Weaponizing Core Values to Align Operations with Justin Holland at HealthJoy

Growth requires an intentional focus on the right things. One big part of that is living the company’s core values. Some leaders take it even further with a concept called weaponizing core values. Today’s guest is Justin Holland, President and CEO and Founder at HealthJoy. Inc Magazine ranked his company #142 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. HealthJoy integrates a client’s existing benefits to deliver each employee a personalized digital benefits wallet that keeps benefits top-of-mind. Justin shares with you his strategies for weaponizing core values that have profoundly impacted his company and its growth. We share the importance of living values in today’s interview.

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Justin Holland: The Transcript

About: Justin is responsible for connecting HealthJoy’s mission of simplifying the healthcare experience with superior products and services. As the company’s fearless leader, he is a frequent public speaker on digital health, employee benefits, AI, and technology. Prior to starting HealthJoy, Justin led successful exits at OpenInstall (now AVG) and FreeCause (now Rakuten). He received a bachelor’s degree in Engineering from MIT.

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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.

Justin Holland: I think that the, you know, I think there’s a tendency of all CEOs to go read books and then go try to like, you know, try to make a book club out of every book you read because he gets so excited about the new things that you’ll learn. At least that’s how I, I, I realized that that really doesn’t work that well, or is as impactful as you’d like it to be. Right. And I, and I think this journey starts, with, you know, understanding that values were the values we had in our business and the culture, you know, the values were a little bit more than words.

Intro: 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 hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: Today we look at your core values. We do this from a very different perspective. I think a lot of people think about the values of the organization and they don’t really understand what it means. Today we look at weaponizing your core values, this term weaponizing wasn’t the term I would have picked for this, but I just had an interview with someone that you will love this interview. It is the co-founder of HealthJoy. His name is Justin Holland, and we talk about weaponizing your core values. They were number 142 on the Inc list, with almost 400 employees. And what you’re going to learn inside this episode is what is weaponizing your core values? Why is important? And what are the things that we see inside the organization when they are a part of it? There’s a thread that runs through the values across the organization. And we talk about all of this in today’s episode. Well, if you’re listening in here, because you want to weaponize your values, you want to really align with those values. You want to be a leader who communicates with them very effectively and clearly, and really makes incredible alignment and buy-in then you want to be an extraordinary leader. All you have to do is figure out what’s getting in your way, figure out what’s keeping you from being that extraordinary leader. And I really want you to think about that for a second, because if you know, what’s getting in your way, you know how to create strategies to overcome it. But all too often, I find that people just don’t know what’s getting in their way. They don’t know what’s the blind spot that keeps them from having what they want.

They focus on. They focus on the things that they’re they need to do, and they don’t pay attention to things they didn’t, they don’t need to do well. I can help you do this. I’ve been spent 10 years understanding people, just like you to be better leaders, founders, CEOs of fast-growth companies. You don’t have to be growing fast, but you have to want to be an extraordinary leader. If you want to have a conversation with me about what’s next, I call this a clarity call. If you want to get free coaching, you want to get really deep into this. Make sure you apply right now. Go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call. It will help you be an extraordinary leader and figure out what’s next, just going to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call.

Now here’s an interview with Justin,

Justin, how are you?

Justin Holland: Good. Good to meet you, Gene.

Gene Hammett: Excited to have you on the podcast.

Justin Holland: I’m excited to be here.

Gene Hammett: I want you to give it a little bit about the company. So tell us about HealthJoy, Justin.

Justin Holland: Yeah. So HealthJoy, our focus is how do we, basically navigate employees to affordable high-quality health care. you know, we do that by helping consolidate the health and wellness strategies of our customers, which happened to be kind of benefit consultants in HR is typically how we, how we look at the world and our job is ultimately for them to help make it easier to deliver benefits. And to kind of give them that easy button, which, you know, in this world, healthcare is getting more and more complex and we kind of have to have care navigation at the top.

