With two sprinting national collegiate championships on her list of accolades, Michelle Adamolekun is used to moving fast. Her professional career appears no different. Cone Health’s executive vice president and chief people and culture officer spent the early part of her career in tech, a space where moving quickly isn’t just a suggestion, but a critical success factor and important survival tactic.
Prior to starting her career in healthcare in 2007, the University of Texas at Austin track star worked across four different industries and harbored an aversion to the perceived speed of execution and transformation in healthcare compared to her experience in tech. Reflecting back, Adamolekun recalls the pivotal point in her career in which a healthcare organization, whose offer she initially turned down, reached back out six months later with an intriguing request for her to strongly reconsider. “I’m glad I did,” Adamolekun shares.
While Michelle Adamolekun was positioned strategically on the global tech organization’s leadership succession pipeline, she recognized her own potential growth limitations. Based on the high retention rates in the highly coveted leadership roles, few openings existed at the HR director level.
Additionally, the healthcare organization chose to re-engage deliberately and intentionally due its recognition of the value and impact an external perspective might offer to such a critical leadership role and the company. Adamolekun found this an extremely attractive proposition.
Adamolekun remains in healthcare today and for good reason. “I always found myself on boards of mission-based organizations, while in tech. I have found working in a mission-based healthcare organization allows me to bring my whole self to work. I truly get to live my vocation, to be part of something bigger than myself, and this space allows you to do that every single day.”
Mission-based healthcare aligns with Adamolekun’s purpose and leadership intent. “I believe a true measure of my life is how much I can rise above my challenging circumstances, while contributing all I can to enrich and create value for others,” she says.
Talent Pipelines, Culture, and Holistic Health
In 2021, Cone Health earned the designation “Great Place to Work-Certified™” for 2019–2020. Adamolekun attributes this to the organization’s deliberate and intentional focus on culture in partnership with management consultancy Insigniam over the past ten years. She remains intent on elevating the culture and focusing on the future through creative and innovative strategies for Cone’s 14,000-plus employees. A cadre comprising over five generations of caregivers and support staff, making the breadth of complexities from an HR perspective extensive, at the very least.
“Like most organizations, we’re in a very transitional period of trying to understand the future of our workforce,” Adamolekun explains. “We’re currently in a hypercompetitive market, and the healthcare talent shortage environment has only exacerbated the situation as we move into the future.” For the EVP, it’s about honoring Cone Health’s past and rich history and working diligently to transform as an organization to meet the current demands, while positioning the organization for the future.
Cone Health endeavors not just to source new pipelines for talent, but actually create its own, through partnerships with its workforce development boards, local colleges, community colleges, and even high schools. Leadership actively incentivizes its people to assist creating those programs and engage their communities, while also helping cultivate future talent.
She also emphasizes the continued build-out of Cone’s already-strong culture. Putting her own spin on the Peter Drucker quote, she laughs, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizers—you name it. The executive leadership team here at Cone Health understands that implicitly.”
Under the leadership of CEO Mary Jo Cagle, Michelle Adamolekun emphasizes that Cone Health is on a transformational journey from success to significance and remains committed to leading our community to outstanding health and well-being.
“Ultimately, our executive leadership team recognizes we must remain focused and vigilant on building and leveraging the capabilities of the organization and employees through the lens of the future, with an eye towards achieving our mission through value-based care,” she explains.
Additionally, the People + Culture team takes a more holistic approach to the health of its people. Whether examining the social determinants; more long-term approaches to mental, physical, social, spiritual, and financial wellbeing; and community interaction with the organization, Adamolekun’s team is motivated to taking a more inclusive and holistic approach to drive care forward for both its employees and patients.
“Especially when you consider COVID-19, there are issues like burnout that we need to think long and hard about. We’re working to make sure our team members have the services, solutions, and support whenever they need them,” the DEI champion says. “I think that’s a big part of leading with empathy, compassion, and servant-based leadership.”
As the organization adjusts to the pandemic environment, employees and employers alike are thinking more thoughtfully about the nature of work, bridging one’s authentic self to the job, and what it means to be fulfilled in one’s career. None an easy fix, and the answers vary for each individual, but Adamolekun says it’s an important consideration requiring greater intention and attention from all companies.
According to Shideh Sedgh Bina, founding partner at Insigniam, “Michelle as a CHRO is a business executive who happens to have an expertise in human resources. She thinks and acts from the business. She leads and manages human resources to build a talent corps that is fully organized around performance and accomplishment.”
The Drive of the Mission
Though the former athlete found her own mission in the healthcare field, that didn’t mean her service outside of work ended. Currently, she acts as the president for the Reggae Girlz Foundation, a nonprofit focused on inspiring, educating, and supporting the next generation of female football players in underserved communities.
Adamolekun also serves on the board of the North Carolina United Way chapter and Guilford Works, a workforce development board based in North Carolina. If it seems like too much for one person to handle, please consider her take on traditional work-life balance.
“I do not prescribe to the idea of work-life balance, because I think it’s unattainable,” she admits. “Work-life balance assumes equality between both work and one’s personal life, which is never the case. One will always take precedence over the other in every situation. So, I try to approach it more from a work-life integration perspective. I believe if you’re in a role that aligns with your passion and purpose, it will feel less like work, and will better integrate with one’s personal life. At the end of the day, the goal is to identify a role that fuels one’s passion and purpose, and that will best integrate with one’s personal life.”
Hard to argue with someone living her true vocation in her career. Michelle Adamolekun is proof that it can sometimes take years, but finding one’s true mission is well-worth the wait.
Innovative leaders like Michelle Adamolekun help develop strong cultures of health to promote employee and community well-being. Marsh McLennan Agency is proud of its long-standing partnership with Cone Health. Our team is privileged to support an organization with such a profound impact on the lives of so many.