Leading Change: A Conversation with Ron Williams
Ronald A. Williams SF ‘84
October 9, 2008
Running Time: 0:56:20 About the Lecture
In what Dean Dave Schmittlein bills as a master class, Ronald A. Williams discusses how an emphasis on new technology and application of basic values helped turn around the health care giant Aetna.
Williams’ case study begins in 2001, when he arrived to find a corporation bleeding out -- having lost $280 million in the past year. He diagnosed key areas of failure and opportunity in Aetna’s vast enterprise: orchestrating medical, dental and other health and insurance benefits in a network of 843 thousand health care professionals with 37 million members. Williams shaped a path to recovery focusing on a better understanding of Aetna’s current customers, from small employers to the largest corporations, and the best way of expanding into new markets such as retailers, banks and law firms. To do this, Aetna needed to build products and services suited for those groups, and Williams’ strategy involved developing integrated information systems for both employers and consumers, to ensure cost-effective, and high quality health care delivery.
Williams repeatedly made the his case for this new strategy directly with Aetna’s staff. He pressed the issue of values: integrity, employee engagement, excellent service and high quality healthcare, and put in place employee surveys and biannual performance reviews. Employees were invited to answer whether they believed their supervisors held true to Aetna’s values and whether they were proud to be working with the company. Williams has noted a marked improvement in responses over just a few years. External benchmarks reflect positive growth as well: Aetna has reached the number one spot as Fortune Magazine’s most admired health care company, after occupying the rock bottom position.
Williams invested a great deal in technology he believes will “shape the future of health care.” He describes a Care Engine, containing an individual member’s personal health record and up-to–the-minute journal information and health guidelines that are “converted into computer algorithms.” This system can detect and fill gaps in care for patients -- conditions that go undetected, tests that should be administered, medicine that should not be prescribed. Williams has also given consumers the ability to find and compare the costs of tests and doctor visits. He believes we can check the trillions of dollars in health care spending through smart technology. For him, health care reform means we “get and keep everyone covered; maintain the employer-based system… reorient the system toward prevention, value, and quality of care; and use market incentives to improve coverage, drive down costs and make the system more consumer-oriented.”