Don’t take it all so seriously. I always have the perspective that it’s important to accomplish business goals and objectives — but the small daily tasks that take up much of our time are not the be-all, end-all, and are rarely life-or-death situations.
I had the pleasure to interview Nicole Latimer. Nicole is CEO of StayWell, a leading health care innovation company. As chief executive officer, Nicole embodies the company’s mission to be the premier provider of lifestyle risk management programs for the entire healthcare ecosystem, leveraging behavioral science as the foundation for improving health outcomes. Prior to joining StayWell, she led key initiatives for the Advisory Board and Deloitte Consulting, focusing on population health management, health system growth strategies, patient and employee education, and SaaS development and delivery.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’ve spent more than 25 years in the healthcare industry, working to improve health systems and the operations that support the overall delivery of care. As the healthcare industry has transitioned over the last several years, I saw an opportunity to have a greater, more hands-on impact on the industry.
Joining StayWell in 2016, I had greater access to the patient side of the business, which enabled me to focus on individual accountability for health. I found that just as physicians are struggling to help patients take accountability for their health behaviors, patients are also struggling from a knowledge and motivation standpoint regarding how they can improve their own health. At StayWell, we’re aiming to fix these problems on both sides.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I have many, but perhaps a top memory is StayWell’s acquisition of Provata Health, a digital health company that delivers population health programs to employers, health plans and hospital systems. We completed the acquisition in 2018 and it has been widely successfully. In fact, since then we’ve doubled the number of clients using the solution.
We were interested in Provata for several reasons, but most important, the company was well-received by the marketplace and also offered a native mobile platform, which is exactly what we needed. A unique factor of this acquisition was that it happened quickly in order to meet our sales cycle. From start to finish, the entire process took only 41 days — and happened over the holidays! While the entire process was rapid and intense, it was well worth it because we’ve added an amazing portfolio of products to our company. With this addition, we’ve received tremendous feedback and interest from the marketplace in our mobile platform. This activity was not only fun to work on, but also allowed us to think differently about how we want to interact with our customers — employers, health plans and health systems — to implement our lifestyle risk management programs in ways that work most efficiently for them. The addition of this tech-forward platform is one way we have worked toward accomplishing this approach.
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?
I think a funny mistake would be not making the transition to “camera culture” sooner. At StayWell, nearly 80 percent of our workforce is remote. A major challenge with this setup for any company is that you may not have the ability to interact in person during typical work hours, so video conferencing is crucial. When I first came to StayWell and joined meetings, I was one of the only ones taking advantage of the video aspect. I learned that many members of the team were not yet utilizing video when working from home because they were not professionally dressed or had make up on that day.
However, our whole goal and mission at StayWell is to empower people to take active roles in their own health and help them have a more balanced and rewarding life at home. So, we taught the team that it wasn’t what you looked like that mattered — it was how engaged and communicative you were being. By using video conferencing vs. the telephone for meetings, our teams can interact and communicate with each other more effectively.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
I was most drawn to the idea of working on an important, compelling issue within society — helping people with their health journey. This is something that impacts everyone, and as CEO the ability to focus my time and attention on this issue, to unite others around tackling it, and ensure the right projects and efforts work to move the needle forward is something that is of great interest to me.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
There are two big differences — First, the time frame that you are thinking about projects and goals are much different. It’s not just the next few weeks and months, but also thinking about where we are going in the next three, five and 10 years. A good portion of time is spent setting the future direction and putting pieces in place to execute that forward-thinking vision.
Second, communication is essential in my role. In the beginning, I had no idea as a CEO I would spend nearly 50 percent of my time communicating the vision of the company to executives, employees, customers, influencers, board members, and other external audiences. Much of my time is spent explaining what we do wand why we do it. Through this it helps to lay the groundwork for that forward vision for the next five and ten years ahead at StayWell.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I like seeing our vision come to fruition through completion of projects, launch of new services, expanding our reach with customers and clients, and the impact it has on our clients. Putting these pieces of the puzzle together, I see the valuable impact it has on individuals’ health.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
Given the passion I have for the company, it can be hard to take a break, both physically and mentally. With the responsibilities as CEO, I find it hard to unplug fully from the business as I’m always thinking of new programs, opportunities, and areas to further enhance our mission.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the biggest myths is that if you’re a CEO you control everything. You can certainly develop ideas and objectives, but without buy-in and consensus from your executive team and those teams they lead, it won’t go anywhere. You only have the ability to make action happen by connecting others to the idea and create understanding that the direction is in the best interest of the company and the clients you serve.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
One of the biggest challenges women leaders face is the expectation to control their emotions in a more acceptable range compared to men. Disappointment, frustration, and anger are acceptable by men but are negatively looked upon as a woman. This limitation on “acceptable expression” can make it harder to appropriately express what you are trying to communicate. It means as a female CEO, you must work within the confines of what’s acceptable to still get the message out appropriately.
