Employee First Culture Requires Strong Leadership with Mel Gun at SYNERGEN Health

Culture is just as essential as your service or product. In fact, I believe that your people should feel like they come first. This is what I call an employee-first culture. Today’s guest is Mel Gun, CEO at SYNERGEN Health. Inc Magazine ranked SYNERGEN Health #3906 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. They have been honored on the Inc 5000 five times. SYNERGEN Health is an end-to-end revenue cycle management solution that ensures the financial success of medical practices. Mel and I discuss the critical elements of an employee-first culture. We look at the power of people inside our companies. You may be hesitant to have an employee-first culture, but discover the real benefits in today’s show.

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Target Audience: Mel Gunawardena is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner at SYNERGEN Health LLC. SYNERGEN Technology Labs consists of a passionate team of engineers and innovators who believe in a deeply interconnected world powered by the Internet of Things to improve the quality of life across the globe. We engage in IoT products and solutions focused on health and wellness, and partner with our clients and stakeholders to co-innovate from concept to product launch.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Mel Gun
The value system is that what we believe in. But you know, when we started this company, we said look, we are a people first company. And the reason is we state that is, you know, there is a saying that we, we have in the company saying that, you know, with our customers, there is no business, but without employees, you don’t have a company.

Intro [0:19]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I help leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth, are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [0:36]
Customer results are absolutely important as your company grows, creates traction in the marketplace creates an impact for treating your customers with kindness, and getting them the results that they expect, based on the promises. All of your account managers and sales reps have made are very, very important. And one of the best things that you can do to create customer results is to understand the factor of the employees inside this today we’re going to talk about an employee-first culture and an employee-first culture is where leaders really take care of employees, where they feel connected to the work, they feel a sense of ownership and pride in what they’re doing. And they’ve done that very intentionally. It’s more than just creating the best place to work. Although we’re going to talk about that today. In today’s interview, it’s more than just you know, beanbags and sodas and all those things is there’s so much more to it. Today, we’re going to unpack that.

Gene Hammett [1:28]
Our special guest is the CO-Founder and Managing Director of SYNERGEN Health. They were a five Time Inc company, they grew fast. But they’ve also done it the right way by putting employees First, we have Mel Gun. I’ll try to pronounce this Mel Gunawardena. I’m sure I butchered that. But you get the point, he is going to talk to you about employee-first culture. And what I love about today’s interview is we share some of the specific details that are counterintuitive to what most people think about putting employees first, some of the details today will help you create not just a great place to work, but also a place where people are innovating and people are pushing beyond the boundaries. And they’re able to navigate challenges like COVID and all the things in front of them because they feel taken care of at work. How does this scale when you create hundreds of employees? Well, today, our guest Mel talks about how do you do this at 500 employees and beyond. Before we get an interview, let’s take a moment to look at what you need to do as a leader to create a team of A players, I’ve created a special training, all you have to do is go to Gene hackman.com for slash training, and you can get access to it completely for free, it will go over the three mistakes that are fixable so that you can tune into the best leadership possible to create companies that are willing to grow. And companies that can innovate through any trying times. Here’s the interview with Mel G.

Gene Hammett [2:56]
Mel, how are you?

Mel Gun [2:58]
Doing, Great thank you. Thank you for having me.

Gene Hammett [3:00]
Excited to have you on the podcast to talk about, you know, leadership and growth in a fast-growing economy, your company has grown really fast over many years, you’ve made the list five times in a row, it gets harder and harder every year. I’ll tell us a little bit about your company.

Mel Gun [3:17]
So before we dive into the company, I want to put in perspective a kind of the industry weigh in the US healthcare industry and the US is the most innovative country when it comes to developing new treatment and care for patients. Patients. However, the process of getting reimbursed is we believe it’s broken, has not been really improved. And it’s very complex. And you know, the cost of our healthcare system is you know, 18% of the GDP are over $13 trillion and growing. So that is a problem that we wanted to solve. We believe that health care providers should be able to focus on caring for patients and get paid for the services. So we created this company to provide innovation, efficiency, and transparency in this entire process with our technology and services. And ultimately, partner with our clients to help lower the cost of healthcare in the US as well.

