Seton Goddard is a Solution Design and Innovation Lead at Cigna’s Innovation Center of Excellence. In this interview, he shares his journey from operational to strategic work in the health-insurance industry, and how he applies design tools to improving customer experience for employers, physicians, hospitals and healthcare systems that engage with Cigna. (Editor’s note: this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Please tell us about your background at Cigna and the work you do at its Innovation Center of Excellence.
I was in school around the time healthcare reform was happening, and I became interested in healthcare policy. Over time, I realized that if I really wanted to understand this crazy system and be in a position to make changes, I needed to understand how we pay for care in this country and go work for an insurance company.
I joined Cigna through one of their early-career leadership development programs. It’s rotational, so you take on different roles over a five-year period, and I started in a very operational role. When employers would enroll their employees in health insurance, we had a handful of employers who did none of this electronically or in an automated way. They liked to email someone at Cigna and say, “I’m enrolling this person.” My team was responsible for manually loading members or customers into our system and enrolling them.
I became connected to frustrations employers and patients had when things broke down. I wanted to be in a position to say, “Let’s think creatively or strategically about how to fix this,” as opposed to, “this problem is sitting in my lap right now, and I have to do something about it in the next five minutes.” And so, I moved into a different role.
What led you to do training in human-centered design?
I started working on a team focused on improving the experience physicians, hospitals, and healthcare systems have with Cigna using human-centered design. A lot of the training out there was focused on digital interfaces, apps, and products like consumer-packaged goods. However, at Cigna, we were trying to create a new experience that was primarily service-oriented. That was how I stumbled into Service Design Immersive at Cooper Professional Education, and I used a lot of the tools from there.
I did quite a bit of work on the provider experience and eventually joined our Innovation Center of Excellence, where we think broadly about what we need to be thinking about five years out that we can develop based on users’ needs today. I’m one of only a couple people on the team without formal training in design. And so, candidly, much of what I have learned, what I bring to my role (in terms of skills and hard technical things I do), and the mindsets come from Cooper Professional Education.
I learned how to bring a group of people along on the journey of understanding our user and aligning around the problem we’re trying to solve.
I completed Service Design Immersive two years ago, and I did Design Leadership and Facilitating Design Thinking in fall 2019. When I showed up at my first Cooper Professional Education course, a lot of what I had learned had been human-centered design as a mindset and approach, but not necessarily the meaningful ways to do this work and do it in a way that brings your entire organization along.
How has what you learned in those courses impacted your professional development?
What I learned at Cooper Professional Education, starting with Service Design Immersive, were a couple of really important things. I learned how to bring a group of people, who may or may not be designers, along on the journey of understanding our user and aligning around the problem we’re trying to solve. I didn’t have a good approach to doing that before. I knew enough to go out and talk to a person, figure out the challenge, come up with a concept, and test it out in earnest. But I didn’t know enough about how to lead groups of people through developing a solution to a problem and understanding what that problem was.
I’ve heard a couple of Cooper Professional Education instructors say people go to the courses hoping for tangible tools they can walk away with, like how to do a service blueprint. As a person who isn’t a formally trained designer, that was really appealing to me and has been immensely helpful. I bring the tools I learned — in Service Design Immersive, Facilitating Design Thinking, and Design Leadership — into projects today. I’m meeting with one of Cigna’s clients soon, and I’m borrowing a whole bunch of stuff from Cooper Professional Education to lead a workshop with them.
What’s an example of a design-thinking tool that’s proven valuable to your work on the provider experience at Cigna?
I recently led a workshop with one of the health systems we work with. We were trying to come up with a solution for caregivers. First, we needed to understand the journey of being a caregiver of a patient with a specific condition, and then we needed to develop lots of ideas around that caregiver’s unique challenges.
Without a service blueprint, I don’t know how I would have facilitated a discussion that achieved both angles, the functional and the human centered.
One of the things I used to push this group into coming up with ideas after we mapped the journey was the “bad idea contest” we learned in Facilitating Design Thinking. So, instead of coming up with the best possible idea, come up with the worst one first. It led to a number of different solutions people came up with, and we cobbled some of them together. Then, I used service blueprinting so that we could together map out what that product-plus-service would look like.
At Cigna, when we develop new capabilities or products, we tend to think about things in terms of functions and functionalities (what’s talking to what, what’s the data source of this). People were really apprehensive about using this experience-oriented framework, worried we weren’t going to get to that level of detail. It proved successful in achieving both things: It helped us think about the experience we’re trying to create for a person using the service, and, behind the scenes, all of the ways we’re going to make that happen. Frankly, without a service blueprint, I don’t know how I would have facilitated a discussion that achieved both angles, the functional and the human centered. I just love it, and I use it all the time.
I’m going to go use that tool in a client meeting focused on a big problem in the cancer treatment realm, where we’re thinking about how we can solve a set of problems. As soon as people come up with ideas, they ask how we get this done, and the service blueprint is the best way to do it. You can’t escape the backstage stuff, but you also can’t ignore the front stage.
What are some of your goals moving forward? Any exciting projects on the horizon?
My team at Cigna has been around for a few years now, and it’s a fairly young team in relation to the age of the company, so we’re reaching a point where we’re trying to set strategy. We’re thinking about who we want to be as a team and the things we want to work on to help push the company forward over the several years.
Many of my goals are centered around successfully using some of the mindsets and tools I picked up in Design Leadership to push people to think about the role that we want to play. Bringing those things into the conversations we’re having will set us up to have more of a seat at the table at our company when we’re talking about big strategic initiatives, but they’ll also help us be an even better-functioning team. That’s the big thing for me: taking the things I learned in that course and providing leadership for my own team as we think about who we want to be.
What advice would you give to those in similar leadership positions who are tackling big strategic goals?
If I had to pick two words of advice, they would be patience and persistence.
We have to be really patient, especially with really old organizations. I work for an insurance company that is about 228 years old. Not only have things changed quite a bit recently in our industry, but there are lots of changes coming. We don’t really know what those are, so I have to be patient with the teams I’m working with, who have been through a number of these big changes and frankly have been able to emerge by leaning on modifications to existing products and services, which may not be the right approach anymore if we want to do the work of innovation. We’ll have to think bigger.
As designers, we cannot expect the world around us to just quickly embrace what can feel like a totally new approach.
Bringing human-centered design into our work requires a big change for companies that are used to thinking about things in terms of massive data sets – broadly scaled solutions that in some cases deliver radical change but in a lot of cases just nibble at the edges of the things we need to be doing. As designers, we cannot expect the world around us to just quickly embrace what can feel like a totally new approach. So, patience is the first thing.
What comes with that is persistence. We can’t give up on people who are not coming along with us. We have to continue to reinforce, in really practical language and practical ways, how human-centered design makes whatever you’re delivering better. In risk-averse organizations, if you stay true to what human-centered design really is, you drastically lower the risk because you’re not trying to scale a huge solution, you’re just trying to figure out what a handful of people do when they have the solution in front of them.
So I think it’s important to persist with people who may not be early adopters, knowing that, eventually, if you work hard enough and show people how human-centered design works, they will see the value.