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Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has a long history of excellence as part of a $6.6 billion family of companies that finances and delivers health care services across upstate New York and long-term care insurance nationwide. The company provides health insurance to nearly 1.5 million members and employs about 5,500 New Yorkers. Excellus is known for its exceptional customer service and open, collaborative work environment.

“The greatest value we’ve gained from Brand Integrity has been the ability to create a clear link for senior management between engaged and motivated employees and business performance.” Dave Sanderson, SVP of Human Resources at Excellus

Top-Down Becomes People-Centric 

In the ever-changing climate of health care, Excellus faced a dilemma: How to transition from a formal corporate culture of top-down authoritarian leadership to a more open, collaborative, people-centric work environment where employees feel more valued, respected, and engaged?

After becoming CEO in 2013, Chris Booth made a decision to begin the culture shift. “Chris’s influence has been inspirational,” says Keri Wood, Excellus’s director of corporate culture and organizational effectiveness. “He is known in our organization as being someone who is truly authentic. His commitment and passion for transforming the culture has changed everything.”

Strategic Recognition Powers Transformation

Enter Brand Integrity. Excellus began its initial partnership with Brand Integrity in 2010 by implementing employee recognition software. The company called it “Celebrate You” and used it to encourage employees to post recognitions in appreciation of each other’s work. When Booth became CEO, his goal was to make Excellus a better place to work. The organization tried some culture change efforts but wasn’t seeing results. In Spring 2014, the company chose to broaden and deepen its partnership with Brand Integrity to focus on measuring and managing behaviors. As a result, Brand Integrity helped Excellus create its “Lifetime Way” featuring seven organizational values with corresponding behaviors that define what’s needed to achieve successful business results: Values such as passionately serving customers, caring about each other, having open and honest conversations, and challenging and empowering each other to drive excellence. “We wanted to shift to a people-focused culture,” Wood explains. “Our partnership with Brand Integrity is now about strategic recognition using the platform to reinforce those key behaviors evidenced in our shared values. It’s been a huge transformation.”

Linking Engagement with Business Performance

Excellus’s ability to achieve short- and long-term business goals has greatly improved since starting its culture work. The company reported a net income of 1.7 percent on $6 billion in premium revenue in 2016—up from 1.0 percent in 2015, and for the second consecutive year, the health plan had a $63 million reduction in administrative expenses, which led to a net income of $99.5 million. “Brand Integrity’s commitment from day one to help Excellus on our culture journey has been handled with passion, clarity of support, exceptional strategic advice and counsel, attention to operational details, responsiveness to issues, and much more,” says Dave Sanderson, SVP of Human Resources at Excellus. “The greatest value has been the ability to create a clear link for senior management between engaged and motivated employees and business performance.” The shift toward engaging and motivating leadership has had a major impact on the whole organization. Employee engagement scores generated through biannual pulse surveys have consistently risen year over year. The average length of employment is 12 years. “We communicate and collaborate so much more effectively,” Wood explains. “Our upward journey has been exciting!”

Next up:  Connecting to the Customer

As Brand Integrity continues to refine its offerings and survey tools, Excellus plans to gauge internal customer satisfaction through quick, in-the-moment surveys. The goal is to help teams work collaboratively on future projects and pinpoint areas of opportunity to grow and improve the business. “We’re hoping the customer surveys will give us an accurate read on how well we’re living the Lifetime Way Values,” Wood says. “Our partnership with Brand Integrity has helped us to create an essential foundation for employee engagement, and we know it will continue to help the business evolve in the years to come.”

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Ken Blanchard once said, “I believe the key to developing employees and building a great organization is to wander around and catch people doing things right.”

At Brand Integrity, we agree! And now, with the launch of the new Brand Integrity app, it’s easier than ever to capture daily moments of excellence on the spot—and make them public for others to learn from and be inspired by.

No Desktop? No Problem!

Healthcare worker, sales person, field service technician, retail employee—the list of non-office workers and managers is enormous. In fact, today, 75 percent of U.S. workers perform their jobs without sitting in front of a desk or computer. Instead, many rely on their smartphone to stay connected. The new Brand Integrity mobile app puts the power of recognition into the hands of managers and employees wherever they are.