Gene Hammett [4:12]
Well, healthcare has been a big issue with what’s going on. I think it’s always been a big issue, but it’s really in the forefront with COVID. Nothing’s been going on with that.

Mel Gun [4:22]
That’s right.

Gene Hammett [4:22]
Mel, when you put this together, you really found a different structure, you have a set of co-founders that you didn’t want to go after you create different CEO titles, you’re all managing partners. Tell us a little bit about why you chose that structure.

Mel Gun [4:38]
So I had a company before this. And I was co-founder and CEO of that company. And it was a friend of mine who was a partner who partnered with me. And he always had this issue of you know, this titles me being CEO and him being president and, and that was that. I felt like that was something that I learned that I didn’t want Want to have within this organization, we wanted to create a flat culture. The other part of it is, you know, if you have the CEO gone on vacation for three weeks or a month, suddenly the CEO is missing, right. So here we have managing partners. And if one is missing, on vacation on a break, or whatever, we have others in the company, so it doesn’t feel like somebody, you know, you lost the leader in the organization. So and it also created that democracy within the organization, where people really felt that, you know, when we save our flat culture, it truly affects culture.

Gene Hammett [5:32]
Well, today, we’re going to talk about the culture of this. One of the things I’ve known and hundreds of interviews with founder CEOs, just like yourself, managing partners, too, is that they really have an emphasis of employee-centered culture, and really putting the employees first and their growth and their connection and they’re being cared for. Um, where did that come from with you?

Mel Gun [5:57]
So for us, you know, I think one of the key things is maybe it’s a background and how we grew up as well. And I’m originally from Sri Lanka, in a very family-friendly and, you know, the value system is that what we believe in, but, you know, when we started this company, we said, Look, we are a people-first company. And the reason is, we stayed that is, you know, there is a saying that we, we have in the company saying that, you know, without customers, there is no business, but without employees, you don’t have a company. And, and we believe that happy employees create happy customers, and you cannot really expect great service to your customers if you don’t have employees who are, you know, trained, who are talented, and truly happy. So that’s kind of the reason that we are focused very much on the employee.

Gene Hammett [6:45]
You know, I know, this is the I feel like, it’s even more important when you have a group of employees that are required to think I say that because there’s a big company out there that, you know, their founder is one of them is the richest person in the world, you guys can figure it out. I’m not saying that not all of their employees are required to think everything systematized to the point where it’s just, they need labor, they need people to just be there to do the stuff. Whereas in your line of work, and in most people’s work, people are neck up, right, we’re really required to think and that really does take leadership that puts employees first, what do you think to that?

Mel Gun [7:25]
Yeah, so So for us, you know, empowering people is very important. And I take a sports analogy, where, you know, for you to even compete in a sport and you come to like, forget, for example, professional sport, you know, you have to have talent, if you don’t have to get talented people, you need to have people who work together, which is they have the common values, they need to have a vision that they need to be following. And, you know, they need to continue to be coached, and they need to continue to practice. So for us, and then they also need to be given the authority to make decisions, you know, the court can be there to make those decisions when they’re playing. Right. So that’s the philosophy that we try to follow as well, you know, how do you get talented people, I mean, we hire only college graduates, we truly try to hire the best people. The other part of it is, you know, we coach, you know, we coach them is investing heavily in training them. And, you know, an A big part that we talk about is, you know, what gets us here won’t get us to the next level. So how do we continue to look at and train not only our staff but also ourselves? So, you know, we can take that to the next level? How do you empower these people to make those decisions without micromanaging?