For example, in many workplace cultures men can swear. Whereas women are never allowed to do the same.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The most striking difference is the amount of time I spend with our board, clients, influencers, and other outside entities. Prior to my role, 80% of people I interacted with were inside the organization or customers of the company. Now 80% of the time I spend working with people who are not directly tied to StayWell. There is a greater appreciation of the collective industry and those around me who can help to influence the future of the company. From board members, colleagues in the industry, industry experts, research experts, former colleagues and leaders, all of them can help to develop strategies and initiatives that can have an impact on our future.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
I believe as CEO the most important trait is humility. The second most important is being an active listener. If you think you’re always right, that is not going to match well for someone who is going to lead a company. A successful leader needs to be open to new opinions, the ability to take in information, accept insight, and formulate plans to lead a team. Markets and industries are always changing, and smart leaders need to react to those changes by always listening to others and having a willingness to change course.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
There is a lot of advice for how female leaders should lead. I believe first and foremost you should be yourself and be authentic. When you are your authentic self, you will be at your best and able to inspire your team to action. If not, people will see right through you and it will be hard to truly develop trust and support.
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?
Ironically, I would say it’s a former manager of mine whom I didn’t particularly get along with. He always provided me with tough feedback and criticism, probably more than anyone ever had throughout my life. Back then I felt that he just didn’t recognize or see my potential. Today, I realize how much of a role he played in shaping my career because through his toughness, I was also able to learn. I have come to appreciate how much potential he saw in me, and how he forced me to try harder, and expand my skill set. He had tremendous confidence in my ability to lead successfully, and he showed me that it’s the challenges that prove your mettle.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Everyday at StayWell we help people address lifestyle behaviors that impact individuals’ health. These are issues such as smoking, sleeping, stress management, dietary choices, and physical fitness. By providing proven programs and expert education in formats and delivery channels that are most accessible to them, we provide individuals with important coping skills to develop happier, healthier lives. It’s what gets me up in the morning and keeps me up at night, and what I’m so passionate about accomplishing. If we can make a significant impact in the health of others, we can make a seismic shift in our culture.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t take it all so seriously. I always have the perspective that it’s important to accomplish business goals and objectives — but the small daily tasks that take up much of our time are not the be-all, end-all, and are rarely life-or-death situations.
- It really IS about the people. The people within an organization ARE the organization. By investing in them, you are making the greatest investment in the business and your customers — the people who support your organization
- Listen. As a leader, it’s tempting to make quick decisions to move forward. It takes courage to listen to those in your organization, look at the data, and listen to experts in the industry that can contribute to much stronger decisions.
- Attitude is everything. I believe happiness is a choice and you can improve your happiness by making time for yourself, prioritizing your schedule and tasks, and being grateful for what you have, in an effort to create the best life for yourself.
- Know yourself. The more you know who you are the easier it becomes to pursue the goals that are important to you. It also helps to know where your strengths lie and help to channel your energy to help you accomplish your goals.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to start a movement to help address our current epidemic of loneliness, which can often be accomplished by being your authentic self. So many people don’t have a solid ground of social support or an adequate social network, which can also impact the ability to maintain or improve their health. We want to help make it easier for people to create friendships, build upon common interests, and create that social support to encourage each other to be their best selves, physically and emotionally.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You gotta’ wanna’” — it’s a phrase my father used all the time, and it reminds me that everything we do is about that intrinsic motivation. No amount of money, awards, prestige can replace the power of internal drivers. And external motivators don’t sustain a person for very long, which means any amount of success will be short lived. If you have a big goal that you want to accomplish, it’s got to be driven by your internal motivation to be truly successful.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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
Mary Barra, CEO of GM. She seems to have struck the right balance between respecting the history and size of such a storied organization while also investing in the future, taking calculated risks, and doing things differently. She has also found a way to lead as a woman, in an industry historically led and influenced by men, without giving into pressures to act inauthentically.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.