Gene Hammett: I don’t want to go too far into this, but this is a really near and dear topic to my, my life. I had a mother who’s gotten sick lately and she was covered by her pension plans and Medicare and whatnot. And she was in the hospitals and rehab for about three or four weeks. I don’t even know what the bills were because they were all covered. But as an entrepreneur, I was like, what would happen if I had to go into the hospital for four weeks? , what do you see as the future for our healthcare system here in America.

Justin Holland: Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s challenging basically. Think about, think about the payer that’s where you should really think about starting is that the payer in this case is you and the company, right? Basically, if you have two buckets and you fill them both with water, right? Like they’re kind of both full meanings that the employer is kind of at, at the end of how much they can spend and the employees at the endometrium they could spend. And so in some happiness, basically benefit consultants, HR, everyone is trying to make, you have to reduce costs claim somehow. So you make the network smaller, you change the way. Maybe there’s a node network plan. As you’re putting in place, you’re stuffing a bunch of different point solutions on here to like help obviate costs, whether it’s the second opinion. , virtual care, et cetera. And so you’re seeing all this massive amount of innovation because ultimately no one can afford to spend any more money.

And that’s really ultimately the problem. And there’s nothing going to stop this cost trend to keep increasing. So I think what we’re going to see is you’re going to see health plans are going to get more and more complex to try to combat that cost because ultimately you can’t keep increasing the deductibles for people because they just stopped using care. Which is ultimately what’s been happening now. And, and I think you’re going to start seeing a trend where it’s kind of capped out. And so ultimately we see a world. That’s going to move to more value-based care from fee for service. It’s going to be a continual evolution over the next 10 years because ultimately people would be like, I just can’t pay for this. I can pay for an outcome, but I can’t pay for a task. And so I think you’ll see a shift there. I think you’ll see a shift that care navigation will be, will be almost a, I would say a mandatory part of your health plan because ultimately if you have to navigate it across 30 40, 50 different vendors to get all the different things you need. And to, to navigate say that four-week stay that you have at the hospital and coordinating all the care downstream. It’s just gonna get more complex. I don’t have a good rosy picture of the future here. , it just is like more entropy and more chaos, which, ultimately, you know, you would expect. Which will drive transparency, which will drive, drive consumerism, right? Which is going to empower ultimately the employee to take more responsibility over the decisions they make. But it’s, it is not a rosy future from my perspective today. It’ll be interesting to see what the transparency laws do. , this coming, this coming January, though,

Gene Hammett: I know we had a little bit of an alarm in the background. So sorry about that. ,, you gave some interesting points behind this, but today we’re not going to go into healthcare. We’re not going to try to address the challenges and the complexity of this. Even though I’d love to have that conversation. We’re going to talk about your journey and leadership and you’re creating this impact that you’ve done through HealthJoy. You didn’t do it alone. How many employees do you have? ,

Justin Holland: we’re about 400 people now.

Gene Hammett: And so I would, I would expect that your journey of leadership has changed a little bit over that time, but one of the things that we’ve done, some research on you you’ve, you’ve identified that you feel like, you’ve got to really, line operations with culture. , what does that really mean in your world?

Justin Holland: Sure. I, I think that the, you know, I think there’s a tendency of all CEOs to go read books and then go try to like, you know, try to make a book club out of every book you read because he gets so excited about the new things that you’ll learn. At least that’s, at least that’s how I’ve gone. I realized that that really doesn’t work that well, or as impactful as you’d like it to be. Right. And I, and I think this journey starts, , with, you know, understanding that values. The values we had in our business and the culture, you know, the values were a little bit more than words. I had put together like a kind of a document, a slide show about all the different culture books. I had taken a lot of lifting, a lot of the concepts, from Reed Hastings and Netflix. I think there’s a lot of great aspects of culture there, but I hadn’t, it wasn’t operationally. , it wasn’t or weaponized, right? I think it was probably a more actual proper term. And so this was, I, it started off last, I guess, last August it was post fundraiser or series C and I had brought in a new executive to run product. And as I kind of looked at and been like, what’s my job. And I didn’t, I don’t think I had a good answer.

