Camille Harrison: Holding Herself to the Highest Standard [Podcast]

Posted on Jun 26th 2014 by Kate Warnock

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There are gifted women in leadership roles across our enterprise. They represent a variety of specialties within the health care industry and come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. As role models and mentors for many employees, they help to shape the direction and culture of our organization. We believe in sharing our women leaders’ wisdom beyond our four walls, and are pleased to bring you the “Women in Leadership” series on Florida Blue Radio. Our series host is Letty Godwin, director of enterprise escalations. Camille Harrison, Group Vice President and Chief Customer Officer at Florida Blue, is first to share her story with us. http://www.brainshark.com/mkt_images/bcbs/HarrisonInterview/HarrisonInterview.mp3 Having started as a nightshift customer service representative and risen to an executive-level position at a young age, it would be reasonable to assume that Camille had a five-year development plan guiding her career. Surprisingly, that’s not the case at all: “I always devoted myself fully to the position I was in, learning every element of the job, mastering what was necessary to excel within the role. I only considered a new position if I felt there was nothing new I could learn in my present one.” Camille laughs that she only applied for one new supervisor role in all her twenty years of experience because her management tapped her for every other position she’s held. That includes her two years acting as chief of staff for Florida Blue’s CEO Pat Geraghty. While Camille concedes that no one ever held a higher standard for her then the one she held for herself in her work life, she honestly admits she was less then perfect in balancing her home life. “I wasn’t very good at it for the first sixteen years. I was so driven that we had a really good life, and I wanted to make my mark. I didn’t account for what I was missing.” Camille learned that frequent, sincere talks with her husband and daughter were essential, as are the times when she needs to be fully present for her family. Before taking on a new assignment that might infringe on her home time, Camille consults her family and they jointly decide if the assignment is a fit for them as a whole. And Camille knows they will keep her accountable, something she says with pride. For Camille, being a leader was never defined as first being a woman. “It’s just one dimension of who I am and doesn’t dictate the value I bring to a role,” she says. If anyone judges her by her gender instead of her capabilities, “I’ll make it very uncomfortable for them to continue to define me that way.” We’re pleased to present Camille’s top three tips for women leaders:
  1. Stay focused in the role you’re in and be the best you can be.
  2. Don’t wait for others to develop you. Create or take opportunities to improve yourself. Don’t be afraid to define new roles that play to your strengths.
  3. Stay true to yourself. Don’t become someone you’re not. Never sacrifice who you are at your core; remain who you are!
Have questions for Camille, or want to share your experiences as a woman in a leadership role? Leave us a comment below. Also, help us make this podcast series a valuable resource for you! Share your suggestions for other women leaders, either at Florida Blue or in the community, for us to interview, or topics that you'd like us to explore.   A complete transcription of the podcast begins here: Welcome to Florida Blue Radio, where we explore health care topics important to you. Whether you own a business, are a health practitioner, or are an individual interested in how health care is evolving, experts from across Florida Blue will keep you in the know. In today's session, we launched our Women in Leadership series, with our own Camille Harrison, group vice president and chief customer officer at Florida Blue. We also introduce our Women in Leadership host, Letty Godwin. Letty is Florida Blue's director of enterprise escalations. Now here's Letty. Hi, my name is Letty Godwin. I am the chair of the women's interactive network and a director in operations over escalations. And I'm here today with Camille Harrison, group vice president and chief customer officer. And she is in charge of the customer experience for the organization as well as all of service operations. And I have the privilege to work under her organization and to ask her a few questions today regarding leadership and how she has made it to where she is today. This is the first of our series of Women in Leadership. So thank you Camille. Thank you. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your current position at Florida Blue. Well I've been in the health insurance industry 20 years this month, actually. This is my 20 year anniversary. And so I started the industry on the night shift and customer service. And I went through training for six months and came out of training and they disbanded the night shift and I had a decision to make. I was a sophomore in college. I was either going to leave my employment after six months of training or shift to the day shift and go to school at night. And that's what I decided to do. And it was only supposed to be until I graduated and I'm here 20 years later. So my current role here at Florida Blue is responsible for the service organization, our overall customer experience, and our business performance excellence for the enterprise as well. And it's pretty exciting, actually. It's a really big scope of responsibility, but what I love about all of the pieces of my responsibility is the connectivity to the customer, who is the heart