarchy in this business is about clarifying roles and responsibilities, not about defining relative worth.
  • Humble Service is also about a company serving its employees. While our employees focus on supporting others, HealthAxis and its leadership should be committed to supporting our employees
  • Going above and beyond for our customers and the people relying on our customers
  • Taking advantage of HealthAxis Group’s “Community Service Day” policy

Value #1: Intentional Growth

Intentional Growth for All Stakeholders

“He not busy being born is busy dying”

– Bob Dylan

The Mindset & Why

Our mission and vision imply an endless search for better answers to long-asked questions in our field.   Such a search demands a team of determined explorers.  Explorers are committed to expanding their personal limits and their external boundaries. Determined explorers can thrive amid uncertainty – their passion for discovery transforms uncertainty from an obstacle into an opportunity and reason to grow.  In a technology company, exploration and growth are not just honorable goals, they are the the greatest protection people and companies can have against irrelevance.

Leading off with the value of Intentional Growth signals that the willingness to improve and adapt and the willingness to be a catalyst for others to do the same are key attributes for individual and team success at HealthAxis Group.  Without these tendencies, it will be difficult to support the company’s mission & vision or engage with many of our other values.

We are interested in promoting all types of growth, but for us the virtuous cycle begins with the personal growth of our people.  If we succeed in developing our people, their skills, and their perspectives, our collective abilities will allow us to grow our services, grow our products, grow our competitive advantage, help impart a growth mindset to our customers and partners and ultimately grow our bottom line.

The ability to challenge oneself and grow through experience are among the most incredible traits human beings possess.  Our mission and vision hint at the limitless possibilities that come from embracing the future.  These, in turn, reflect a belief in the limitless possibilities of people.  HealthAxis is meant to be an incredible platform for people who believe in possibilities and have a passion and commitment for bringing it about.

The Practice

The first and most obvious key to intentional growth is self-awareness.  As individuals or as a company, without knowing where we stand and where we wish to be, growing is just a vague desire.  We will build self-awareness by encouraging goal setting, committing to feedback relative to those goals, and by promoting opportunities for self-reflection on how to keep growing.  At the organizational level, the value of intentional growth can also be reached through goal-setting, feedback mechanisms for tracking against those goals, and the self-awareness to regularly revisit those goals to determine how we are doing and how they fit as our context evolves.

The second key is education and training.  Growth is elusive without acquiring or developing new knowledge and refining existing skills.  Particularly as we work through substantial transitions and growth of opportunities and scope of business, the growth mindset of our team and the company’s commitment to intentional growth must be nurtured if we expect to come out the other side a stronger company. If the leadership at HealthAxis is not creating ways to expose our team to new ideas and establishing the time or means for our team to absorb and apply them, we are failing relative to this value.

What it Isn’t

This is not a blind bet on people and situations to get better.  The goal of growth does not justify sticking people in roles for which they are not suited or for which we have not attempted to prepare them. We work to ensure we have done the things on the recruiting, training, and process side of the business that make this bet sensible.  This is the “INTENTIONAL” element of intentional growth.

This is not about deferring action or using the need to grow as a pretext for delaying action.  It is about keeping growth and action holistically in step.  Growth and inactivity are not compatible.

Our Values in Action

To move beyond rhetoric, the value of intentional growth is

  • Maintaining an intellectually stimulating workplace
  • Performance reviews carry a development orientation
  • Provide access to copious informational content, facilitate peer teaching, and fund targeted employee training and development
  • Stating and capturing goals for people and teams
  • Setting aside a stated portion of our work year for specific development (e.g. ~10 hours/month) specifically for building skills or knowledge
  • Bringing principles and practices of the growth focus to our customers, our personal lives, and our communities

2015 Employee Survey – Initial Thoughts


Thank you once again for your engagement and your candor in our employee feedback survey taken at the end of 2015.  I was happy to see 111 respondents, representing 93% of the company.  The feedback was illuminating and provided us with some useful indications of how to better shape the HealthAxis employee experience.  The results are attached to this email and also posted in SharePoint.  This year, after the results were tallied, we reviewed the survey in our Alignment Meeting, a monthly meeting involving almost 20 managers and supervisors representing all teams.  I believe that we will drive a lot of positive activity based on what we saw as the perceived strengths and weaknesses from survey trends.  To give some of the key issues added depth without drowning people in communication, I am going to take a slightly different approach to discussing the results this year.  This note will be accompanied by the survey and some high level observations, and I will then address 3 major themes from the survey in separate posts.  I’ll begin here by noting some of the positive findings and changes from last year.