Commercial [8:41]
Hold on for a second, Mel just talked about, hire the best and coach them? Well, we all know that we need to hire the best people, but you also want to invest in them in the right kind of coaching. Now, you may coach them internally, which is fantastic. Those coaching skills are necessary to be the kind of leaders that your team really needs and craves. But where are they getting those skills? Where are they really understanding to how to coach people, a lot of people misunderstand coaching, they think it’s more like mentorship. And there is a difference. When you really think about coaching. It’s asking questions that allow people to see themselves as they’ve never seen themselves before, and to make decisions based on choices they didn’t know they had. And that may sound like double talk to you. But coaching really is one of the most powerful elements of this, I became a coach not because it was a cool business model. And I think people would think it’s cool. I became a coach because it was one of the most powerful ways in my own life, to see growth. And so when I started coaching others, I saw those kinds of transformations too. So make sure your team is getting the right skills and make sure you as a leader have the right ability to coach and take them beyond where they believe it’s possible. Now back to the interview with Mel.

Gene Hammett [9:52]
Well, let’s talk about that word empowerment because I think a lot of people want to create a culture where people are empowered but they’re not exactly sure how to do it, or maybe they doing it effectively, what are your thoughts on leadership styles around empowering people?

Mel Gun [10:07]
So for us, innovation is a big part. And as a company, you know, you know, we’ve grown to 500. And in a truly, you know, if you have 50 people, you can, you know, the people’s names, everyone’s names, and you can see what everybody’s doing, when it comes to, you know, 100 200 300, you cannot micromanage them. So what we’ve done is, you know, part of it is we have created an innovation culture, we have a suggestion system, for example. And it doesn’t matter whether you just started in the company, whether you been in the company for a long time, they can come up with ideas to help improve a process to help improve the overall well being of the company, and we compensate them, we award them, we recognize them. So that has allowed us, I mean, we have got over 1000 Plus, you know, ideas that people continue to come in and provide ideas into to the organization to help improve. So we feel that has really empowered them to make decisions. And the other part of it is, you know, we’ve created a framework, you know, you create a framework, if you looked at, you know, to read the book, The Ritz Carlton, Carlton where you know, even the mailman can make decisions on the fly. And we will, again, believe in that type of philosophy saying, you know, what, if a customer is making, requesting certain things that are sent within certain boundaries, make those decisions quickly, and make them come up with those ideas. We don’t have to come top-down, because it’s very difficult to have that type of culture and try to grow as well.

Commercial [11:32]
Hold on for a second. Mel just talked about the Ritz-Carlton way. Well, I’ve had Horst Schulze, a co-founder of Ritz-Carlton on the podcast before and one of the things that I wanted you to understand about that is his conversation with me on the podcast was something that has, I’ve carried with me, I’ve shared with my clients. And it really is a powerful thing. The reason why it’s so powerful as he talks about the importance of creating a space of empowering people and really being a stronger leader, creating the right rhythms inside the organization for excellence and his book on excellence is really a powerful way to do this. But you don’t have to listen to the book until you’re ready, go listen to the podcast I had with Horst Schulze say, inside this, you’ll have to find it because I can’t just put a link in here, because this is audio or video, however, you’re looking at this. But I wanted to make sure you understood that you can go deeper with that conversation with Horst back to Mel.

Gene Hammett [12:26]
When you talk about the employees and really making them feel like they’re the center of the culture, what does that look like on a day to day basis, or what kind of rhythms Do you have to make sure that people are feeling like they’re so connected to this culture?

Mel Gun [12:41]
So so we do something unique. So on from the day, we started, we have had a weekly cadence. So we have an all-company huddle, every Monday at 9 am. And during that time, we go through, you know, we do some soft kind of things, happy things, as you know, recognize birthdays, and anniversaries, but we share the company about things that are happening within the organization, right. But it’s won any challenges, recognition, we also share, you know, our goals, you know, we can talk about how OKR’s objectives and key results, you know, we do this on an annual basis. And then we look at it on a quarterly basis. And we share all this information, we are very, very transparent with our staff. So that is one thing that allows our people I mean, it was a challenge when we went to COVID have in this COVID thing happened, and we had to move everybody to work from home, you know, we have to work with zoom together the biggest license because we have 550 people and, you know, to get the enterprise license to be able to have 500 people on zoom.