I definitely didn’t have a good answer. And, working with, with, with an executive coach, which I recommend anyone to do and kind of went through and said, Hey, here’s a lot of my channel. That I have, I want to push culture more. You know you read the hard things about hard things. Are you reading, you know, Horvitz his next book about culture or culture code or whatever it is. And we all want to get there, but it didn’t seem a really sustainable, simple path to make that happen. And so we ended up, you know, I ended up kind of having that be my first thing is like, how do we actually weaponize this concept of culture and values. Throughout the different aspects of our business, , which, which ultimately, you know, came from that kind of catalyst of, of kind of having a, I wouldn’t say an identity crisis, but a crisis of leadership. I would say,

Commentary: Justin just talked about not being operationalized around the values and you may have never heard this term before. Of course, the entire episode is around weaponizing your core values, and they’re very similar operationalizing your core values is this concept, making sure that they’re more than just something you put on the wall or you talk about at a yearly meeting, you want to make sure your values are a part of every day. You want to make sure they’re internalized. If you, if you really figure out all the different places that you could use values and how they’re organizing and aligning your people together, and it will help you be a better leader. Because these are doing a lot of the heavy lifting when you’re not there to oversee them, which is most of the time because let’s face it. You can’t be there when you have dozens of employees or many dozens of employees. , and certainly, Justin has almost 400 employees. You’ve got to operationalize these values. I can help you do that. All you have to do is check out some of the free content we have on values to get a better feel for it. But the best way is to have a conversation with me. Are you game, just going to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call now back to Justin,

Gene Hammett: it’s an interesting choice you use weaponize. Why do you choose that word when you talk about culture and values?

Justin Holland: Yeah, I, you know, ultimately that’s not usually a term I use internally, but you know, as from other CEOs, right. We’re trying to make culture, you know, it’s, it’s our defense or our, I don’t know our it’s our offense. It’s it is a, it is, it is a no doubt. And if properly. A dangerous weapon, right. Or it’s not to say it’s, or it’s a great weapon that can, that can, that can, that can make the change. And so I think it’s ultimately to, I would say to win a battle. Right. And I think that’s how I think about it. I’m like, if we want to win this war, we’re all trying to make it, we all want to be part of the dream team. Right. We all want to win the championship and that’s ours. The greatest tool that we have is as a, as leaders of our best.

Gene Hammett: Appreciate you sharing with us. You mentioned this whole thing about coaching, as you know, I’m an executive coach. Part of the reason I tell these stories is that I think it’s fascinating to see people who are very successful, still lean on coaches. What has been the biggest benefit of having your own coach beyond just reading books?

Justin Holland: Yeah. I, I think that the, know, I think there’s, there’s two different things you get out of coaching one, you get the, you get the, the guru concept, right? Like most likely they’ve had the same problems as you’ve had or seeing the problems. Cause they’ve talked to other people that had the same problem. So you’re able to go to them for tactical advice. And then the second piece is helping the, your, your, your mirror, right? Cause you’re not having that same type of close relationship with your board, right? You don’t feel as comfortable being as open, you know, to your challenges and problems. And ultimately as. You also probably don’t feel that comfortable going to your, to your team and the same way. Right? There are certain things that unfortunately don’t lend themselves well to people internally. So having that external viewpoint, that’s purely unbiased is able to help reflect and give you that. That more unfiltered feedback. , I have found has been what’s most and D accountability. And the third part, sorry, there’s the third piece. It’s the accountability because the last thing you want to do is talk to your coach after, after a month, and not have made progress or not have prioritized what you all agreed was most important.

Gene Hammett: No, I know. They’re all important. That third one is so important for me in my own coaching. I’ve had a coach. Almost off the entire time of the last 20 years. And I never wanted to show up and didn’t do what I said I would do because that’s just not my personality. It’s not my identity. Are you the same way? ,

Justin Holland: A 100%, I think we’re all the same way with the board too. Right? Last thing, we went to go to the board and you get bad news. So this is like a second. This is like the second layer of accountability, a little bit less, less risky right to fail. But you know, you still, you build a relationship and you’re spending time you’re spending money. Right. Okay.

Gene Hammett: Before we jump off this idea of coaching and only to get back to alignment around. The operations and culture. , why did you almost not hire a coach? Because they probably went through your mind, like, do I need one? Do I need this to extra expense cheap? Right. You almost didn’t hire. Right. So is, is there a, was there where’s that fear now? Is it worth it?