Firstly, I was very happy to see incredibly positive scores in a few key areas.  Specifically, 98% of you responded positively to “I like the work I do”, 90% of you agreed that “Overall I am Satisfied with my Job”, and 93% agreed with the statements “My Colleagues Contribute Positively to my Experience at HealthAxis Group” and “I enjoy the working dynamic in my Team\Department”.  In all those areas I hope to see more movement from the “tend to agree” category to “strongly agree” category based on efforts we will undertake in 2016, but I feel very good about where we stand.  When we have a group of extraordinary people who are enjoying what they do and their interactions with their colleagues, you have some of the most important ingredients for a world class company and a world class workplace.

Another thing I was excited about was folks volunteering a little more information for the benefit of our analysis. This year, we asked respondents to identify their department and time with HealthAxis, to help us track trends usefully within different constituencies. Although the information was optional, I appreciate that the overwhelming majority of you offered it up, demonstrating faith in the goals of the exercise. Although departments may cover multiple groups of managers in different sites or lines of business, the feedback was that many managers found this useful in assessing more relevant trends they could consider within their teams.

Lastly, the comments were excellent.  They were thoughtful, clear, and showed more than any particular score just how engaged you all are.  Many were insightful, most were positive, some were very critical, but they all were sincere and I am thankful to have that added dimension to give some deeper insight into some of the scores and trends. I have struggled with how widely to share the comments – if too few people see them they are not actionable, but if too many see the more detailed feedback some respondents may feel exposed or no longer anonymous.  This year we shared them with the managers who make up the Alignment Meeting and it spurred some useful conversation.  Next year, I would personally like to make them public as we do with the results, but maybe we will let respondents indicate if they would prefer to keep their comments out of the universal release.

Of course it is fun to look back on all the positive feedback and it says a great deal about the things we are doing well, but the real impact of this annual survey comes from uncovering ways to get better.  This year, I’m disappointed to say that we did not have to dig very deep to find them: generally speaking, our major weaknesses appear to be no different than they were last year.  Although we made progress on product, strategy, leveraging our skills across sites, and a number of areas, this year’s results tell me that I failed to make some critical improvements to your workplace experience.  There were 3 particular themes for improvement which were prevalent in the comments and obvious from some of the scores:

  1. Failure to hold timely and consistent performance reviews
  2. Concerns around benefits & compensation
  3. Insufficient communication around what the company is doing or trying to do

Rather than pile a bunch of commentary into this post, I will attempt address each of these individually in forthcoming posts, offering thoughts on where we stand and some commentary on how we intend to evolve in 2016.

I hope these missives offer some insight and also demonstrate that this annual exercise is both meaningful and actionable for the leadership in this organization.  Before I sign off, I want to acknowledge some of the limitations of this exercise and remind you of other avenues to have your voice heard.  Surveys like these can provide useful cues and clues for improvement, but are never intended to be the best or only means for identifying or addressing what you see and experience as a part of HealthAxis Group. For matters that are complex, unique, or interpersonal in nature, even very thoughtful comments in the survey format can leave us short of the context we need to meaningfully address them.   Because of that, I really encourage you to regularly utilize whichever of our other venues you feel most comfortable with to communicate more specific points to us– (1) SharePoint Suggestion Box, (2) our email address, (3) speaking to supervisors or HR, and (4) taking advantage of my open door policy (physical and virtual).

Version 2.5 is alive!


In software, you don’t have a product until you have users.  At HealthAxis Group, we have many products, but for almost 3 years, our next-generation Core Stack – the keystone of our long-term strategy – was not one of them.  After nearly 150,000 development hours and probably another half of that in planning, testing, gathering requirements, and creating supporting tools and resources, what we had was really interesting code that remained a product only in theory.

On September 2, 2015 at 8 AM our efforts we crossed over from interesting code to an excellent product. For the past 2 weeks, employees at Beacon Health Solutions have been logging into the first production instance of our new HealthAxis Core Stack and began to service members, claims, and providers for three health plans – America’s First Choice Health Plans of South Carolina, America’s First Choice Insurance of North Carolina, and Easy Choice Health Plan of New York.  Before the year is over, at least 3 other health plans – Prominence Health Plan, Freedom Health, and Optimum Health – will also be live on our system.