Mel Gun [13:50]
So, but yeah, this is something that we’ve done. And we continue to do, and people are very excited to hear what’s going on. Because every week, you know that there is no there are no secrets, you know, for us to be transparent, be expecting our customers and our employees to be transparent. You know, we have to be transparent first. And that’s something that they’ve done. And we do that to be one of them. Is this huddle that we do on a weekly basis?

Gene Hammett [14:12]
Is there anything you do on a one on one basis to make sure that you have employed centered culture?

Mel Gun [14:18]
Yes. So, you know, one of the things that we believe is that, you know, coaching, we don’t believe we can outsource the coaching, all of the things, you know, obviously you have to get coaching from outside, but we believe that the leaders, as well as the next level, need to be coaches. So we have one on ones. And something that we initiated just recently is also we’ve asked people to share, you know, this is the manager. So we have about 40 plus managers, we ask them to share with us their personal goals for the next one to three years. And the company goals, their career goals, and how has the company aligned and provided to achieve their goals. So this is really interesting. Because by having that, that discussion, you know, it’s difficult, right? I mean, you’re going deep. And some people, you know, these, these are, these are millennials, who are now shifting to becoming, you know, you know, grownups, right, they’re starting to have a family that thinking of planning about buying a house. And, you know, it’s, you know, we are almost 10 years in this company, and our staff has, you know, evolved and grown-up. And so we are coming into new territory. So this is something that’s one on one that we are trying to start having, we’ve been having this, but now we’re getting a little bit deeper, we’re going and asking them about their values. And we asked them about their goals and the keys for us. Now, we are trying to make sure how can we align our company goals with their personal career goals? You know, are we are trying to see whether there’s a gap? And how can we? How can we bridge that gap, because if you do that, we believe these, these leaders will stay with us as we continue to grow.

Gene Hammett [15:55]
I’ve been talking about that for a long time, I actually it’s in part of my stage, whenever we used to go on stages, is to talk about that, and really understanding at a personal level what your team members want to achieve. And I included, what do they want to achieve outside of work, but mostly what they want to achieve inside to work. But I think there’s a real reason for pulling in that person, I think it’s around the leader’s job is to find the alignment between what they want at a personal level and what the business wants. And that alignment of those goals, allows them to feel a sense of ownership, do you guys talk about ownership or the feeling of ownership across your culture?

Mel Gun [16:34]
Absolutely. So when it comes to even within when we say ownership, we talk about within our team, so we have clients, and our organization revolves around clients, although we said, you know, employee first, you know, we definitely believe in, you know, serving our clients to that highest level, and, and our teams are managing those, you know, kind of like a p&l within that within that organization, or within that client. So that ownership is there, you know, for example, one of the things that we do is, we have, we have, we work with the Best Places to Work survey, right. So this is the survey that, you know, it’s a global thing, and we get that survey, and it goes to all 500 people, and, you know, they rank us, you know, in, and they provide us feedback, anonymous feedback, by the way, 70% of the grading is based on the employee feedback. 30% is what we say the company does, and by doing this, you know, it’s it calls us in it keeps us honest, right, this is an amazing thing that allows us to check the pulse of the company, it allows us to see what’s going on. So when it comes to ownership, although it’s anonymous, it allows us to see data within that team as well, they give us a team base, because we want to see a team base.

Mel Gun [17:47]
So now we’ve given that ownership to that team members saying, look, yes, this is the culture of the company, but we need to create that mini culture within your team as well, to make sure all together, you know, we, you know, we rise together. So this is something that we do, you know, one of the byproducts is to become the best place to work. And we’ve been in the best place to work in I think three years in a row and in the top 25 years in a row. And it’s hard when you have a company, that’s not 100 people or 50 people in with 500 people, you have to consciously be, you know, focused on that culture. And so that’s that ownership that we try to give to these people, you know, they are responsible for that team culture, although, you know, we are helping them. But it’s something that we give them that they want to.

