“Learn to solicit and internalize feedback as much as your ego can stand to handle, from all levels” with Nicole Neumarker of Cotiviti

Learn to solicit and internalize feedback as much as your ego can stand to handle, from all levels, your boss, your peers, and your downstream leaders and employees. Early in my career I was given a 360º anonymous review. In some ways it was hard to hear that type of unfiltered feedback, but it was […]

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Learn to solicit and internalize feedback as much as your ego can stand to handle, from all levels, your boss, your peers, and your downstream leaders and employees. Early in my career I was given a 360º anonymous review. In some ways it was hard to hear that type of unfiltered feedback, but it was so extremely insightful in exposing my blind spots and areas where I needed to grow.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Neumarker.

Nicole Neumarker is currently working as Vice President of R&D for Cotiviti, a leading solutions and analytics company that leverages unparalleled clinical and financial datasets to deliver deep insight into the performance of the healthcare system. At Cotiviti she is responsible for delivering value through the software engineering and innovation teams globally. Nicole is the former VP Technology of Helix Education, and originally began her technical career at Cisco Systems’ headquarters in Silicon Valley.

Currently at Cotiviti, Nicole’s initiative portfolio under management includes all development for new product introduction as well as innovation across the existing install base. She does this by driving lean portfolio and agile practices for scale and entrepreneurial teams for research and innovation. As a member of the Operations senior leadership team, her COE serves product, operations, and go to market functions.

Nicole began her technical career at Cisco Systems’ headquarters in Silicon Valley where she worked on everything from branding and the corporate website development to enterprise data and security initiatives. In her time at Cisco, she learned the criticality of weighing the business value of a project prior to applying scarce and costly technical resources.

Nicole is kept endlessly busy outside of work with her family and kids and is in constant pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee by roasting her own coffee beans in her garage. She has served on the board of a local nonprofit organization focused on high school STEM education, as well as a mentor with the Utah Valley University women’s basketball team.

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

Igrew up in Palo Alto, California in the 1970’s and 80’s and I was surrounded by the nascent technology boom going on at that time in Silicon Valley. My childhood best friend’s father worked for Xerox Parc and was a co-inventor of Ethernet. My dad bought the family an early home computer, the Apple II+. I spent hours trying to figure out what it could do, though the applications it could run were very rudimentary at the time. As I was exiting college, the internet was coming into play and I entered the workforce at the verge of the dot com boom. Technology was this magical thing constantly being invented and reinvented all around me, and it was hard not to be pulled into the excitement of it.

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

Since joining the company five years ago, we’ve gone through three M&A events, resulting in three different corporate names/brands — now known as Cotiviti. All this change has brought more interesting and expansive opportunities in these five years than in the last 15, and I now work with my team to uncover the fastest, most appropriate ways to solve important problems in the healthcare industry.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Ihad just barely started, probably one month into my role here at Cotiviti. We had a software release which unfortunately resulted in some issues for one of our clients. It was a solvable problem but required some work over the weekend. Because I was so new, I had not mentioned to my leadership or peers that I was getting married that Friday. I was in the limo headed to the reception dinner when one of my colleagues called to tell me there was an issue with the release. The first question she asked was “where are you?”, and I let her know I’d just gotten married. Her response “ok, never mind, I’ll call you tomorrow.” I only later found out about the client impact and over the next few days was a part of numerous conference calls to work through the remediation of the issue. I should have probably let them know what was going on that weekend in my personal life. I still think back to that time, those colleagues who helped take care of that issue on my behalf, and they are some of my key leaders today.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Cotiviti has this amazing culture of being both enterprise class and start up scrappy at the same time. We build enterprise class software, have deeply talented engineering talent, yet when we need to hit a critical goal or build something quickly, we know how to swarm together like a small intrapreneurial startup to get something done. We recently brought two companies together as part of a large acquisition. I was getting to know some of the recently acquired teams which were new to me and found this small pocket of machine learning expertise in one of our operational organizations. They weren’t considered software engineers necessarily but were self-taught in data science methods and had this amazing hybrid knowledge of both the operations business and algorithmic know how. It led to building a small innovation team within Cotiviti, that has within just a few months led to some new innovations in one of our core businesses.

