How to Maintain a Healthy Ecosystem

Chief people officer Sarah Chavarria keeps it personal at NantHealth

Expanding its spectrum of care, cancer care provider NantHealth has acquired eight entities and gone through a successful initial public offering since Sarah Chavarria was named chief people officer in mid-2015. For Chavarria, that’s meant a ton of work integrating the employees of the acquired companies, keeping everyone pointed in the same direction, and even helping to sharpen the company’s sense of its mission.

Before NantHealth went public in June 2015, the leadership team was, in preparation for the IPO, forced to articulate the company’s mission so succinctly that anyone could understand it. With the disparate companies that had come together still cohering, it was also an opportunity for Chavarria to communicate to employees that they were an integral part of achieving the same goal.

“From an HR perspective, it was wonderful because we were in the middle of all of these integrations,” she says. “The IPO helped us get organized and make sure we had the right operating model, the right organizational structure, and accountability for what everyone’s contribution was.”

In integrating the acquisitions of those companies and getting everyone on the same page, Chavarria anticipated the impact that the changes would make on the workforce and communicated those changes to everyone. Employees accustomed to their role and routine wanted to know where they fit in the evolving organization. Concerns about impact ranged from livelihood to perks: Would they still have a job? Would their job change? Would they have to switch desks? How about the 401K? Would they still have pizza in the office on Fridays?

“We had that very personal conversation with employees about what the changes were going to be,” Chavarria says. “When you integrate and decide to move some employees away from the things they’ve enjoyed and toward things they don’t know, it’s important to have open communication and do that quickly.”

“I had worked for great companies with great brands, but in healthcare, I see the direct impact on the patient. I love that we are always having conversations about the patient experience.”

As the entities came together, Chavarria also had to think a lot about the unique cultures of NantHealth and of the acquired companies. As a new culture that reflected the company’s mission was being shaped, some things were preserved and others were left behind.

Once the nitty-gritty of integration was more or less complete, Chavarria set her sights on mobilizing the workforce. The first step was to define desired outcomes at the organizational level. Then, she had to get those desired outcomes into the hands of the executives. The company held virtual town hall meetings, where the CEO would talk about the company’s vision. The executives then worked with leadership teams to break the goals down, making sure that the team’s work was pointed at delivering on the overall goals.

“You start with the CEO being present to the workforce around vision and mission goals, and then the leaders cascade that set of goals and those activities throughout the workforce,” she says. “Then, you continue to give updates on how we’re doing, from financial metrics to goals from a client pipeline perspective.”

Chavarria says that something that worked in the company’s favor was the trust between the workforce and their direct leadership. An engagement survey when she joined the company showed that more than 80 percent of the workforce trusted their leader and were happy with the job they were doing.

“That was good news for me,” she says. “It let me know that if I could get information to the leaders, that information would be listened to and trusted.”

Having integrated the various entities allows NantHealth to accomplish a lot in-house, with little reliance on consultants or third-party partnerships—something that Chavarria says makes the company stand out.

“The differentiator with us is how collaborative the companies are,” she says. “Because everything is part of the same ecosystem, we have the ability to work across multiple capabilities and improve the patient experience all the way from diagnosis to the best patient outcome.”

The ability to improve the patient experience gives Chavarria energy every day. She worked in tech before she moved into healthcare fifteen years ago, a transition that has led her to a place where she feels like her contributions are tangible in a way she can’t imagine in other industries.

“I had worked for great companies with great brands, but in healthcare, I see the direct impact on the patient,” Chavarria says. “I love that we are always having conversations about the patient experience. I can identify with being a patient; I am the mother of patients, the daughter of them. So, to sit in a space to support a workforce trying to make a patient’s experience better is a mission I can personally rally behind.” AHL