Gene Hammett [18:30]
I got to ask here, because I know some founders are like, Okay, great, it’s great to have a Best Place to Work company. And some of those questions probably aren’t the best at determining the best place. But overall, I kind of get the concept, but it really does the investment in a culture translates into performance. Have you I mean, without you sharing specific numbers, how do you see the correlation as a managing partner of, you know, an almost $20 million company?

Mel Gun [18:58]
So the thing is, again, I would go back to you know, what’s happened with COVID? Right? So So let’s see what happened that in March, I think, I think around early March, we said, Look, this is lockdowns that happening everywhere. And you know, part of my organization has a large team out overseas in Sri Lanka. And we said, Look, you know, we may have to be ready to move everybody to work from home. So we communicated this to our clients, we communicated to our teams. And on Monday, we announced to our client saying, look, I think we’ll need to move people to work from home by Friday 500 and plus people who are working from home. And now these are individuals, there’s no oversight, right? So talk about ownership and part of it and we’ve had an increase in productivity and then a decrease. So I believe that this is giving that ownership and giving them the training and for them believing that we are going to be looking out for them. I believe that’s the reason these guys have been stepping up. So we’ve not had to provide overtime. or anything like that, but these guys have stepped up. And I believe that’s part of that culture, the culture of no accountability, you know, we, you talk about accountability and ownership, you know, they’re responsible that For their part from day one, what they do impacts upon, right. So that’s that ownership part is there, not just to the manager level or leadership level and to the associate level.

Commercial [20:22]
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Gene Hammett [21:02]
Now, that’s a great story of you know, increased productivity, I think I’ve seen that with a lot of the people who’ve been on the show. I know a lot of people have suffered through, you know, the inefficiencies of zoom meetings and not being able, to really connect, you know, in social ways. What’s one thing that we haven’t talked about today that really has helped you create the kind of culture that allows your customers to be served to the highest degree?

Mel Gun [21:28]
I would say, you know, one of the things is that, in 2014, I can tell you this in 2014, you know, we had grown from 20 to 100 people. And, you know, we were frustrated that we are not, our team is not doing the things for us to grow the company. And, you know, we’ve had to add a conference, er conference, and one of the speakers stood up and said, Look, how many of you are frustrated with your team, that you can’t grow their company, and I would say, 80% of the people put their hands up, including ourselves, my brother, and I was up is my business partner. And he said, Look in the mirror, look in the mirror, he said, You deserve the organization you’ve created, you hire them, you can fire them if they’re not working, and you’re creating that environment. So you need to be able to take yourself to the next level.

Mel Gun [22:16]
So I think that’s a shift that happened from kind of the no mindset, to the learner mindset. And that’s something that we’ve learned. And so we were fully committed, we said, we are fully committed to getting that, you know, you know, learning, and I think that’s kind of what we felt was what we had to do to be able to, you know, take the company to the next level. And so we, we consciously work on the culture, we consciously work on training, and not just training downstream. We as leaders, feel that you know, getting coached and learning and taking our game to the next level is very, very key for us to grow as a company.

Gene Hammett [22:53]
Well, now, that’s a big conversation, we’ll have to hold that for another time. I really appreciate you being here on the podcast.

Mel Gun [22:59]
Thank you very much. Thanks.

Gene Hammett [23:00]
Another great episode here on the show. I love creating content for you leaders that want to be better leaders to create the kind of workplaces where people feel connected. Today, talking about employee-first culture really means that you are being a strong leader, you are really capable of doing this. I don’t know if you’ve caught the end of the interview about you’re really creating the kind of impact that you want to as a leader really requires you to look in the mirror first. If you are looking in the mirror and not quite sure how to improve as a leader. That’s exactly the reason why you should reach out to me, and let’s have a conversation. My email is [email protected]. I love to connect with you get to know what’s going on with you and your world, your company, and see if there’s a way that I can help and serve. Make sure you keep tuning in here to the podcast. When you think of growth and leadership. Make sure you think of Growth Think Tank. As always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


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