Justin Holland: Oh God. Yeah, no. I mean, I think it’s the, it’s the, you know, probably that’s the most impactful for every dollar of. Right. I think that there’s no doubt that that probably makes space, has made the biggest impact on our business. So I think that it was, I think it was, it was that, and I think it was also like fear of like, not knowing what I would talk about. Like, and I think that’s like more of a vulnerability problem, right. Where it’s like, maybe I didn’t want to look stupid or, or. Like that, I didn’t, it wasn’t like a good CEO to the coach. Right. I wasn’t sure like what I got, I have the same problem with sometimes it’s like, I didn’t know how to use an executive assistant for him. And then I started using it for scheduling and I’m like, oh, oh, oh yeah. Okay. I get it. This is saving me like three hours a week. This is worth it. And I think that it was the same thing. I think I had a little bit of fear, right. About what am I actually going to get? What am I going to learn? I got to learn some things. I don’t know about it. And I think that getting past that and understanding that, you know, you have to be the leader of the whole company and you have to level up and the only way to level up properly, it’s so hard to do it without help. It’s in fact impossible. I mean, I don’t, I don’t, I can’t imagine there’s one person, there’s one CEO out there. There’s not done it with, with a massive amount of external,

Commentary: Hold on, Justin just talked about the value of coaching. He said it’s the most impact he’s ever had on his business. Now the way I’m interpreting that is he probably resisted coaching a little bit because I see a lot of people resist it. You’ve probably resisted it. Maybe you have a coach right now. , but when you think about the value of coaching, having someone to help you think through the things that are in front of you, maybe without an unbiased look and helping you see a different perspective is extremely valuable, but also you add in there a sounding board, someone, you know, conversations you can’t have with your board members conversations you can’t have with your team members, with your wife at home. Because just don’t have the context to this what’s really going on. And then finally the accountability of it that he mentioned inside this, it just really is something that I want you to think about as you grow forward as a leader who is leading, you know, you may have aboard, but the board has a role and it’s very different from that of coaching. You may have advisors and mentors. Very different than that, of coaching. So think about that for a second. As you plan your journey to be a better leader, to be something that’s really extraordinary. If you look back over their legacy and really help them to look at this, are you making the impact that you could, or are you focused on the day-to-day? Are you focused on the right? The real impact that you want to make is probably getting some of the bigger things done is the thing that will really define your legacy, define who you are as a leader, and as an entrepreneur, this is probably what you need to talk to your coach about. Back to Justin.

Gene Hammett: I love the fact that you’re saying this, Justin, I want to get back our topic around value specifically. I have so many conversations with people just like you, that said, you know, we weren’t really utilizing the values the way they were meant to be and the way we could be using it, you’ve used the word operationalizing value. , how would we see inside your organization? Do you have rituals or habits of using these values on a day-to-day weekly basis?

Justin Holland: Yeah. So I’m going to start off, we framed everything around the advantage by Lencioni. So that literally is like our, I would say our, how would I explain it? , I’d say it’s the framework of how we make decisions about what we should do. And so it comes down to, we’re trying to create clarity. Over-communicate clarity and in reinforced clarity. Right? And so then what we did is we took that as like the overlying framework. And then we mapped all of our rituals that we do to each one of those different things, whether it’s our annual strategy meeting or say by annual strategy, our board meetings, our one-on-ones, our staff meetings, our director staff meeting. How we do, how we do promotions, how we do firing, how we do performance improvement plans, et cetera, we’ve mapped all of this stuff to those. And then we looked at all those rituals and we said, where our values operationalized into this right into the, into the CR are a monthly all hands. Right. And good example. Right. So we have value and we do like a value of. Every, every, every staffing as part of our 15 five check-ins for OKRs, there’s a question of nominating someone for value, right? So as part of that process where someone to actually fill out their, OKRs on to update them at the end of Friday, before the company meeting, they’re getting a question.

