Senior Business Project Manager at Cigna
MBA, Opus College of Business '16
Jennifer Donaldson is an active UST MBA alumni. Her academic and professional emphasis resides with risk leadership and healthcare, both critically evolving topics. Jennifer’s international experiences expand her U.S. perspectives, as she participated in both the London and Scandinavian Global Risk Leadership graduate courses with UST. These experience extended Jennifer’s skills and global awareness on modern risk issues, global sustainability concerns, and leadership capabilities.
We welcome Jennifer’s thoughts on leadership within a global firm, roles and capabilities needed, as well as internal collaboration and external risk awareness. Finally, Jennifer providers her thoughts on gaining global awareness and the value of ongoing professional education.
We sincerely thank for Jennifer for taking the time to engage with us once again on this interview and alumni profile.
Jennifer, Nice that you could join us again to talk about your Risk Leadership experiences. We’re please to share the background and stories of our alumni. Starting out, could you share with us your professional role and how you see your position as a risk leader for your firm?
Currently, I work as a Senior Business Project Manager at Cigna, a global health services provider. In my-day-to-day role, I ensure that we fulfill our promises to clients to help them improve the health of their employees, reduce costs, and deliver results through meeting the requirements of performance guarantees.
I completed my MBA at the University of St Thomas in 2016 and my Masters of Public Health at the University of Minnesota prior to that. My past work experiences have been in health care within a hospital and in a variety of public health roles.
I am responsible for ensuring that we have operational actions in place to minimize risk on $30 million in performance guarantee contracts. If it appears we are failing or off-target on any of the metrics, I have to be able to pull together a team to mitigate our risk and improve our performance. That means I have to have a line of sight into what sales is offering to our clients, how operational processes impact the results, what client analytics is reporting, etc. I also have to know the external forces that influence what our clients and the consultants want, any client nuances, and trends that impact our business overall.
This role requires me to be a risk leader because I have to be able to assess risk in areas where I don’t have direct responsibility or oversight because of my broader perspective on what different areas of the business are doing. For example, I have to be able to tell sales why something they want to commit to won’t work operationally and will put us at risk to fail on that guarantee.
The most difficult aspect of my role is to create a sense of oneness so that all of the matrix partners work together to develop consensus and create strategy and actions to more forward in a common direction. Everyone is busy with competing priorities for time and resources so this is a struggle on a daily basis. We become so focused on our day-to-day that it takes a presence of mind to step back and look at the macro level of our world and our role in it—in the end we are all working for the same company. I have to be able to pull people together and get them on board with that vision.
I couldn’t do my role successfully without collaboration—everything and everyone is connected. Without collaboration, I can’t deliver the financial results that the organization is asking me to deliver. For example, I need sales to keep me up to date on what is going on with the client, I need operations to tell me about any projects or processes that impact our contracts, I need to analytics to tell me if the data is right or wrong. Thinking strategically, I need all of the matrix partners to work together to ensure end-to-end alignment of what is best for the company as a whole, not just what it is in the best interest of that business unit. It’s easy to get frustrated with decisions made. It’s easy to think about how someone else should change. The hard part is to move past that frustration and take on responsibilities to become part of the solution-this requires collaboration on everyone’s part.
What are your organizations most pressing external risks? And how do you see your organization managing these external risks?
Being in a company in the health sector, there are many external risk factors—epidemiological factors like the aging population and rise in chronic disease, cyber attacks, political/regulatory environment, the rise of innovative start-ups, etc. Our senior leaders emphasize the importance of raising awareness of what is going on outside the company and educate employees on emerging risks, while framing those risks in terms of future business opportunities.
My organization’s values are consistently used as the driving factor behind any strategic decision. I do feel that my organization’s values are the framework for action and the instincts that influence choices in the face of uncertainty. This makes me feel that it operates with integrity and authenticity, creating trust amongst its employees and customers and creating a common denominator for decision-making. Is it perfect, no, of course not—but articulating “the way we do things around here” through an explicit set of core values empowers employees to make decisions in the face of uncertainties while also facilitate innovation to take advantage of the upsides of risk. Our CEO and his senior leadership team frame every major decision with how it fits into Cigna’s mission and values by asking, “Is this in alignment with our values? Would we be in line with what we stand for if we make so-and-so decision?”
If you had to sum up the most important Risk Leadership capabilities, what would you call out as critical to you and your organizations success?
In my opinion, the risk leader must have the ability to be flexible in the face of constant change, be able to influence with senior leaders through strong communication and relationship building, and be persistent in the face of continuous challenges and resistance. It really comes down to the ability to listen well, develop trust, communication clearly, and collaborate effectively in order to build relationships.
Finally, I understand that as part of your MBA at St. Thomas you have taken multiple risk related courses as part of your graduate work. Could you tell us more about these experiences, including the study abroad experiences in London and Scandinavia?
Also, what would your guidance be to students or professionals looking at (continuing) education options?
Yes, I was fortunate to participate in two study abroad sessions, one in London and one in Scandinavia, as well as the regular risk leadership courses during the semester. I wholeheartedly encourage the study abroad experience as it enabled me to have the most exposure to in a short period of time to leaders in a variety of fields across the public, private, and NGO worlds. Through these global experiences and courses, I was able to create links and enhance my critical thinking skills through many “ah-ha” moments to see how everything is connected in the field of risk leadership.
Whether related to risks in our businesses or global issues, we have to be willing to critically think through all our decisions and all the circumstances we face, and be willing to question our perceptions and assumptions. For example, the Scandinavia class gave me an even broader perspective on strategic risk management from a sustainability focus, both of in terms of strategic sustainability and environmental sustainability.
While I gained valuable insights from the classroom experiences, the study abroad sessions tied together the classroom knowledge with “real world” examples, and allowed me to build relationships, networks, and friendships that I wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to create solely from the classroom in Minneapolis.