and soul of what we do as an enterprise. And we have the opportunity every day to show up and make a difference for customers. And it's really, really exciting. That's definitely the most fulfilling part of my job in this space as well, is getting to actually talk to customers and make a difference in their lives, which we do every day. So did you always see yourself leading a really large organization? I wouldn't say I envisioned a large organization, especially as large as the one I'm accountable for, but I knew very early on in my career I wanted to lead people. I had experiences early on in my career where I had great leaders and I also had experiences where I had leaders that I would look at and go, wow, I wouldn't do that, or I wouldn't treat people that way. And for me, in order to model the way you have to step up and show people how to do it the right way. And I always subscribe to the thought that I treat people the way they expect to be treated. And certainly, if you know what you expect as an employee, if you do that at least, you're going to meet the expectations of your employees and if you do anything more than that, you could potentially exceed the expectations of your employees. And I always subscribe to the notion that never let anyone expect more of you than you expect of yourself. And so the standards that you hold yourself to should be higher than any standard anyone else could hold up for you, and so if you subscribe to that and you believe in that, I think that's a secret sauce or recipe for success. When I was in diversity, I learned about the platinum rule. And that's treat others as they want to be treated, and that's a lot of what you described. What would you say to women just starting out in their careers? Be diligent. Be focused. And keep your head in the game. Essentially, you have to really focus on the assignment that you are in. Often times I've come across people who are very driven, very career oriented, and have a five year plan. I can't say that I've ever had a five year plan. I always planned to exceed the expectations and the role that I was in. Learn as much as I could and then when I learned and contributed all that I feel like I can in that role is only then when I decided that I wanted to pursue my next opportunity. But often, after I apply for my first supervisor role, beyond that, I didn't get the opportunity to be exhausted or reach a point of maxing out in a particular role because I was tapped to take on other assignments. So for me at the end of the day, stay true and focused and committed in the role that you've been assigned and everyone else will see what you contribute and they will offer you opportunities to do other things. So you describe yourself as an introvert. How has that impacted you either positively or negatively or what challenges have you experienced as a result of that throughout your career? You know, it's made me more aware. I don't proactively seek out opportunities to speak publicly, as an example. But what it's taught me is, the more I push myself in that regard, the more natural it feels and becomes. Though I'm still anxious, I'm still nervous about it, it does not prohibit me from communicating what I want to share with the world. And one of the things that I've done is I took a public speaking course as an example, and what I found out was all of the anxiety I was feeling, people weren't necessarily seeing it. But one of the things I walked away from that experience with the instructor was, never speak about a topic you're not familiar with or passionate about. And if you do that, all of your natural inclinations will come through, and you convey the message you want to share with the audience that you're speaking with. But at the end of the day, one thing people misconstrue about an introvert is that they're automatically shy, or that they won't speak up, that they don't have courage, those are not true anecdotes about what an introvert is. All it means is that it takes a lot of energy for me to engage, for me to speak publicly, for example. And I just need to have alone time to re-energize, to decompress, and get my wits about me again. And then I can come back again. But you would think that an introvert, if you thought about all of the myths about them, would never want to lead people, the absolute opposite is true. I draw my energy for my team, the people I surround myself with. That's where creativity happens, that's where I get excited about my work. But at the end of the day, I have to go home and spend time alone in order to regroup. And that's all that really means. So you push yourself to do things that may not be comfortable to you. Yes. And that's where I get my best work. That's the best outcomes come from a place of discomfort for me. What are your personal values? My personal values, first and foremost, are honesty, integrity, and courage. I operate in that space. And at the end of the day, no matter what difficulties you might encounter in your personal or professional life, if those are paramount, if we share those and we have those in common, we can work through anything else. But when those things are absent in the relationship, I find it difficult to connect and engage with folks. What would you tell women that struggle to be open and candid because they fear being perceived as domineering or arrogant? I think there's a way to do everything, right. I think there are extremes in any scenario. And I think you've got to be clear about your audience. You've got to know how much a person can tolerate and how much at a time, and certainly meet them in the middle. You're not sacrificing who you are, but you're certainly being respectful of where the other person you're trying to