Cindy Heston | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Cindy Heston


Indianapolis-based Anthem is one of the nation’s largest health benefits companies, with more than 73 million customers.

The Mistake:

Business travel is a very service-oriented industry.

I was challenged with complex situations, such as setting up a global travel agency in multiple countries, in multiple languages. I was also tasked with looking at an expense system for major projects in deployment and execution. I was very detailed as far as wanting to make sure that it was executed almost flawlessly.

Every different minutia, from the product itself to efforts behind the scenes, mattered. And it really limited deployment and limited the ability to progress in a faster manner because I was focusing on the big picture.

The biggest aha moment I had was in asking, “What are the main pillars in identifying the high-level objectives that we have to achieve?”

And in our case for travel, it’s a service. The objective is really about that customer engagement, that customer service. It’s making sure the customer doesn’t see anything but a good solution, a best-in-class solution.

I was very detailed as far as wanting to make sure that it was executed almost flawlessly.

The Lesson:

What I’ve learned is it’s very acceptable to break projects into phases, to have a more dynamic approach.

Let’s say, in phase one, we’re going to focus on these four pillars. These are going to be what we need to achieve to launch or to execute. And then let’s go back and look at phase two, phase three. Let’s continually take that input from those users, from my internal customers, and use it to improve that particular service or that particular platform or product.

It actually helps with speed to execute. What you find is that some of the things we were focusing on behind the scenes were more in the weeds versus the issues that are really important to the success. I would lead suppliers down this path, whereas they really needed to be focused and forward-facing.

It’s helped to partner with my suppliers. Because when I engage with them, we are really focused on the things that we have to execute on. Later, we can look at all the other items on the list.

But we’re also going to review customer feedback and look at that, first and foremost, as far as what we want to achieve.

I think when the understanding really came to me was with more experience. I had confidence in what we were trying to grasp or what we were trying to execute. It really helped me set those pillars up as far as my goals and my objectives. 

With age comes wisdom, right? I think it’s all about confidence. Confidence in “these are the solutions I want to provide, here’s the main objective, what we need to achieve before we can execute.”

Then, you continually go back to add additional options for travelers or support behind the scenes, whether it be data-reporting or capturing information that we might need. And then we continue and progress and improve.

It also helps from a leadership standpoint to tell your staff to break any task down to the top three things. It allows them to focus on what’s important and add real return on investment to the organization and customer experience.

Anthem Inc. is on Twitter at @antheminc.

Photo courtesy of Anthem Inc.

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