How Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina nurtures IT talent

In the first installment of "Steal This Idea," the CIO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina explains how she keeps employees engaged during times of change and stress. (Spoiler alert: Boy George fans will love it.)

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Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) formed the CIO Culture Club in March 2013 with the goal of keeping employee engagement high during times of tremendous change in the industry, the company and the IT department. While the name may be a little corny, the club has proven to be extremely valuable to our IT shop.

BCBSNC was going through a major IT Transformation effort, including more outsourcing and shifting of roles to more technology broker vs. builder roles. We wanted to make sure our teams understood our strategy and the rationale for all the change. We wanted to get feedback on the effectiveness of our change efforts and communications. Most importantly, we wanted employees to feel empowered to embrace the uncertainty, take personal ownership of our future, and play an active role in shaping the next generation of IT at BCBSNC.

Some of our new roles were very contextual, meaning responsibilities varied greatly by the maturity of our vendor partners, the amount of integration required, etc. We wanted our teams to help define the roles as we did lots of learning on the job.

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The CIO Culture Club encourages members of the employee-led group to 'be the change you want to see.'

Be the change you want to see

We took a grass roots approach to setting up the group. With the slogan “Be the change you want to see,” the employee-led volunteer group held brainstorming sessions to solicit ideas in how we improve our critical business and technical capabilities while strengthening a culture of trust and empowerment at the same time.

We leveraged our human resources partners to assist in setting targets for improvement in future employee surveys, particularly for our scores in trust and engagement.   And we are happy to report that our 2014 Employee Engagement survey scores improved across the board when compared to 2012 scores.

Today, the Culture Club members continue to serve as change agents and drivers of the departmental culture. Membership is voluntary and open to anyone at any time. Two vice presidents serve as sponsors of the group, attending meetings and listening for feedback and suggestions.

The CIO Culture Club facilitates all-hands meetings based upon employee input regarding topics and guest speakers – including using more staff-level presenters and less management presenters. They have also played a major role in keeping meetings and social events fun and engaging.

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CISO Rick Chilton rocks the CIO Culture Club as Boy George.

Shortly after the Culture Club was formed, the group recruited Boy George of the musical group Culture Club to perform at one of our all hands meetings (also known as Rick Chilton, our CISO, who in makeup and costume, sang and tossed his hair braids into the audience).

The Culture Club has proven to be valuable to senior management in sharpening communications. When key communications are needed, senior management will do a “test run” with the Culture Club first – does the message make sense? Is it clear and on point? Are there any unanticipated consequences or inaccurate conclusions that may result? At times we have totally reshaped messaging based upon the critical, yet helpful, feedback from the Culture Club.

An example of this is how we decided to refresh communications around our vision and strategy. The Culture Club felt our plan to video the management team was too dry and too passive. So we decided to hold an annual event at our local convention center for the entire team that had the feel of a real, first rate conference. We held our first IT Summit in March of 2014. The entire IT staff attended this one-day event, which included information about happenings in technology, healthcare and how the two are converging. We had terrific guest speakers and meaningful breakout sessions. And it was the perfect way to do an annual refresh of our vision and strategy and to generate a feeling of excitement and inclusion about our future. Our second annual IT Summit was held this past March and you can view this video showing 2015 highlights.

The CIO Culture Club has been successful in building a strong culture of employee ownership, engagement and trust and in making sure that our ongoing communications and events are as effective as possible.

Jo Abernathy is CIO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

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