How to create a fantastic work culture, with Jason Borschow and Chaya Weiner

First, employees want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Yes, people want a generous compensation, manageable hours, and great colleagues. But they also want to feel like they are making a difference and living their own individual purpose. Too often, however, the message they receive from the corner office is about hitting […]

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First, employees want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Yes, people want a generous compensation, manageable hours, and great colleagues. But they also want to feel like they are making a difference and living their own individual purpose. Too often, however, the message they receive from the corner office is about hitting quarterly sales targets or other metrics that may drive them to work faster, harder, or longer hours, but don’t inspire them.

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Borschow, President & CEO of Abarca, a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) that is disrupting the industry with an entirely new approach to technology and business practices.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have spent my whole life in and around the healthcare business. Since the 1940s, my family owned a hospital and medical supply company in Puerto Rico, until it was acquired by Cardinal Health in 2008. While I had the opportunity to watch truly remarkable people — practitioners and professionals on the business side who dedicated their careers to helping others — I also I saw firsthand how broken the system can be.

In particular, costs are too high, the patient experience is not what it should be, and many of the companies that dominate healthcare have lost sight of who we are all in this for.

So, after we sold the family business, I wanted to do something about it. That’s how the Abarca story begins.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I think the most inspiring moment — and frankly the most heart wrenching — was watching the team at Abarca and the healthcare community in Puerto Rico come together in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, one of the most devastating storms in U.S. history.

Within days after the impact, people who lost nearly everything selflessly focused on caring for others in need.

We had members of our team whose homes were damaged, and families were displaced, but came to work every single day. Our team of care management nurses couldn’t reach patients on the phone so they traveled across the island from pharmacy to pharmacy and from doctors doing what they could to help people get the medications they needed.

More generally, competitors in every part of the industry came together to serve patients and help the government manage through the crisis.

During an unimaginably tragic time, we saw how people took care of each other. This says a lot about the potential for the healthcare industry to be different in the future.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes. Technology in the PBM space is terribly behind the times. Many in our industry — including the biggest players — still run their technology on mainframe computers using programming languages that were developed more than 30 years ago.

That’s just not who we are. So, we developed a completely new and modern PBM platform, called Darwin, that is unlike anything else in the industry. We made it ourselves, we made it from scratch, and we made it in San Juan.

It’s cloud-based, mobile ready, and integrates all of the functions a PBM or health plan needs into a single user-friendly interface — something that is unheard of in most PBM platforms today.

I am so excited about this because I am proud of what our team has accomplished in a short amount of time. I know how Darwin will disrupt the market, and I see the possibilities that lie ahead for us and our clients. One of the newest areas where we will leverage Darwin to upgrade the patient experience and bring the PBM business into modernity is a new model for medication home delivery.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

There are many reasons but, at Abarca, we focus on at least two.

First, employees want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Yes, people want a generous compensation, manageable hours, and great colleagues. But they also want to feel like they are making a difference and living their own individual purpose. Too often, however, the message they receive from the corner office is about hitting quarterly sales targets or other metrics that may drive them to work faster, harder, or longer hours, but don’t inspire them.

In the healthcare industry, this is a big challenge and a missed opportunity. This is a sector where we can really impact people’s lives. But many companies have lost sight of this and make it just about the next deal or the next earnings call.

Make no mistake, companies need to perform financially, but I believe that people who feel inspired by what they do are also more productive, creative, and committed.

In my opinion, the second reason that dissatisfaction in the workforce is so high is due to poor corporate culture. When people come to work, do they feel like they are part of a family? Are they respected and empowered? Are they a part of an organization where their colleagues are fully committed? Where people have humility and share credit? At Abarca, we take culture very seriously. It is a part of everything we do and, based on the feedback I receive from our team, it is the main reason why people want to come work at and stay at Abarca. It’s why they are willing to make huge personal sacrifices for the success of our company and our clients.

According to a recent company-wide survey, 87% of Abarcans consider their colleagues to be highly engaged at work; 71% categorize themselves as feeling highly valued at the company. If a fellow Abarcan was offered a job elsewhere, 77% said they would either try to convince them to stay or would do everything they could to keep them.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

We have a highly skilled workforce that includes clinicians, IT professionals, healthcare and business process experts, and others. We invest heavily in training our people and keeping their skills sharp.

One of the most obvious indicators of an unhappy workforce is high turnover. In an organization like ours, where people may not function at their full potential until they have been at the job for months or, in some cases, years, turnover is extremely costly and disruptive to the business.