communicate with is. And so it's not about what extreme you need to be at, but it's certainly who am I trying to connect to, for what reason, what do we have in common, what do they need from me in order-- so you have to meet the other person's needs before you try to get your own needs met. Or the group, right? And so there's a level of candor that isn't disrespectful. There's a level of honesty that is pure, and people might not like it in that moment, but they certainly respect it, because they know where you're coming from, they know where you stand, and there's no questions. And I think the more you create that environment, the more open others are in returning that behavior to you. And so you've got to create a safe place and you also have to be aware of your audience. Body language is incredibly important, and that's an attribute that I think a lot of leaders miss, or people in general, colleagues miss. Your body speaks volumes. Sometimes the words and your body language don't match. I always choose to believe body language over what words come out of people's mouths. How have you managed to balance being a mom? I know you have a daughter, I got a little boy, he's five. So how do you do it? It is difficult. And I have to be honest, the first 16 years of my career, I failed miserably at it. I did because I was so driven in ensuring that we had a really good life. And I wanted to be successful in my career, I wanted to make my mark on the world, and I wanted to teach my daughter to that. But what I didn't account for is what I was missing. And earlier on, she was not very vocal about what was important to her and what wasn't. But when I finally got back with a leader, Pat Geraghty, who manages work life balance is very, very well, he was adamant that I would do the same. And you have to pick the important things and be there. And when my daughter got someplace when she was comfortable enough to share with me what was important and what wasn't so important, I found the balance. She helped me do that, my husband helped me do that. I have an incredibly flexible husband, one who's very supportive. He has always supported my career. And he's helped me, helped us parent my daughter. And now, they are very clear about what bets are off, right? Mom, we need your full attention, no cellphone, no BlackBerry, no iPhone, nothing. We are going to fully connect and engage. And they're very clear about that. So I know when I can break to work and when I can't. And so I think having a strong relationship with your family, open dialogue and communication, any assignment I take is a family decision. So my most recent assignment, we sat down as a family and I explained to them, I laid out what it would mean to our work life balance that we had established in my prior role. That was going to go kaput for a while. Because I was in a new assignment, I had to learn, I had to dig in, and it was going to require a lot of my time, and were they OK with that? And so they grunted about it a bit, but basically said, we understand, we get it, and we know you understand that your time is important to us, so we'll work through it. And so my husband and I actually had a moment where he says, OK, I think you're too connected to work and you're not shutting down. And I said, well, wait a minute, we talked about this, but we had an agreement. And he said to me, well, OK, but that doesn't mean I don't get to come and tell you how I'm feeling as we go on this journey. And so we talked about it and we found another common balance. And he said, but don't think that this is our last conversation. If it should get out of whack for me again, we're going to talk about it again. And I can't do anything but respect that, and my daughter is the very same way. So I think that's how we've mastered it in our family. But it took a long time to get here, it's not easy. It is not easy. It's definitely easier when you have a leader who lives it out, models the way, and instills that in others. I've worked for both types of leaders, those that do that-- my current leader, Sherry Michael, is phenomenal with that, and then other leaders who not so much, right? So it definitely does trickle down and makes it a little more difficult. What advice would you have for young women having children in the middle of developing their careers? I would say one shouldn't be sacrificed for the other, right? Family first. And so wherever you are in your stage of life, you decide that first, and your career will fit in if you're creative. There are times where I have demands as a mom and I also have demands for work. And there are ways to accomplish both. You can do conference call, I did it last night. I had a 5 to 6 o'clock meeting, but I had to pick my daughter up by 6:30, and I would never get there in time if I waited until the end of that meeting. So I left early enough to get in my car for the start of that meeting, and I participated in the entire meeting, and guess who was in the parking lot when my daughter came out of tutoring? I was. And so when you have that, to your point earlier, relationship with your boss where they get it-- and I happen to have a boss who doesn't have children, but she's totally in tune to a working mom. And she's very respectful of that and never makes you feel guilty about the fact that you are a mom too, or a wife, or whomever you are in your personal life. It doesn't have to be either of those. You could have a commitment to a parent. Or to a friend. It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, when you treat me as a whole person as an employee, I show up as a whole person to work and you get the best version of me when I feel completely supported. And that's what we have to do as