How Innovation Leads to Job Creation

May 31, 2020

Dr. Johnny Khouri of CVS Health talks about how, even amid COVID-19, innovation can lead to role changes for individuals and continuous learning opportunities that employees can leverage.

Michael Wong speaks to Dr. Johnny Khouri, Vice President of Retail Operations and Business Support at CVS Health, about how, even amid COVID-19, innovation can lead to role changes for individuals and continuous learning opportunities that employees can leverage.
 

Michael Wong: During the past decade of my c-Suite Q&As with executives and professors, many innovation analogues were of doing more with less; and the “less” often meant fewer employees given the deployment of new technologies and or reimagined processes. With long-term tenure at a Fortune 500 company seeming to be a relic of the past, is there any hope for an individual who wants to join a large organization and be engaged if there is value provided for both the employer and employee? 

Dr. Johnny Khouri: With approximately 200,000 store employees and nearly 300,000 employees overall, there always have been ample opportunities for individuals to learn and grow with CVS Health. In fact, many of the employees who work in corporate roles have started in frontline roles, all the way up to our COO and CEO.

Innovation can lead to role changes for individuals and continuous learning opportunities that employees can leverage at CVS Health and other firms. To me, our strategy to vertically integrate our business model to expand our health care assets, while introducing innovative strategies and leading-edge solutions, have enabled CVS Health to not only improve the health care experience of the consumer, but also enhance the employee experience through continued job creation and career growth. Three examples come to mind that bear this out: 

1. Mission over money:  Imagine if you’re a C-suite leader and someone suggested a strategy that would in the near-term take out roughly $2 billion dollars in revenue. We took this bold step in 2014 when we removed tobacco products from our stores because the sale of those products was disconnected from our purpose of helping people on their path to better health. This was innovative thinking, and although it was a challenging decision at the time, it fueled long-term growth by allowing us to fully pursue our health care strategy, which in turn created meaningful careers for thousands.

2. Technology-enabled solutions that redefine consumer-centric programming: We’ve constantly innovated and introduced new technology assets to enhance access to and adoption of our loyalty programs, such as ExtraCare and CarePass, and our health care services, such as TeleHealth and Prescription Delivery. In doing so, we’ve brought the CVS Health experience into consumers’ homes and into the palms of their hands. It takes talented and creative employees who can bring these innovative programs to life – not just through technology and operations, but by understanding our frontline employees and the environment in which they work.

3.     Creative integrated health care delivery platforms: Our Health Hubs are a perfect example of how our integrated assets and platforms can come together to uniquely position us to make health care local, while enhancing simplicity, access, and affordability for the consumer. This is an especially exciting space for our employees who want to be on the front edge of innovation at our company – either behind the scenes designing programs or services or interacting directly with customers and patients.

All three of these strategic decisions positioned us to enhance our retail and health care footprint and create new opportunities for growth, including for our employees.  As we move forward in a post-COVID-19 environment, we will continue to lean on the quick thinking and execution of the very best of our employees to stay ahead of changing consumer demands and behaviors, and to rapidly scale new strategies and innovations.

With CVS Health being ranked as one of Fortune’s Top 50 Most Admired Companies[1], what is the playbook of success when it comes to scaling innovation within a Fortune 500 Firm? 

First, help your colleagues understand the purposeful, meaningful work they are empowered to deliver every single day, and the incredibly important role they play in bringing these innovations to life.  This helps your colleagues connect the dots back to the purpose of the company, understand how their contributions fit into the strategy, and see the benefits these initiatives will have for them and the consumers they care for every day. We have found that this is a necessary foundation for delivering financial results for continued growth.

Second, help your teams understand the importance of introducing process innovation and product innovation into the business model, and how those two strategies work together. Process innovation includes re-engineering our operations for efficiencies and effectiveness, while introducing new technology to achieve this optimization - technology such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation.

By driving efficiencies, streamlining unimportant tasks and processes, and generating financial savings, we can reinvest resources on new talent and training, new products and services, and new business models. It also allows us to unleash our frontline workforce to focus their energy on more patient-facing, health-improving strategies. For example, our pharmacists didn’t invest their time and money on years of schooling and student loans to conduct unimportant, non-clinical tasks and activities. They want the capacity to leverage their expertise to deliver life-saving, critical-mission work. This includes counseling patients on the safe and effective use of their medications to improve clinical outcomes and administering vaccinations to protect their patients against deadly, harmful diseases. 

With COVID-19 as a backdrop, it brings to mind the adage to never waste a good crisis. With that, CVS Health will continue to be bold, take strategic risks, and invest in talent and innovation – even during a disruptive, uncertain time. We continue to have ambitious plans for 2020 and beyond and have hired approximately 50,000 people this year to achieve our goals. 

Dr. Johnny Khouri is Vice President of Retail Operations and Business Support at CVS Health. Michael Wong is an Emeritus Board Member of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association.

[1] https://fortune.com/worlds-most-admired-companies/2020/cvs-health/