Picture This

A recognition post can be made more powerful with a photo uploaded from a smartphone. Quickly post a photo of your employees and teammates when you see them demonstrating excellence or delivering your company experience. Relevant images help bring each story to life and remind others what living the brand looks like.

10 Minutes a Week

The average person spends about four hours a day on their smartphone. Imagine if you took just 10 minutes a week of that time to post a recognition? Brand Integrity clients have found that when managers make at least one post a week, it has a significant impact on employee engagement. Start a new habit today!

For more information on using the Brand Integrity mobile app, log in to the Brand Integrity Platform® and visit our Academy.

Gregg Lederman, CEO Brand Integrity

Gregg Lederman

(This bylined article by Gregg Lederman, Brand Integrity CEO, appeared on HR.com, the largest social network and online community of HR executives that shares knowledge on best practices, trends and industry news in order to help them develop their most important asset – their people.)


 “The secret to success is good leadership, and good leadership is all about making the lives of your team members or workers better.” — NFL Coach Tony Dungy

Leaders understand this mindset and strive to live it every day. And while it seems simple in theory, it’s not easy in execution. Yet, time and again, the most successful leaders find a way to overcome obstacles and create vibrant, powerful cultures within their organizations. How? Because leaders who instill successful, lasting change share three distinctive traits that help them find the ideal balance between performance, accountability, and humanity to create better places to work, while still achieving business results.

These traits can be boiled down to 3 Cs: Compassion, Courage, and Commitment.

When leaders have a healthy combination of those three qualities— and show their employees that they do— meaningful and sustainable culture change follows naturally. And while the words themselves may seem fairly obvious, it’s important that each facet of the 3Cs be properly understood in order to fully incorporate them into your management style.


When it comes down to it, wanting to make a real culture change has to start with having heart.

Instinctively, CEOs care about business metrics, like profitability, growth, and retention. But the CEOs who also lead with Compassion, or “heart,” believe that the quality of an organization’s culture is an equally important measure of success. Great leaders know that creating a purpose-driven environment where employees are engaged is, by itself, a desirable outcome.

Leaders high in Compassion can be heard saying:

“The numbers are important, but I want it to feel good to work here.”

“Our culture has a competitive advantage that attracts, and helps us keep, the best people.”

“The ROI on culture may sometimes be hard to measure right away, but it shows up in the extra effort and teamwork our employees demonstrate every day.”

Ultimately, leaders who demonstrate Compassion want their employees to have a great place to work, to take pride in their company, and to be passionate about the work they do.


In order to build a passionate team, leaders need to be courageous in their mission to achieve their desired culture. If you’re a leader who has attempted multiple culture improvement initiatives that didn’t yield results, you’re not alone. Many leaders have been in the same boat— but what sets a good leader apart is Co

urage and willingness to continue trying. What can often happen is that everyone wants change, but very few are willing to change.

But to create real change, you need to actively do things differently—and sometimes that requires Courage.

Take this story for instance. The CEO of one of our clients made a promise to his team: If his efforts to drive culture change were not successful in three years, he would resign. (Let that sink in.)

Bold? Perhaps. Risky? Very. So why did he do it?

He realized that his team was discouraged after living through several failed culture initiatives, and that lasting change (and better morale!) would only occur by continuing to try something different.

Two years have passed, and the work environment is becoming the one he sought to create. The Courage he had in trying something new, then owning it from a leadership perspec

tive, was proof to his employees that he took the initiative seriously, and that the consistent focus on it isn’t going away… and, as a result, neither is he.


This is the most crucial of the 3Cs, and for good reason.

One of the biggest reasons engagement programs remain an “initiative” is because leaders don’t make a Commitment to them for the long haul. Employee engagement is not something you launch, then sit back and expect everyone else to do. Leaders who lead vibrant, engaged workforces are the ones who commit to these best practices and do them consistently:

Model the expectations. Define your culture with actionable, company-wide behavior expectations. When leaders demonstrate these behaviors consistently, the workforce follows suit.