leaders, and that's what we should expect from our leaders as employees. And so it's a two way street. You have to communicate. You can't assume they know what your needs are, you have to be open and communicate about it. And then you get the rules of engagement on the table early, and then you end up with a much better working relationship. You had a very big change in roles when you became Pat Geraghty's chief of staff. How has that experience impacted your leadership style now that you're back in an operational leadership position? Incredible, in one word. I started in the night shift in customer service, so my introduction, might entree to this industry was tactical. It was get it done, right? It is the basic blocking and tackling is what I learned from the very beginning of this. And I thought I did that very, very well. And so that transition from being a tactical leader to now having to be a strategic thinking leader, though you have to do that as a tactical leader, so let me be clear. You have to understand how to strategically implement your tactics, right? But it's very different when you're-- strategy, envisioning, and thinking about three to five years out, and what the organization has to look like then. When you're a tactical leader, you're thinking about how you're getting to that end. And your strategic leader is thinking about what it might look like years and years out, a different version of your company. And so when you take that back to your operations, you see it totally through a different lens and you are thinking about tomorrow constantly. And so today is a matter of necessity, tomorrow is as well, but in a very different way. And so every tactic you take has to take you into your future, and if it doesn't, it's not a good strategy. And so as a tactical leader, I'm thinking, OK, I'm moving this piece of work from here to there, but as a strategist, you're thinking about how am I going to not have to touch that work in a year from now, two years from now, three years from now? How am I automating? It's a very different thought process and it's very exciting though. Because I think in that transition from going from a tactical leader to being Pat's chief of staff, I felt like I may have bridged a little bit, because sometimes the vision is far reaching and there's so many steps in between to get there that sometimes a visionary doesn't want to have to think about-- they shouldn't have to think about, right? So I feel like I was sort of a bridge of-- and I hate to use the word reality, but here are some of the interim things we have to consider in order to realize that vision. And understanding how they thought about the vision helped me figure out the other way, right? The bridge back to the executors, to say, this thinking is because of x, y, and z, and here's how you might bridge to help us get there. So that was the most exciting part-- a self declared bridge between visionaries and leaders who execute on a daily basis. And I think I brought that back to the operation hopefully in a really good way and a constructive way, and I'm very excited about the opportunity to continue to contribute to the organization. You definitely had a very unique vantage point. And something that a lot of women struggle with is being perceived as strategic. That's a very common challenge. In fact, I had the opportunity to go to the UCLA women in leadership course, and that was talked about ad nauseum. What would you recommend to women that are struggling with being perceived as strategic? Because women can tend to get really tactical and really into details. I think you have to reserve your opinion on the execution and the details to the appropriate time in the conversation. Because tactical thinkers, leaders, often jump to the solution. That's another bit of nugget of knowledge Pat shared with me in feedback is, when you hear a problem, a tactical leader is already ready to solve the problem, right? You're already ticking through all of the obstacles, removing those barriers, and bam, here is the solution. But you have to start to lift the thinking up just a bit, because oftentimes a vision is one we automatically go in auto pilot to figure out what are the barriers to our ability to be able to do it. You have to reverse that thinking and-- how many different ways can we achieve it? And it's just a paradigm shift, it's a subtle paradigm shift that says, what is it-- almost a glass half full instead of the glass half empty. Because what we do is we go to problem solving out loud. And it's perceived as being very tactical, and you're not strategic and you're not a visionary. Keep out those inner thoughts, and they are important, because they're going to get to how you're going to execute against that vision, but keep the thinking visionary so that you are open to all of the possibilities and ideas and that it's not perceived as ticking away at all the reasons why we can't accomplish something. And I learned that the hard way, because I wasn't suggesting that we can't do something, I was just thinking through out loud all of the barriers that we need to remove so that we can achieve it. But that language sounds tactical and not strategic enough. So sometimes language matters, words matter. And you've got to know your audience and you've got to know what to contribute when. And don't rush to solution. Great counsel. Words do matter, very much. I learned that the hard way too. What traits do you look for when you're evaluating someone for a leadership position? Oh I go back to my values, right? Honesty, integrity, and courage. You can teach someone the technical skills of a job depending on what it is. I can't see someone to be an accountant, but-- you think about