Monica Williams started at the Baylor College of Medicine in 2006 behind the front desk as a benefits service representative. Frankly, after Baylor’s initial contact, she didn’t really have a clear idea about what the position entailed—and she still didn’t quite understand when she accepted the role. She just had to be anywhere else but her current job.
Though not necessarily bad, Williams’s initial human resources experience didn’t feel like a fit. Knowing she belonged elsewhere, she tried her hand building out early HR experiences in other ways, first for the City of Houston, and later (and rather unfortunately) for an Enron subsidiary that folded because of the scandal. (Williams remembers the nonstop ringing of office phones, her colleagues turned away, jobs gone in an instant.) Her company would be sold off, and circumstances worsened as time continued.
“Each individual that comes through that door has a different situation, a different need, and a different explanation. Along with the mentors in my life, that front desk role was everything for me.”Monica Williams
So, when Baylor called, the conversation was simple. “I had no idea what position I had applied for, but I just said yes,” she says, laughing.
Nearly sixteen years, a completed degree, and four promotions later, the executive director of benefits at the Baylor College of Medicine thinks back to the impact that first position had on her journey—not just as a benefits representative but also in her development as a compassionate leader and mentor.
“I think a lot of people take the front desk job for granted,” Williams says. “They think it’s about just meeting and greeting people, but it’s not the case. That’s the place where I learned more about people and benefits than you could ever imagine. Each individual that comes through that door has a different situation, a different need, and a different explanation. Along with the mentors in my life, that front desk role was everything for me.”
Williams’s gratitude for her mentors and her time at Baylor encourages you to root for her instinctively as she continues in her most recent promotion. Admittedly, the role change propelled her forward significantly, and slightly out of her comfort zone. She succeeds by staying centered on her central mission of appreciation. That, and focusing on passing along her experiences, wisdom, and guidance to her fourteen-person team and the thousands she helps every day.
Baylor prides itself in caring for employees—the organization was presented with the 2019 Healthiest Employer Award by the Houston Business Journal—and the benefits team continues in that mission every day. They recently assembled a Baylor Custom Network as a joint venture with CHI St. Luke’s Health system. The network (inside of Baylor’s current carrier network) provides employees the lowest out-of-pocket cost possible and two distinct options for care through the Baylor College of Medicine and CHI St. Luke’s healthcare systems. The current carrier plugs gaps in existing coverage.
“I think it’s the perfect amount of choice, because if you give people too many options, their eyes just sort of glaze over, and it’s easy to get confused very quickly,” Williams explains. “But this is a custom network that is here for you if you need it. I think it’s an amazing option for our population.”
“I’ll put everything I have into this team, because it’s what others did for me.”Monica Williams
During the pandemic, the benefits team worked with its carriers and wellness program to ensure ready access to mental health resources for those suffering due to lockdown strain. Along with newsletters, media screens, posters, and any opportunity to get resources in front of people’s eyes, the team worked hard to make sure that access to those resources was just a simple click away.
“We wanted to ensure not one person had to jump through any hoops to get the help they needed,” Williams adds. “If you were feeling down or burnt out or worn out, we wanted everyone to know that there was always help ready and available.”
The Future and the Past
Looking ahead, Williams plans to make the enrollment system more user friendly and accommodating to the company’s population. She’s also examining how to evolve Baylor’s prescription plans, especially as it relates to nonadherence in its largest three categories: diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol.
“When these groups become nonadherent to the prescription plan provided by their doctors, they ultimately become our cardiovascular patients,” Williams explains. “Tackling that is next for me this summer.”
Several more projects wait in the wings, but it would be a disservice not to point out the value the leader places in mentorship. Invaluable to Williams, she knows how much it can benefit others.
“My definition of mentorship is different than most, I think,” the director says. “To me, it’s providing everyone around you with more skill sets than they think they need to make themselves marketable, even if it’s to your own detriment, meaning I lose them.”
Williams says mentors built her, shaped her, even gave her informal advice about dress and approach when arriving in the corporate world. Never could the executive director have dreamed of stepping into such a role, and she has many supporters to thank.
“I have people reporting to me now, and I want to make sure that they rise right along with me,” Monica Williams says. “I’ll put everything I have into this team, because it’s what others did for me.”