Would you like to nominate when for, for, for, you know, value, you know, whatever it is, the devalue for, , for the month? And, you know, we’ll get 25% of that, of our, of our entire employee population. We’ll answer that question, right. But one quarter we’re got hundreds of submissions.. For people to nominate, and then we’re taking that and I’m working with my executive assistant. She’s doing a, you know, basically, she has a job to do on Monday to help order it, put it in there, and then it’s done. Right. And the amount of my amount of time put into that process now is almost zero. Right. It naturally flows through that. And that’s what I mean by operationalizing is that you have people accountable, responsible for getting it in, and that could be for our promotion. So our compensation, we have a director 360 that, 20% of ours. , people’s comp on bonus is connected to values. So, you know, as part of that, we’re doing a 360, is that during this time of year, they’re evaluated HR people ops is, is telling me where there are problem areas or where there are massive discrepancies in what you think. And what’s how you actually are perceived by your peers. And then those are in coaching opportunities that are put into my, into my process, right? And we have that concept with, with hiring, with firing performance improvement, you know, throughout all of those different rituals we have. And we’re always looking for more ways.

Put them in. , but that, that is that concept. We use a kind of a framework about what we’re trying to get out of the ritual, make sure these rituals are actually worthwhile, not just wasting our time. And then we’re trying to thread through values in each one of them. And that way they become part of the language on a day-to-day basis. Right? Like I can, if I, if I did right now, care is one of our, one of our core values. And if I did a search in slack, I probably see a thousand messages about care in the last, in the last week.

Gene Hammett: Love all that. , so you are picking one value per month.

Justin Holland: No, it’s just one of the five. So if they’re nominated for one of the five, then we’re just talking about them. So we’re not that I wouldn’t say that we’re that intentional about going through, , you know, we’re not, it’s not a value specific value, just more of like, Hey, you’re nominated for, for one of these, one of the four values.

Gene Hammett: I don’t have this prepared, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it because I’m preparing for my next book. I want to go kind of a speed round for you. And you can answer with short little statements, one or two sentences. Is that fair?

Justin Holland: Yeah.

Gene Hammett: So why did you pick five?

Justin Holland: Easier to remember.

Gene Hammett: Okay. So you didn’t want too many

Justin Holland: correct. And they just hard to narrow down and make sure they weren’t ones that should be like table-stakes integrity. Integrity should be table-stakes right. You shouldn’t be hiring someone if they don’t have integrity. Honesty. , right.

Gene Hammett: So how often do you refresh them? Look back at them. Make sure that they get that?

Justin Holland: I think that there, it’s, it’s been, it’s been probably three years since we’ve changed them, but they’re challenged off from a perspective of, Hey, the organization thinks that we’re not doing so well on say a, say, have no ego for instance, or if there’s individuals and saying there’s a consistent, challenging that we have. I don’t, I think that ultimately the company is a lot different right now than it was. Three years ago when we, when we built these probably is getting close to that time, we have a mechanism inside of our annual strategy to have a refresh. We just haven’t, we haven’t executed.

Gene Hammett: A lot of people have this debate over. Do we do values that are natural or do we do values that are aspirational? Where did you come down on that?

Justin Holland: So, if you have five aspirational values, then you have completed enough in your inauthentic. Right? , I am a strong believer. I think, you know, Lindsay, and he’s got a great section on this, in his, in his book and the advantage they have to be authentic. You may be, it can handle one aspirational. , and yes, I completely, you know, it’s okay to have aspirational and it’s okay to tell the organization that you’re, you’re trying you’re we have that as being an aspiration. , but if you are saying that this is our core value and every one of your people is looking at you being like, what are you talking about? Your, you know, whatever it is, right? You have the giant, you have the biggest ego in the company, and you’re telling me the biggest thing is happening when your ego like that, wouldn’t be that, that, that doesn’t work.

Gene Hammett: When you look back over the organization, you’ve probably tried some. What’s your favorite way of having the values expressed across the organization?