operations as an example. I can teach you how to manage inventory. I can teach you how to manage a budget, I can teach you those things. But those innate values and behaviors are who you show up as every single day. How you apply them is what we can certainly work to achieve. But for me, the core of who you are is the core of who you are, no matter how many developmental plans you put together. And if those things aren't already there, I think we are off to a rough start. So those are things I look for. I couldn't agree more. I know for me, personally, it's initiative, along with honesty and passion. You can't teach stuff, right? Everyone has it in them, it's just letting that little light shine, it's just bringing it forward and having the courage to be you. When you're competing against a male counterpart for a promotion, how do you ensure your story gets told? First, I'll start with the fact that your gender doesn't mean a whole lot as it relates-- to my mind, as it relates to opportunities that are presented. And if you believe that, you're subscribing to what I think is not a good perspective. At the end of the day, being a woman or being a man is one dimension of a person. And it's only one dimension. And it makes for interesting conversation, but it doesn't dictate the value that you bring to a role, whatever that might be, whether it's a role in a company, a role in the community, whatever it is. At the end of the day, it's how you show up, what you're contributing, what you're sharing, how you collaborate, how you behave, what are your core values? And at the end of the day, your results. And so if you were to blind an analysis of a candidate regardless of their gender and the results are the outcomes, that's what should be measured at the end of the day. And so I don't allow it to define me. And so I make it very uncomfortable for someone else to allow it to define me. If I were one dimensional, then I wouldn't be as interesting as I think I am. And at the end of the day, I don't like that define me. I think it's a wonderful, interesting dimension, but it's not the one that determines whether or not I'm the best candidate for a role. And as I indicated earlier, other people have obviously seen it that way and have tapped me for opportunities and I've proven myself. And every everyone needs to prove themselves, regardless of what that dimension is, whether it's gender, whether it's race, whatever it is, it shouldn't matter. At the end of the day, all of us have something to prove. And no other day in our work day, in our work week is promised, right? So the day I show up and I contribute defines whether or not I get to show up tomorrow. And that is gender neutral. So at the end of the day, I think we cannot let that define us, we've got to contribute the best we can, and we can't allow it to define who we are and what we bring to the world. What top three tips, advice, would you offer our listeners when it comes to their career? Stay focused in the role that you're in and be the best in that role that you can possibly be. Be completely committed to your own development, don't wait for other people to do it, raise your hand and ask for opportunities. When those opportunities present themselves, create opportunities. I think the wonderful part of my role as Chief of Staff is it was completely undefined. And I've got to define that. Pat let me define what that role looked like. And it was fun and I learned so much. And the executives I had the opportunity to work with are incredible. I learned so much from them and I think I'm a better person for it. And the last thing that I would say is just be true to yourself. Never sacrifice who you are at your core. And you have to conform to your environment, no matter what that environment is, but at the core, you remain who you are, stay true to your values. And everything else will work out. So my final question. If you could write a note to younger self, what would you say in only two words? I would say live life. Awesome. Thank you so much for your honesty, for your candor, for your openness and for allowing me to have the privilege and opportunity to ask you these questions. You've been listening to Florida Blue radio, recorded at our Jacksonville headquarters. For notes from today's program, visit our blog at floridablue.com Be sure to leave a comment there with your ideas or suggestions for future programs. Until next time, here's to you and your pursuit of health.

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Kate Warnock

Kate Warnock is a member of the Florida Blue social media team and has loved being at the forefront of the social wave @FLBlue. A marketer with ten years’ experience, Kate is also a wife and mom to two children. When not at work, you’ll find Kate listening to NPR, reading The New Yorker and Cooking Light, and arriving two minutes late to yoga class.

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I liked her thoughts on how hard it is to be an introvert and remaining professionally functional. It does take an extreme amount of energy to push yourself to step forward.

Elaine, we appreciate your comment and realize that leaders like Camille who are naturally introverted need that additional source of inspiration to step out in front of a group. It sounds like you can relate. We hope you find our future Women in Leadership stories equally valuable!

Camille, thank you for a great reminder to stay focused and stay true to yourself as we press on in our current role. You are an inspiration!

Anna, we're glad that you found inspiration in Camille's story! We'll be publishing more leadership stories from our women executives soon.

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