Cheryl Morrison-Deutsch of Zillion: Five Things Business Leaders Can Do To Create A Fantastic Work Culture
…Create cross functional opportunities to come together without an agenda or specific topic — Making space for this kind of interaction is important to deepen the understanding of the company, our values, and to spark creativity. This can be in the form of trivia afternoons, virtual wine tastings, coffee hours, or drop-ins.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cheryl Morrison Deutsch.
Ms. Morrison Deutsch brings to Zillion almost 30 years of experience in translating business and technology requirements into actionable plans to provide a superior user experience. Before joining Zillion, Ms. Morrison Deutsch served as Executive Director of Customer Experience, Collaboration and Transformation at Kronos. Prior to Kronos, she was a thought leader at Cloud Technology Partners (CTP). At CTP she developed both the technical and organizational strategies to support customers’ business transformations. Ms. Morrison Deutsch spent eight years at Health Dialog as the Chief Application Officer, where she designed and managed the launch of a global coaching application. Throughout her career, she has been a leader at the intersection of healthcare and technology and has been responsible for the delivery of multiple innovative offerings that connect clinicians and patients. These offerings provide world-class care and address the management and improvement of chronic conditions globally. Ms. Morrison Deutsch holds a BA from Curry College and a MEd from the University of South Carolina-Columbia.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career is more like a series of connected dots rather than a straight path. When I look back and reflect on my journey, the roles that I had, and the companies that I worked for — at first blush they seem to be disjointed. However, they all fit together to play a role in either what it taught me about myself or the opportunity to gain new skills. Each position played a key part in my ability to serve in my role today at Zillion.
I began in the education field working with college age students, playing the role of advisor and mentor, and helping them to develop the skills they needed. It was through this position that I also discovered my innate love for technology and its ability to empower people to accomplish their goals.
I continued down the path of using technology to empower people as I continued my journey which included roles in technology training and internal technology support for consulting firms. This led me to my first professional experience with the intersection of technology and healthcare. The ability to provide systems to people as they strive to provide the best care possible to those in need became my passion. Whether it was an occupational therapist having the ability to know who to screen for services and when so that individuals in long term care didn’t get overlooked or to help nurses know what the most important topics they could discuss with an individual so that they could keep them out of the hospital and help them live healthier lives.
I have had roles that gave me the opportunity to work with newer technologies and to understand that it is also about the people. The transformation role at UKG (Kronos at the time) put a spotlight on the idea that transformation isn’t just about technology, but also about the people and the processes you have in place. It really taught me that you can’t separate out the human element from great technology solutions and I think that especially holds true when you talk about healthcare.
All this leads to the opportunity I found here at Zillion. The mission at Zillion is to help as many people as possible live happier, healthier lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. We do that by finding the right balance in our use of technology to help people get the care they need and deserve at the right time and in the right way.
The opportunity and privilege to lead Zillion, with colleagues who are so passionate about what they do and why they do it, makes me believe I am in the right place and that the experiences that have led me here, even if it wasn’t a very straight line, have all been critical to giving me the abilities to provide that leadership and direction. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I would have to say that leading a company through the ins and outs and changes has been one of the most challenging times in my career! We were busier than ever in March of 2020. I was really liking the way our new, “Work Your Way” program was going. That program allowed people to work wherever was best for them, hopefully avoiding long unneeded commutes and giving people the flexibility to work the way they felt was best for them.
On March 6th all that changed when we decided to go fully remote to protect our team and to wait a few weeks to see how this was all going to resolve. Zillion is not that big and an outbreak in one of our offices could have really created a huge business problem, not to mention we didn’t want employees taking unneeded risks. Working with our Employee Experience team, we immediately put in place new standard communications to keep everyone on top of what was happening, created non-business opportunities to virtually get together, and new standards for individual communications. I feel like I got to know the employees even better than before, we worked together better than ever and all gave each other the grace to get through a very tough time. During one of our monthly Town Hall Meetings in the beginning of the pandemic, we introduced a special guest, Amy the Llama. She joined us virtually from Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary in California. There were lots of smiles and laughter from the team. I think that Town Hall might have been the highlight of last summer!
Luckily, as an organization we weathered the changes well! It was a time that both challenged me and inspired me. We learned that as a virtual organization we can attract the best people regardless of where they live, and we can keep the people who are working for us even when their life circumstances change and they need to relocate.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am excited to share that we are about to launch a women’s health program focused on midlife health and menopause. This program will offer a unique combination of coaching and content that is focused on educating and empowering women to take control of their own healthcare. Many women suffer needlessly because they don’t know what options they have and how to get help. This program will combine scientifically backed content and trained health coaches, who can support a woman day to day, as well as prepare them to be their own best advocate. We expect RestoreBalance to hit the market later this summer!
