John Muir, the famous naturalist, wrote: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” It’s a concept that’s long overdue but now fully ensconced in the field of population health management. Employee health management (EHM) practitioners, in particular, are coming to understand that the environments in which health promotion interventions occur are a primary determinant of the effectiveness of the interventions. What’s more, many now fully acknowledge that the sustainability of healthy lifestyle improvements in diet, exercise, or tobacco use is fundamentally linked to our surroundings. Indeed, in last week’s “HEROForum12”, a conference featuring EHM solutions, a third of the session titles included references to culture. Moreover, no matter what the topic, the phrase “building a culture of health” was stated at nearly every session.
I have long held that leaders can’t fake authenticity. When you’re passionate about your vision, it is felt by others whether they support you or not. It’s a realization that has been easy to come by because I’ve had so many great mentors.
One of my favorites has been Stu Hanson, a pulmonologist, a health care executive, and a prime mover in Minnesota’s historic national leadership role in creating smoke-free workplaces. Stu would often say, “I’m trying to work my way out of a job.” Putting aside his recent retirement and the fat-chance odds behind his conviction even when he was mid-career, to know Stu is to understand that he wasn’t kidding. Stu’s mantra was the ancient proverb: “When you are through changing, you are through.” Perhaps it is a philosophy born out of the Herculean-sized stubbornness needed to take on the intractability of an addicted smoker. Or maybe being wired to push for change helps you cope with the blowback and disappointments that come from working to change something as unyielding as a culture.
As a student of leadership as well as one interested in the intersections between health care business and public policy, I also can’t help but follow Toby Cosgrove, a cardiologist who became Cleveland Clinic’s CEO. I have assumed that his equanimity about the controversy that surrounds his ban on hiring tobacco smokers is grounded in the righteousness that only a cardiovascular surgeon can feel at his core after having performed 22,000 operations, at least half of which were lifestyle-induced. What else explains his more recent foray into smoking bans at universities? In a speech to the Harvard Business School Club of Cleveland, Cosgrove said: “The fact that American universities are not smoke-free appalls me.” Though being right is a powerful buffer, it doesn’t change the likelihood that he’ll be disparaged.
As is always the case when I return from working abroad, it takes me longer, metaphorically speaking, to unpack my bags. I was ostensibly in Brazil to teach and consult about innovations in our population health management movement in America. But, as I expected, I was surely the greater beneficiary of teachings from leaders of the wellness movement in Sao Paulo, the business nexus for the world’s sixth largest economy.
I expect the next 10 years of policy debates, action, and inaction concerning how to curb our obesity epidemic to be an accelerated version of the last 30 years of public policy related to fighting tobacco.
I love my colleagues in Information Technology. I also love greasy doughnuts. Why then, do I not love it when I.T. people bring in a big crate of greasy doughnuts to reward each other for their hard work? They only do this occasionally. Still, my latest way to chide them about it was to put a recent section of the Wall Street Journal right alongside their gloriously globby booty.
Serendipity landed me across the table from a couple of enormously brainy people the other day. We sat having drinks overlooking the hubbub of New York’s Grand Central station. One was a seasoned corporate attorney, the other a superbly incisive CEO. I mentioned how the younger crowd was in a hurry to get home from their marginally satisfying work worlds to engage in their vastly more challenging virtual worlds.
Having just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s brilliant rendition of Steve Jobs’s life and career, I’ve considered whether there are health care marketplace lessons to be garnered from his central casting in the extraordinary tech wars for primacy over the past 25 years. I’d commend this biography to anyone who loves great writing and insightful analysis of the human condition, along with the foibles of growing a business. But first, here are a few reasons for and against reading Steve Jobs’s biography if you’re hesitant to take on a lengthy tome.
The Affordable Care Act codified the worksite wellness exemption to the federal medical underwriting provisions in the group health plan market. This means companies are allowed to use an “outcomes-based” incentive model that provides financial rewards for those who satisfy a prescribed health standard such as a BMI of less than 30 or who meet a “reasonable alternative standard” or obtain a waiver from their physician. What some see as “rewards” others view as penalties or surcharges and, given the absence of evidence to confirm the role of such incentives in actually improving population health, the new provisions have unleashed a debate about the ethics and putative effectiveness of the new provisions.