Setting aside the impact on our business, low morale is also hard on people and their families. Unhappy, needlessly stressful work environments lead to depression, substance abuse, and a variety of other health problems — the real consequences of that can’t be measured in just financial terms.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

A company cannot develop a sustainable, positive, and genuine culture through a top-down process. The C-suite or the HR department can’t decide what the values are or even what the culture will be.

A few years ago, we asked our employees to tell us who among them demonstrated the kind of values that they thought we should build a company culture around. They identified several members of the team. Some were in leadership positions, others were farther down the ranks.

When we asked them what about why those people made them special, they gave us 6 traits:

Humble competence. Deliver what is needed to execute, grounded in humility, driven by purpose.

Fire in the belly. Exude contagious passion, positive energy, and an unrelenting will to succeed.

Off road. Expand your comfort zone and explore bold new paths every day.

Like family. Care for each other’s success as deeply as if it were your own.

All In. Live profoundly committed to building a better way together.

Shake it off. Celebrate often, shrug off stumbles, laugh at ourselves, have fun.

And we built our culture around these values and our company’s driving purpose of finding a better way to work together, connect with each other, and make healthcare awesome for everyone.

The lesson for us was that in order to have a culture that people believe in, it needs to organic and meaningful and not just posters on the lobby or cafeteria wall. Employees need to see it in themselves and their colleagues. It must be ingrained deeply in everybody’s DNA.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

It starts with leadership. Too often we are focused only on winning and delivering financial results. Our hiring, firing, promotion, and compensation systems are all based on being able to deliver a measurable business outcome. What we don’t understand is that this way of thinking is short term and short sighted and holds too many great people back from developing their full potential. In many ways, the market is already forcing a broader change. We can decide where we buy from, where we spend our time and where we apply to work — and those organizations with genuinely inspired work cultures will always deliver a much better customer or employee experience than the rest. The thinking of just a decade ago is not enough to excel in a globally competitive talent marketplace.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits all leadership style. Depending on the situation, each leader needs to leverage different approaches. When a decision needs to be made, there is a tendency for team members to ask me to make the call. But that isn’t how we will grow and that isn’t how a great team works.

My job is to listen carefully, ensure that the team has a chance to hear everyone’s thoughts and challenge each other’s’ perspective. I also focus on tying back every conversation to our underlying purpose — the WHY behind the WHAT — and connecting our decision-making process to the principles we stand for and to our broader vision for future. Holding people to the best version of themselves and believing deeply in their success has helped our people deliver great results. It’s also important to be vulnerable, authentic, and positive, no matter what is going on.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are way too many to count. I’m very grateful to my parents for giving me the education, support, and mentorship that allowed me to become the business leader that I am today. I’m very grateful, also to the hundreds of Abarcans who have followed and supported me on our journey. I do want to mention my coach, David Brown from Master Coaches, who has been a key mentor to me. One of the most important moments of my careers was when David helped me discover one of the big assumptions that was holding me back from becoming the leader I could be — in my case the belief that if I didn’t exert control over all the important details, that my company, and by consequence, I would fail. Once I had the opportunity to break it down a little bit, I came to realize that the opposite was very much true. The more I tried to control the outcomes instead of allowing others to lead, the more likely we were to fail. What an important lesson to learn from David!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Although I aspire to, I don’t know that I can say that I have brought goodness to the world. But if I can help bring about the type of company that inspires people to dedicate their lives to making a healthcare system that is understandable, user friendly, and engages people in their own wellness, I will have made a difference.

I feel strongly that our healthcare system is broken, the most powerful companies in the space are doing little to improve it, and we are all paying for it. This is where I would like to focus my talent and energies.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That’s a phrase that Peter Drucker coined, and it couldn’t be more relevant to us at Abarca. We live this over and over again. When there is a high-stress situation like a big release for a client, we can’t lose sight of our values. And it is our culture that encourages us all to roll up our sleeves and achieve something great, together.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

At Abarca, we want to ignite a revolution in healthcare to spread healthy living across the planet.

Pharmacy benefits and pharmaceuticals are a big part of the healthcare system, and we’re starting there. If we can find a better way for members to get their needed medications cheaper and easier then we’re doing our job.

But we won’t stop there.

Our values and our purpose go beyond that. Through partnerships and relationships, we will continue to spread healthy living worldwide.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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