As a healthcare technology company, we are always working on changes and updates to our platform. In addition to our technology we also offer content and services to support a customer’s business as they utilize the platform. We are constantly improving existing programs and creating new ones to keep our offerings diverse, current, and flexible to consumer feedback.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
As I mentioned earlier 2021 was an especially tough year for many organizations. There have been so many unknowns and that type of environment effects everyone. People are feeling isolated and stuck in place. Too many of today’s workers doesn’t trust their company, their manager, or where they stand in the organization. While companies have been focused on the mechanics of running the business they have often forgotten the basics of communication, transparency, and recognition. When you have an environment where people are afraid to take time off and don’t feel a connection or an accountability to the work they are doing it is no wonder they are unhappy! We work very hard to bring a sense of belonging and purpose to Zillion and that responsibility starts with me.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
When you have an unhappy workforce the employee experience and the customer experience suffer. There becomes an overwhelming lack of energy and creativity, workers become resentful and productivity plummets. The organization loses sense of purpose and urgency. People go through the motions of their job, but they don’t look at the big picture or where they fit in. This can leave members of the team vulnerable to being lured away and not always for more money, but for a sense of purpose and accomplishment. The bottom line for any organization like this will suffer as a result!
This has a huge impact on an individual’s mental and physical health. Stress, anxiety, and depression are some of the key risks which lead to a workforce that is unfocused, negative and often physically ill as well. It becomes a very destructive cycle and one that has to be stopped by making purposeful changes to the culture.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Assume Positive intent- this is something I talk about with every person that joins Zillion as well as a reminder at key moments when there could be some friction between teams or individuals. I truly believe that no one who comes to work at Zillion wakes up and decides they want to screw something up today. Believe your employees have the best intentions and if they have a different way of doing something or approaching a problem then it is best to work together and understand the other person’s approach.
- Mistakes are expected and corrected — we are a high growth company and we move fast. Sometimes people make decisions with the information they have and we learn through the process that we are not getting the outcome we want and need. All I ask of the members of the Zillion team is to recognize mistakes, share that they happened, and come up with a solution or better approach. If the mistake is covered up or someone else is blame — that is when we have a problem. There are even times we reward finding and fixing mistakes. By doing this we free people up to take accountability, focus on the best interest of all, and remove the fear of action while waiting to find a perfect answer. There was a very specific member acquisition event years ago where we had several team members attend. We had some great ideas around how to best attract and sign-up new members. We realized by the middle of the event that we were not getting the members signed up as he had hoped. We didn’t wait till the day was over, we huddled, talked about the issues, and switched up our approach. There was no blaming or finger pointing. There were a few laughs however and then the changes that were made provided for a much better member experience and really helped make the event a success.
- Make your mission approachable, actionable, and one every team member can understand — The team needs a rallying cry of why we exist and why what we do matters. It helps people understand decisions that are made and enable them to see how they help us achieve that mission. Of course, that needs to be driven throughout the organization and have goals tied to it for each team. Without this kind of clear focus, it would be easy to go off course or find teams that are at odds with other teams because they don’t know what success looks like in the big picture. We rally around the idea of helping as many people as possible live happier and healthier lives for themselves, their families and communities. I repeat this often and so does the leadership team. We can draw a line from every project and goal through the organization back to this mission. If it doesn’t help us get to where our clients’ needs are, we need to question why we are doing it.
- Much like we expect you to make a mistake, we also all reserve the right to be smarter later and, with that, the right to change our mind based on new information — We don’t always have perfect information. If we are afraid to make a move or start an initiative until we have the perfect set of information, we might never start any project! Freeing people to make the best choice they can, with the information they have, at the time, helps us move faster and make progress. A great example of this was a project centered around some enhancements to our video capabilities. The team was worried that the options were very similar, but there were a couple of unknowns that could have driven us to one decision or another. Instead of getting stuck swirling or trying to understand every permutation, we met, reviewed the key criteria and made a decision. If we learn something later then we will look at alternatives and adapt, but look how much farther along we will be. I am proud to say we are weeks away from delivering the changes and our customers couldn’t be more excited!
