• Evolving an Organization: A Discussion with Steven Keith

    Steven Keith is the Executive Vice President Strategy for capstrat and he’ll be one of the speakers at MX 2009. He and his team have been helping Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) prepare for their future on the Web in the face of the onslaught of consumer-driven health care. In essence, Capstrat helped a 76-year-old health insurer evolve into a user-centered design advocate. Guided by a new organization-wide Web strategy, BCBSNC is moving toward greater emphasis on user research to ensure they are delivering better experiences that align with consumers’ needs in an increasingly DIY health care environment.

    Understandably, this is a large and complicated process. So, I thought it would be helpful to talk with him about some of the details and what he plans to cover in his MX talk.

    Todd Wilkens [TW]: Can you give me a synopsis of what you’ll be speaking about at MX? What are the main points you’re hoping people will walk away with?

    Steven Keith [SK]: We want to speak about our effort to transform Web work at BCBSNC. We originally signed on with BCBSNC to help them develop an overarching Web strategy to accomplish their business objectives and better serve users. We quickly realized this was more than a strategic exercise. To be successful, it required a complete rethink of BCBSNC processes, team structure, and corporate culture.

    Core was increasing the Web team’s strategic position in the company. That is, the Web team/Web Office (WO) should be contributing to the company’s vision for meeting the needs of prospective and current members online. And recommending that the Web team have a seat at the table when determining how business objectives translate to the Web.

    Capstrat helped BCBSNC to embed the user (whether it be a current health insurance member or prospective shopper) at the center of their Web strategy. Then, we recommended a team structure to support user-centered design and realize their strategy. We developed a new org structure that included a group of online strategists domiciled within the Web Office to drive design strategy based on user research and usability.

    Through the talk, we want people to see that an organization-wide shift like this is possible and specifically share what we learned about enabling a shift like this to take hold. We want to illustrate the before-and-after, with an emphasis on the after.

    [TW]: Clearly, a lot of the work you did for Blue Cross of NC was about changing organizational culture and processes. Did the project start out that way or was it a design project initially that ended up needing culture change to be successful?

    [SK]: It didn’t start out that way. We started by laying the strategy groundwork and quickly realized that we would have to venture into significant organizational change to be successful. A lot of our work became process design and org development. It was also a lot of consensus building, persuasion and culture communications. It was an assignment that was befitting an integrated communications firm like Capstrat that has many disciplines in place to help these projects succeed.

    The project started out as a question from the executive team: “What is our Web strategy?”

    We broke up the engagement into three phases.

    • Strategy – what should BCBSNC prioritize on the Web and what should it sacrifice?
    • Solutions – what tools and content will bridge business objectives with user value?
    • Implementation – now that we know what focus on, how do we build the team and processes to support strategy?

    [TW]: When you talk about process design and org development, was this more about rearranging the activities and people that they already had or introducing new practices, roles, and personnel? Or both? Without giving away too much of your MX talk, could you tell us a little bit about how you approached this process, including the major challenges and guiding principles you used when working toward the solution?

    [SK]: With respect to process design, this was less about rearranging and more about defining a vision that would map back to their corporate goals. There wasn’t anything really to rearrange. We developed a design strategy-centric team, project prioritization schema and process that moved faster. Web work at BCBSNC today is done around a different set of goals and answers to a more discriminating strategic prioritization process. There is increased evaluation of what needs to be done based on their strategic directives and user research to determine whether or not it will get into the queue. This is much more about trying out new practices, hiring new personnel and moving or dedicating IT resources to support the new Web office.

    Capstrat helped design their new organization with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) at the nucleus and User Advocates (UAs). We then recommended research/analytics, design and usability as core practice areas with a seat at the table, so to speak.

    The challenges were many. Principally, helping the organization hone in on consumers as their priority audience on the Web. Then, helping the organization adopt value design for consumers instead of tools for insurance brokers or re-inventing claims adjudication. Once that vision was accepted, building the team to support the new vision and process was the tallest mountain to climb. The Web Office negotiated to move certain personnel from other parts of the organization to their team and declared new processes that broke out of the enterprise model. This was necessary because the organization was operating based on 18 month software lifecycles, instead of “Web time.”

    [TW]: What sorts of tools, methods, or approaches did you use to address the consensus building, persuasion, and culture communications aspects of the project?

    [SK]: Before Capstrat had UX or Business Process skills, they had persuasion architecture and corporate communications skills. We drew from a vastly talented team of Capstrat employee marketing folks who knew well enough this whole thing was far more than business process re-engineering or design strategy – it was just as much about culture change. We depended on our team of communicators to distill complex ideas and hefty reports into compelling conversation and presentations. One of the most powerful tools at our disposal was information designers at Capstrat who simplified complex information and illustrated it clearly through smart design. We helped release this virus into their 5,000 person organization with one-on-interviews with 60+ people in Phase One, consensus-building strategy sessions with internal stakeholders (which we call “grind sessions”), plus calculated communications and smart presentations to all the key decision makers.

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