Heart. This is the word that comes to mind after one conversation with Cigna’s Tony Contessa and his teammates. All heart.
To the point one forgets the topic at hand: insurance. But people matter, and that comes through when talking to the regional vice president of the New York and New Jersey region’s select and middle market segment.
“Everything I do, whether internal or external, as far as I’m concerned, is focused around relationships. That’s just who I am,” he says candidly. “You can’t really get anything done, in a company like Cigna, or any company, as far as I’m concerned, unless you have strong relationships. You build them on trust. You build them on credibility.”
The global health service company—known for its health, pharmacy, dental, and supplemental products—offers clients considerably more. Particularly a different perspective and experience when interfacing with the industry, one based on community, trust, and mutual respect. Not just with clients, but across the internal organization. As expected, this laterally fostered team outlook translates to greater health outcomes and rewards for Cigna’s employees, clients, and customers.
“When I look across our business, many people touch our clients, and the brokers who are their representatives,” reflects Contessa. “There’s a lot of complex relationships you have to balance and make sure you’re focused on. What differentiates Cigna is we truly strive to partner in a differentiated way by working to understand what their focus is, or what their goals are, and balance that with what Cigna’s goals are. And then we work as a team to deliver on that.”
Enter Cigna’s Annual Client Forum, a three-day event held in a different location each year, affording the organization the opportunity to connect on a deeper level with its clients by showcasing thought leadership and industry trends. Their localized sessions help foster a mutually beneficial relationship, take clients offsite and comprise events and topics focused on helping clients achieve their goals of improving the health, wellness and productivity of their employees and family members.
Lectures on how to find talent, Christopher Herron’s presentation on loneliness and drug use, and a speech from Admiral William McCraven on leadership, illustrate just a few examples of the company’s consideration of client needs.
Creating meaningful opportunities to engage and learn leaves attendees feeling a real connection with Cigna employees, and the company as a whole. According to Contessa, the overarching idea marries with the undercurrent of “I trust them because they didn’t waste my time, and it was important, and I left feeling good.” This automatically opens communication lines and remarkable friendships, not to mention inspires repeat attendees.
Contessa and Cigna continue this engagement through support and by making a positive impact with a multitude of community and charitable initiatives. Whether raising money for Ukraine, building a bike for orphans, or collecting food for needy children, employees and clients create, contribute to, and experience these profound and life-changing events. Together. According to the VP, it’s these shared moments that create a foundation of resonance and rapport.
“It’s not like this is just another event,” Contessa says. “You start to bring clients and brokers into a family. They see how we act with each other, and it’s absolutely the most important thing we do. If I can get all of our clients to it every year, I think we could change the way that we work, which would be for the good of everybody, because we help them achieve better outcomes for their employees. We break that trust barrier. And the better communication, the better outcomes.”
For employees, this means a working community that not only aligns with their values, but offers an outlet of expression. “It helps people get focused and energized in a job that is not only difficult, but many have been in for a long time,” he says. Considering some employees have clocked over thirty years, it’s a point worth noting.
“It makes you feel good about Cigna, it makes you feel good about your partnerships,” he says. “We have an opportunity every day to change lives for the better and help people achieve their health goals. Cigna has the expertise to transform health benefits from an expense into an investment, so employees—and businesses—truly thrive and grow.”
Contessa credits the company’s team-focused approach to leadership as the overarching cornerstone to its cultural success. Considering each individual as a valued teammate, rather than from a hierarchical structure, not only validates a variety of perspectives, but yields greater results.
Practically, this looks like an environment of inclusivity, thank you letters, open office doors, and CEOs under the table plugging in light projectors. Not something you see at every organization.
A natural leader himself, Contessa’s role requires a mix of internal and external focus on anything that touches the client—every person, program, or effort. His distilled approach stems from lessons learned—specifically, his more negative experiences.
“The list of things that I’ve learned not to do from bad leaders is longer than the list of things I learned to do from good leaders,” he says. “I’ll never be a perfect leader, but I try, and I’m very conscious about how things come across.”
With such a strong focus on prioritizing relationships and creating an empowering culture, Contessa shares that his team has been relatively untouched by the Great Resignation. A phenomenal fact, considering the great surge of change in all industries. “When you get into this company, and you feel the culture, the bond, the family aspect, it really makes you feel like there’s no other place you’d rather be,” he says.