- Create cross functional opportunities to come together without an agenda or specific topic — Making space for this kind of interaction is important to deepen the understanding of the company, our values, and to spark creativity. This can be in the form of trivia afternoons, virtual wine tastings, coffee hours, or drop-ins. We also have a series of conversations I have called “WaterCooler Conversations”. This gives people a chance to connect on a different level, learn a little about their coworkers and I get a chance to listen to what’s important to the organization and answer questions I might not get asked in a more formal setting. We have found that those who participate in one or two of these a month feel more connected and more invested in the organization. I love having a chance to just listen and share in these types of settings and it is invaluable to me and the leadership team to learn what is really happening in the organization when folks let their hair down and feel free to have a voice!
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I often think people believe a couple of quick activities, events or even benefits can change a company’s culture…it doesn’t happen that easily. There are systemic changes that can and should be made on a national scale that will make it easier for companies to provide a humane and meaningful workplace culture. I think there should be mandated sick time and vacation time across the board. People should be free to take care of a sick family member when there is an urgent need without fear of losing their job. I also believe that in today’s world having a more remote workforce can benefit everyone. It opens opportunities to search a broader talent pool to find the best fit for your company and it allows great team members to stay a part of the organization even if there are circumstances that cause them to move out of an area. These are all things we strive for at Zillion and it would be great if these things could be available to all!
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I would categorize myself as a servant leader. I am committed to my team and seek to listen, support, and empower. That said, I understand based on the situation and the individual I may need to take a very different approach. Not everyone has the same needs and professional growth objectives and it would be unfair and unrealistic for me to believe that one approach fits all. As an example, with one new leader in the organization I felt it was my role to help them gain confidence in what they were doing. We believed they were the right person for the role and it was important not to debate or directly challenge their goals and initiatives, but instead to ask questions and encourage them to try. I had to make sure they knew I trusted them to do the job. I was right, they gained that confidence and have continued to grow and take on more responsibilities and most importantly, they love what they are doing. I have another leader in the organization that has plenty of confidence, but a specific way of thinking. A great growth opportunity for them is to hear and think about other points of view. In that situation I make sure to challenge and spark healthy debate and work on listening for understanding not just listening to rebut. It takes a lot of thought about the individuals you work with and their strengths and grow areas. It is the job of the CEO to help actively manage and develop each member of the team. Active management does not mean micro management and it is important to distinguish between them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been many people who taught me a lot throughout my career. From the Dean of Students at my first job at a college, to a woman who helped me develop my passion for health care when I was learning all about chronic care management and how technology could change the way those services were delivered. But there is one individual who has crossed my path multiple times in my career. He believed in me from the beginning and challenges me in ways no one else has. His feedback is always kind, supportive and direct. He has let me know he cares about me as an individual and as a colleague and often provides insight into my behavior and actions that is difficult to see. Once of the earlier opportunities we had to work together, it was a tough assignment. We had to develop and deploy a health care application and the training that went with it across the country. This was still back in the time of dial-up internet so it was a while ago!! There were a lot of politics in the organization, and we were placed there as consultants. In order to be as successful as possible, we spent many lunches, meetings and what I will call strategy sessions together. We talked about how to approach the client, how to be influential, how to manage the team. They taught me so much about leading and how to wield power responsibly. Those are lessons I will never forget and truly I use them every day.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I truly believe that mental health and physical health equal whole health. I would like to think that through my success — and I think of my success as being able to have an audience and a reach to make a difference — I am able to spread the word that it is ok, to not be ok. There is no stigma in reaching out and saying you need help. I know it has been in the news lately, but I have had the honor and privilege of being a founding board member of the IAM Strong Foundation. They are a 501c3 that focuses on tweens and teens and the people that love them. We work to get the word out that asking for help is not a weakness and that they are not alone in their struggle. I believe that if we have saved the life of at least one young adult then all the work is worth it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Information is power only when you share it”
There are organizations and situations where individuals try to wield power by being the keeper of a secret or a piece of information that would be critical to solving a problem at hand. This is true in both personal and professional situations. Those same people often believe they can sweep in for the win when they show up with that information or in fact by holding on to it, they win.
The opposite of that is what is true. Sharing information for the good of the community or organization breeds a happy healthy functioning community or business built on trust and respect. Holding on to information doesn’t put you on top it just turns others against you. Collaboration for the win!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I think education should be a lifelong opportunity. The world is changing so fast and jobs that are out there today didn’t even exist 5 years ago. I think there should be opportunities for all US employees to take sabbaticals and go back to school. This would allow them to advance their existing career by learning more about it or learn about something new altogether. This opportunity should be universal and in many ways it would level the playing field surrounding educational opportunities in this country. Education is a privilege, but it should not only be for the privileged. And it shouldn’t end when you are 18 or 21 but should be part of a person’s entire life.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!