Susan Melcher brought a unique HR perspective to her job at Interactive Health, a corporate wellness company. In HR at her past job, she was a client.
When Susan Melcher was interviewing for the job of CHRO at Interactive Health, Inc., a corporate wellness company with nearly 30 years of serving more than 2,000 client companies across the nation, she went in with a perspective the other candidates lacked. Interactive Health works with HR departments to put wellness programs in place, and in her former position as Director of Total Rewards for another company, Melcher managed the corporate wellness program. They were a client of Interactive Health. So she walked into her interview already knowing the company inside and out, and just as vital, she knew firsthand what Interactive’s customers need, because she had been one.
It has put her in a unique position: She can speak in the customer’s voice when meeting with her C-suite colleagues.
“I can contribute in a slightly different way,” she says. “I’m part of the conversation, and I can talk about what the customer feels.”
Her contributions to her company’s mission are all the more powerful because Interactive Health’s clients are HR pros, and as a 20-plus-year HR veteran, Melcher knows a little bit about that. And it’s also her charge to tend to the wellness of the employees of a company that’s about wellness.
“I view my role and relationship as wearing several hats,” she says. “First and foremost I’m the CEO’s confidante and adviser. However, I also have to be the voice and advocate of the employees and the other leaders. It’s important to listen, not take sides but be willing to be courageous, especially in our executive team meetings. I try to take personal feelings out of critical conversations and focus on what’s best for the company and our employees. It can be a tough role at times but one I work very hard at to earn the trust and confidence of my peers.”
HR as change agent
Not many HR pros can say a conference sparked them to lead real change in their organizations, but that’s just what happened to Melcher. As everyone who goes to an HR conference knows, you get a swag bag. In it, she found the book “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr. It’s about using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to guide goal setting. It’s an approach used by the Gates Foundation, Google, and other heavy hitters to set goals, quiet the chaos, focus and in doing so, get results.
Interactive was going through some changes, not only in leadership (the CEO left the company just three months into Melcher’s tenure there) but also in their industry’s marketplace. Interactive Health has been all about wellness for over 25 years, but now, a lot of new companies have entered the space, and there’s always something new happening.
“I read that book, and a light bulb went on,” she said. “We were trying to accomplish too many objectives at once, which meant we weren’t doing any of them well. It was like we were trying to boil the ocean. OKR resonated with me. I saw how we could use it to get more focused.”
So she brought the book to her CEO and lobbied for the C-suite to start using the OKR method for goal setting and decision making. He encouraged her to run with it, so she gave the book to the company’s top leadership. Then they sat down and really drilled deeply into what their objectives were and what key results they wanted and needed to see as a company.
“We came to an agreement on the most important priorities that we have to execute as a company to achieve our goals,” she says. “It has forced us to make hard decisions but also it holds us accountable to the very concrete, actionable goals linked to our broader mission.”
Melcher says that one of the most undervalued parts of her job is the day-to-day issues she and her team solve for employees, be they family or personal issues or a problem with a co-worker.
“If I was going to go back to school, I’d get a psychology degree,” she laughs.
All in all, Melcher loves her first CHRO role.
“I feel fortunate to have this opportunity,” she says. “It’s like my whole HR career prepared me for this. For me, it’s the right job at the right time.”