Creating a positive workplace with Heather Polivka

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Article by Horizontal Team
May 31, 2023
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From the Vice President of Marketing for UnitedHealth Group (UHG), to CEO of Heather P Solutions, Heather Polivka has some great experience. During her time on the 10-Minute Talent Show she discusses toxic work environments (not UHG or Target), soft and hard skills, ways to improve your company and the value in creating a positive workplace.

What has your job experience been like?

I’m grateful for all of my experience, and I never would’ve gotten where I am today without experience working in a toxic work environment. So, to dive into the toxic work story, I followed a former boss to a new company without doing any research on the company, and when I got there it was extremely toxic. My husband even asked me if I would consider looking for a new job because I was not the same person coming home at night as was leaving in the morning. But, if I had not had that position, I wouldn’t have had the experience and unique marketing mindset UHG wanted. At the time, UHG was struggling and had some not-so-great stuff in the news, so they needed to turn that perception around. They knew they needed some culture transformation and that’s how I found myself there. I was very lucky to bridge two areas, marketing and HR, and lead part of the work stream.

What is the value of soft skills vs hard skills?

If you’re in technical fields, understanding systems and other technical skills are very important. But, setting up employees to learn soft skills are important as well. For a long time we’ve assumed people will figure things out through trial and error. But team member and individual suffering due to a lack of training is not worth it. There are tools and skills we have to develop, similar to going to a gym to build muscles. Learning things the hard way shouldn’t be a rite of passage in corporate America.

What is the main gap you’re finding when working with companies?

We’re seeing some gaps during the transition of hybrid and remote work. Culture is all about how we work together, how we collaborate, how we share information, how we help each other learn and grow and how we behave. When we went to remote, we thought we could just transition, but instead, we have to take a step back to reflect and refine the culture so that it is more responsive to remote, hybrid or in-person work.

I’ve also seen an expectation shift due to our multi-generational workforce. Even super successful companies need to step back and evaluate if their workplace is supporting continued, future growth given this changing dynamic in the labor market.

A third gap is with onboarding people too quickly. Even if an employee has prior experience, it doesn’t mean they know how to utilize that experience for your company. High growth and a quickly scaling business can rush processes like onboarding which is a mistake that you don’t want to make.

What are important qualities that you’ve found in leaders?

I was talking to a group of leaders recently and we discussed how critical recognition and positive reinforcing feedback is to the engagement of your team and even to your own positive experience. It’s easy to get caught up in checking the boxes and focusing on your to-do list, so schedule time on your calendar if you need to! It might not come naturally but with practice, positive reinforcement can make a big difference.


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