Novu recently welcomed UnitedHealthcare CEO Steve Nelson to speak at an all-employee quarterly meeting. Nelson shared his perspective on the future of healthcare and how leading healthcare companies can address an increasingly complex set of consumer and market challenges.
“We have a problem in healthcare,” Nelson stated matter-of-factly as he kicked off his presentation. He shared that our nation’s healthcare expenditures are 18% of our gross domestic product (GDP), roughly double the spend of our peer countries.
Given that 90% of those expenditures are on chronic conditions, and that the percentage of people with multiple chronic conditions is only expected to increase in the coming years, it’s not hard to agree with Nelson’s assertion.
So, how do we fix the problem? According to Nelson, it won’t be simple, and it’s not necessarily even about finding a solution. Like other industry experts, Nelson describes healthcare as a “wicked” problem. Wickedness doesn’t represent difficulty—rather it describes a complex societal challenge that traditional processes can’t resolve. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to a wicked problem, or even an answer at all. Often, it’s about developing an intervention rather than a solution.
Tackling a wicked problem, Nelson said, requires bold moves. Using rock climbing as an example, he talked about the importance of being willing to pursue bigger, higher summits. “In climbing,” Nelson described, “you’re constantly looking for the next foothold. You’re always on the move—always taking calculated risks.”
Making bold moves, however, requires strong leadership. Here are the 5 qualities Nelson says every leader and every leading company must have if they hope to have a meaningful impact on the future of healthcare.
1. A Sense of Purpose
Nelson says it’s critical to “have something to get out of bed for.” For him, it’s improving the lives of the 50 million people who carry UnitedHealthcare insurance. While he ultimately answers to a board of directors, Nelson also knows he’s accountable to the several million members who count on UHC for care, and that gives him purpose.
2. Diverse Thinking
“Have a team that thinks differently than you,” Nelson said in talking about the importance of diverse perspectives. The Harvard Business Review agrees, noting that teams with greater cognitive diversity perform better on strategic execution exercises.
3. A Big Audacious Goal
Remember the bold moves mentioned earlier? Nelson regularly challenges himself and his teams to set goals that make them stretch. The key, he says, is having a plan that connects each team’s work to the big audacious goal, so people understand the impact of their efforts and see a path to achievement.
4. Flawless Execution
Having a plan for achieving big audacious goals is the first step in executing flawlessly. The second is managing to that plan and holding each team to a high standard of performance.
5. Good Communication
Finally, Nelson said that in order to succeed at the highest levels of leadership, it’s critical to foster clear and thoughtful communication at every level of the organization.
At the end of his presentation, Nelson talked about the importance of remaining committed to making bold moves, especially when trying to address a wicked problem like healthcare. He also said companies like UnitedHealthcare and Novu, with their focus on continuous improvement and innovation, are well-positioned to drive change—and by working together, transformation.
To stay up-to-date on Steve Nelson’s perspectives on healthcare, follow him on LinkedIn.