Talk about it. Behaviors can’t exist solely on posters or job descriptions. You need to implement them in performance reviews, and highlight them in one-on-one meetings with team members.

Recognize and share good work. Leaders who consistently recognize the actions their employees are taking— specific behaviors that have a positive impact on coworkers, customers, or the business— are tapping into what employees crave: a culture of appreciation for the work they do.

Discuss survey results. When employees take the time to submit their feedback, their expectation is that someone is listening. Leaders who discuss survey results with their teams, then identify and act on opportunities for improvement, show employees that their input is valuable.

Hold yourself, and others, accountable. Hold yourself to the same set of standards that you do your employees. Lead by example!

Most of all, Commitment in relation to culture change simply means pushing through difficult times. While change neve

r comes easy, creating a stronger culture of respect leads to both higher retention, and higher productivity. A good leader knows that leading an engaged workforce is not only the right thing to do, but the smarter way to do business, too.

Recognition, when done strategically and consistently, has been proven to be an important driver for creating a work environment where employees can become more engaged, helping the company achieve the business results it’s committed to. Who wouldn’t want that? The challenge is that even when managers understand the value of recognition as a strategic management tool, doing it doesn’t always come naturally. Recognizing employees for doing their job well and for going above and beyond is not a habit that’s easy to adopt; however, reminders are a great way to drive consistency.

A few weeks back, the VP of HR for a human services client with locations throughout Michigan shared the strategy he uses for keeping recognition top of mind. He institutes quarterly training meetings with managers and supervisors with a standing agenda item to remind them about the recognition tool they can use to publicly share the great work their teams do day in and day out. Together we brainstormed some creative ways he could share reminders and best practices to build momentum for recognition participation and consistency.

1. Demonstrate collaboration: Ask managers to come to your next meeting prepared to discuss examples of what their teams have done recently to overcome a challenge or achieve a goal. Sharing best practices is a great way for teams and managers to connect and learn from the successes of others in the organization.

2. Demonstrate progress: Show managers the progress they are making with their commitment to recognizing their people. It validates for them that you’re paying attention and tracking progress.

3. Demonstrate impact: Create a visual that connects recognition activity with key business metrics that are important to the company such as turnover, engagement, and profitability. This helps managers connect the dots—when they use recognition to drive engagement, it leads to results they are held accountable for.

4. Demonstrate how: Use resources such as articles and videos to reinforce and support your message. One resource I recommend to our clients is the Recognition Driving Results video that focuses on how to be more strategic with recognition, using it to encourage employees to do more of the behaviors/actions needed to meet business goals.

5. Demonstrate commitment: Give managers 10 minutes in their meeting to write a recognition. If they have writer’s block, remind them to think back to the ideas they shared from their group (1. Demonstrate collaboration). These are perfect examples of what to recognize others for.

Reminding strategies like these help managers see the big picture and build consistency in using recognition as a strategic tool for leading their teams.

With a lot on their daily plates, managers don’t always instinctively think to recognize a job well done. Taking a moment to acknowledge a behavior you appreciate and want to see done more is worth it when it leads to a better work environment and results such as retention and higher customer scores.

A recent Gallup article titled, “How Managers Can Excel by Really Coaching Their Employees” states that “a mere 21% of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.”

That’s really sad!

The why behind this percentage is driven in part by the fact that many managers struggle with giving feedback or holding performance conversations with their employees. That’s because many managers do not have a process to follow, so giving feedback becomes a hazardous undertaking.

At Brand Integrity, we help our clients gain confidence in giving feedback through coaching videos and documentation available online in our Brand Integrity Academy. These tools walk managers through the steps of how to hold necessary conversations and survey results conversations. In addition, we help our clients understand that strategically recognizing employees using the Brand Integrity Platform® is a fantastic way to highlight best practices for many employees at once, which actually amplifies coaching efforts in a positive way.

So, next time you have the opportunity to provide feedback to a team member, remember that constructive coaching is what employees crave.  And, as a manager, you are truly helping them feel motivated to do outstanding work.

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