For a majority of the company, exposure to Core Stack development has been limited, and that was by design.  It might be possible for the same group of people to service complex clients to a high standard while simultaneously designing, building, and testing a next-generation enterprise application.  It might also be possible for a person to herd cats while simultaneously running a marathon.  In both cases, however, you’re better off separating the activities if you are serious about achieving the goals.  And so, for this massive but intrinsically one-time project, we relied on some committed partners to augment the effort and bring the next-generation system to a state that is closer to the systems we support and refine today. Those partners – NextSphere Technologies and Beacon Health Solutions – have helped assure our long-term competitiveness, and before I discuss some more implications of this milestone on all of us within HealthAxis Group it is important to acknowledge their critical contributions

NextSphere Technologies is a software services company that was responsible for the vast majority of the development hours I mentioned previously.  NextSphere had just wrapped up a major refactoring project in another industry and their recent experience “translating” mission-critical legacy code into a cutting-edge architecture was an important factor in entrusting them with this responsibility. Their developers, analysts, project managers, and other team members have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to do whatever it takes to help HealthAxis Group meet its goals and deadlines. You can click here for titles but just like our team at HealthAxis, their title reflects only a subset of their contributions when the going got tough – these folks and the teams they led did whatever was needed inside or outside the scope of their title to maximize our chance of success. They are: Deepthi Seernam; Anji Reddy Katha; Raghav Angara; Tajuddin (“Taj”); Anil Kotha; Uday Guntupalli; Bala Sowjanya Akkena (“Sowjanya”); Venkata Surya Dantuluri; Krishna Mohan Polireddy; Karl Marx Duraisamy (“Karl”); and the team was led by Arjun Marala, Kiran Kumar, Santosh Reddy. These projects are fraught with challenges and the team did not back down or break down. In the end, in an effort to make a September 1 deadline a possibility, the NextSphere team, right alongside the Beacon and HealthAxis teams, worked literally around the clock in a continuous process of loading and validation to complete data migration for the client.  When we couldn’t make September 1 work despite all our efforts, they worked around the clock the next day to make sure we didn’t miss September 2.

Beacon Health Solutions is a sister company that provides BPO services for every function within a health plan short of Medical Management and Sales & Marketing. The services that they perform for Health Plans and TPAs are all driven by software, and we used their experience in both process and systems to assist in overall design, requirements definition, system documentation, UAT, data validation, project management.  They were the diligent domain experts working alongside NextSphere’s dedicated technical experts. Led by Michele Mahoney, the outstanding team included Stephanie Dague, Heather Johnson, Renu Shahdpuri, Darpan Patel, Tiffany McKneelen, and a number of other key contributors. We look forward to a future of shared opportunities and rewards, as we expect Beacon to have tremendous success selling services driven by the system they worked with us to establish.

Tying all of this effort together across the 3-year project with our own strategy, goals, and contributions were the senior team of HealthAxis, and nobody was more critical to that duty than our CTO Eric Strikowski. Eric was a primary contributor more than 3 years ago to defining what “state-of-the-art” actually meant and looked like for us before a project was ever possible, and he also personally developed our new Claims Adjudication Engine – one of the most complex and important parts of a Claims and Benefits Management system.  Helping Eric refine the system and several thousand adjudication scenarios over several months was Jean Philius, and when the deadlines began to loom and we had to release code to numerous environments at all hours to keep testers and implementers on track, we were able to count on the availability and responsiveness of Release Manager Evan Sullivan.

All of these efforts and accomplishments merit recognition and celebration, but not as a conclusion.  A door was opened this month and on the other side is the collective future of HealthAxis Group.  I have talked about moving from our disparate origins to become a “single platform company” – this is the platform. From here we can begin to implement a road map for transitions of our team members, our customers, and our entire business context.

With our first instance live, opportunity (and the responsibility) begins to shift internall to our product and customer service teams.  This system will continue to be enhanced, first incorporating our Coordinated Care functions and culminating with the inclusion of our Insur-Claim and Insur-Admin capabilities in Core Stack v3.0.  As mentioned previously, we are going to purposefully select customers, plans, and the attendant features and expose members of our team accordingly.  Our objective to transition 100% of our customers will not be possible without a corresponding goal to transition 100% of our team.  As we share the extent of our progress with both current and potential customers, the specific plans and timelines will crystalize.  I know there are many questions about who does what when.  In the past, my sincere desire to answer every question has made me hesitant to share even exciting and awesome news like this.  It’s pretty obvious to me now that those answers only come from sharing these updates with the team and empowering you to think about next steps. Accordingly, I will conclude this note without perfect answers, but instead with a commitment to share more clearly with all of you the present context and future goals of the business. As far as this month’s events go, suffice it to say we have no reasons not to move towards the goal of a single platform company now.  What remains is the task of informing everyone of the capabilities of our next generation system and identifying a sequence that allows for general inclusion. We will be seeking ways to introduce our next generation system to our team as well as customers over the coming months, with the idea that everybody will bring perspective and knowledge that will define our migration plan.

I am extremely excited about our future and the opportunities standing before all of us, and I look forward to sharing more context and progress as we grow together.