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

The machine learning team that I lead, is focused on methods for driving waste out of healthcare claims management processes. This capability ensures services are appropriately billed, with the goal of reducing wasteful spending within the healthcare ecosystem, which is currently estimated at over $760B. If waste in the system can be reduced, this benefits members by a reduction in the overall cost of care and improvement in quality of care.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I’m not at all satisfied with the status quo. There is a lot of media attention, articles, and studies around women in leadership positions, yet very little around how to shift the balance. The most interesting data I’ve seen is around the fact that because women are given fewer opportunities for that first management role, there are subsequently fewer women in more senior roles. The more women we can move into line level management roles, the greater the odds of them moving into senior leadership roles as they progress throughout their careers.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Ifind the “airtime” in a leadership meeting for women is about half that of men. We are required to be more concise and direct in our comments as we’re perceived as loquacious far quicker than our male counterparts. Knowing this, I try to use my airtime selectively to get critical points across to my peers and leadership.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

When two women disagree or are confrontational on a work topic, it is often framed as “interpersonal” versus simply two people managing through a disagreement. I had a female colleague at one point with whom I had to share a common value stream, and there were times in the process of delivering software where I needed to see some changes in how her teams were operating. These were measurable issues and my colleagues could absolutely see the challenges as I saw them, yet because we were two women, somehow it was referred to as an “interpersonal” issue between us. I was fortunate to have a leadership change right around that time, and my new leader was able to immediately see the issues for what they were, rather than interpersonal and took an entirely different tactic to manage through them.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Strive to always have a growth mindset for yourself and your team.
  2. Empathy and loyalty will do far more to drive performance than traditional performance management techniques.
  3. If you show confidence in your team, they will break through their own barriers of doubt.
  4. Have extreme focus on a few key initiatives and obsess about excelling in chosen few.
  5. Apply the 80/20 principle to everything, especially how you manage time and people.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Learn to solicit and internalize feedback as much as your ego can stand to handle, from all levels, your boss, your peers, and your downstream leaders and employees. Early in my career I was given a 360º anonymous review. In some ways it was hard to hear that type of unfiltered feedback, but it was so extremely insightful in exposing my blind spots and areas where I needed to grow.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Tolead a large organization, you must become expert in selecting and coaching your direct line of leaders reporting up to you. As your organization grows, you hit an inflection point where there’s no possible way you can be an expert in every aspect of the domains you manage. You must hire strength into your weak areas, acknowledge what those leaders bring to you, support and encourage them to be highly communicative of what they need to be successful and give them the breathing room to run their function effectively.

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?

I’ve had several leaders who have seen something in me, that I hadn’t yet seen in myself up to that point. Early in my career I worked for an operational leader at Fidelity Investments, my first role out of college. I had an opportunity to apply for a job which would have expanded my role significantly, given me much greater visibility and pushed me well past my comfort zone. I was interviewing for this role with other people who had far more relevant experience and more expansive reputations in the company than I had at that time. Instead of selecting a more experienced and known person, he took a chance on me and hired me into the role. He gave me some of the best early advice I could receive: Hire the best people you can find, smarter than you if possible and always align yourself to a senior leader who is going somewhere (which I’ve interpreted over the years in different ways, but essentially someone who is rising or in a position of organizational power, is politically savvy, and can lift you as they rise or provide lift to you for your growth).

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

Early in my career, I believed that self-fulfillment was achieved through all of the various initiatives and projects I completed successfully, and career milestones I reached. After 8 years of a pretty significant grind in Silicon Valley, my father passed away and I made some major changes in my life. I took stock of my career history to that point and realized, I’d forgotten most of the details of each project, why each was such a big deal at the time, and whether it even mattered in the years following. What I did remember acutely were the people, experiences and emotions associated with achieving something with people you’d grown to love for their passion, commitment, sense of humor, or whatever it was that had gotten you through the push together. All that remained of those allegedly super important initiatives were the relationships I’d built, and reality, I could have done a much better job at that over those years had I understood the value of them at the time they were being developed. At this stage I do my best to put my people ahead of the projects, relationships as a way to win, not winning as the only objective.

You are a person of enormous 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.

Iam always moved by those who are willing to use their platforms to speak truth to power, especially in a time when there is so much noise in the world from which we must discern some sort of truthful signal. In our household we hold math and science as our religion if you want to call it that.

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

Rainer Maria Rilke: “Live the questions now.” I have it written out in old German script as a tattoo on my forearm. The full quote is part of a letter he wrote, where he gives guidance to a younger poet which reads: “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

My early 20’s was a time of questioning many ideas I’d been raised to believe about myself, my identity, who I was to be in the world. This quote gave me a level of solace, hope really that even if I didn’t understand the why’s of that stage of my life, it would perhaps make sense in the future. It’s proven absolutely true and I’ve come to be more patient with the questions. I live this quote every day.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Even prior to the phenomenon that has become the series, the Handmaid’s Tale, based on the book, I’ve been a huge fan of Margaret Atwood and her dystopian yet prescient view of where the world is heading. Her MadAddam series of speculative fiction and how technology might play out in ways we’d hardly conceive of is one of my favorite book series; it would be amazing to have a conversation with her.

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