Justin Holland: Favor way? it’s tough. So I think there’s, so there’s a personal favor. There’s a difference between your favorite and the pay for the company? The best thing for the company is the values and behave and in the promotion, in the sorry, in the hiring process. And making sure that the behaviors of those values are crystal clear to the entire hiring team. And if you get that right, you’ll know it because three months later you’re going to have you have a guy or a guy or girl on your team that is a perfect culture fit. And there’s no better feeling than being intentional about the behaviors that make up your value. And that’s the biggest impact for the business. But my favorite is when I see a hundred people submitting people for values and seeing it on slack, just more of a selfish, probably a favorite than, than actual. I think it helps, I think for the whole business, but definitely the hiring side. It’s more back

Gene Hammett: Justin,, this can be a challenge for you, but you’ve had many stories of this. And you can name the employee by name. I think they’d be proud to listen to this episode and realize that you, you pick this out, but what’s a story that really stands out of one of those employees that have demonstrated the values of your company.

Justin Holland: Oh man, there’s so many probably say Jacqueline Rose our head of product marketing. You know, we did a, it, it, it’s tough for me to think about one thing and I think that’s really when you look at it. What are a culmination, all the different behaviors, and activities this person has done. And she was, we did this kind of, a dream. One of the management courses I ran was who is, who is, who is the person that you would, you know, that embodies the values most. And she was nominated like three times more than any other person in the entire organization across it. And it was, and it was everything. It was like how accountable she is for her projects for her, ability to produce that. She’s incredibly open to, you know, all the different opportunities that we have in the business because product marketing is a tough position. It gets pulled by everybody to do everything right? Whether it’s product sales, marketing, et cetera. And so in that position, I realized how unintentionally I hired a perfect person. We hired a perfect, we were lucky to hire the perfect person. Who’s very, very open. And in that, in that, in that job, because it’s really, really hard how much she cares about the user and the, and the, in our members and our customer.

And then multiple different examples of her with conversations on both sides, trying to get to the truth of what was going to be best. And so it was just like, it was a culmination of, it was all the values being expressed into one person. And I thought that that was, that was incredible.

Gene Hammett: One final question, Justin, as we land this plane, I should I share with you my, , impossible question earlier, which goes like this as a leader of a fast-growth company, what’s more important. Your customers or your employee?

Justin Holland: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. We obviously, everyone here is going to say their employees. Right. And I think that that, you know and ultimately look at the best companies like Amazon, it’s very clearly, customer first. And I think that ultimately when I look at both of that, we might be mission first, then employees. And then, and as far as like how we actually kind of think about things I don’t, and I, I, it’s a great question because. I, you know, Disney would definitely, would disagree right. With probably how a lot of us are running businesses. And I think we’re all running our businesses that way because our people during the growth phase, they’re probably, you know, it’s, it’s tough because the thing is, is like, it’s about hiring. It’s about retaining and it’s about making sure that these people are, you know, that our people are incredibly energized about the, about the mission that we’re trying to accomplish. And so I think we tend to, when you’re growing by double every year, it’s a really, it’s a really tough question. So I don’t, I don’t really have a good answer.

Gene Hammett: Well, you picked employees, so I’m going to go with that. I know it’s impossible. Cause we are here to serve our customers. But my hope is those employees that are demonstrating the values of the company truly are serving your customers with the same values. And that’s really the point. , Justin, thanks for being here on the show.

Justin Holland: Thanks Gene, I appreciate it.

Gene Hammett: Take a moment, I’m here to wrap up this, just to reflect back on what I’ve heard. My job is to help you be the best leader you can be. And one of the things that Justin talked about was the importance of people, the importance of culture across this, and how he uses values. I know we spend a lot of time on this, but a lot of leaders just don’t know how to use the values. Don’t know how to really bring them into the day-to-day conversation and operationalize them. So hopefully today, insights have helped you. If you want to be an extraordinary leader, you want to take your leadership to the next level. Maybe you’re not sure what to do next or how to focus your time, or how to align people, whatever the question may be.

I want to offer myself up to chance to talk about what those are and help you see the blind spots. I can help you identify how to move next and all this is for leaders that want to be extraordinary. So just go to GeneHammett.com schedule your call I’d love to talk to you. When you think of growth and you think of leadership.

Think of Growth Think Tank as always lead with courage. 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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