AN UNCONVENTIONAL PATH
“I was never one of those people who knew all along what I wanted to do,” Hilary Marden-Resnik shares as she reflects on her career thus far. Hilary made it clear that her career path is unconventional in many ways. From her college studies to her early days in human resources, aiming to lead a company wasn’t her driving force. Instead, Hilary was drawn to organizations and roles where she was making a difference by building actively engaged teams who were positively impacting communities.
A lifelong Minnesotan, Hilary grew up with supportive parents and a mother who firmly instilled the belief that her daughters could pursue any career they desired. “She never had to say things like, ‘women can do anything they want to do’ – it wasn’t necessary!
We saw her do what she put her mind to, and that was our example,” Marden-Resnik explains.
Hilary learned she had a strong work ethic from her first job at Arthur’s Beef and Burger, a now-closed independent fast-food restaurant in South Minneapolis. “I was so happy at that job! It seems crazy to say that when reflecting on it, but I made friends and worked hard,” conveys Marden-Resnik. “I remember coming home from Arthur’s one day and being so thrilled to tell my mom about the new menu,” Marden-Resnik shares with a laugh. Even then, supporting her company’s success was a top priority for Hilary.
After attaining her undergraduate degree in economics and master’s degree in industrial relations (now called human resources management), Hilary decided to continue her education journey by earning her law degree from the William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline). “I’m very glad I got my law degree. I met many people and learned a lot about the law, of course, but also analytical reasoning and writing skills. It opened a lot of doors for me in my career,” indicates Marden-Resnik.
Hilary started her career as a human resources professional for Golden Valley Health Center and Fairview Health Services. From there, she worked in employment and health law for the Gray Plant Mooty law firm and moved on to leadership positions for HealthEast and Hennepin Healthcare (formerly Hennepin County Medical Center). “As a VP of Human Resources, I had the opportunity to lead several process improvement efforts and other initiatives that gave me visibility into work outside of human resources. It sparked my interest in contributing to an organization more broadly,” shares Marden-Resnik.
Such an opportunity presented itself at UCare a few years later in 2010. The organization was smaller at the time – 440 employees – while it’s now grown to 1,300 and counting. “UCare had a pretty small HR department at the time, but I saw a lot of potential for the role to evolve. More importantly, I recognized that UCare’s mission and values were aligned with my personal values, and I welcomed the opportunity to be part of a growing company. And it was a chance to learn another aspect of the healthcare ecosystem,” acknowledges Marden-Resnik.
Hilary’s responsibilities at UCare started primarily in the HR function. Over time, they shifted to include strategic oversight and executive leadership for claims and configuration, customer service, information technology, and project management. In addition, she co-led the strategic planning, member experience, business development, and equity and inclusion functions.
After her promotion to SVP & Chief Administrative Officer in 2013, Hilary would serve as the Interim President and Chief Executive Officer for UCare in 2021. As of March 2022, Hilary is officially UCare’s President and CEO, leading the organization to the next level of growth.
LEADING A PEOPLE-POWERED WORKFORCE
It’s not a particularly common career path to see a human resources professional become a CEO, but Hilary did just that. “I’m proud of that background. The things that drew me to a human resources profession and that I learned as a result really helped define my leadership style,” shares Marden-Resnik. She firmly believes the key to UCare’s past and future success relies on the workforce’s skills, commitment, and culture.
To sustain a transparent, accessible culture, Hilary focuses on communicating and creating opportunities for connection. “It’s important to me to be as transparent as possible. When we can share news, we will share news,” asserts Marden-Resnik. This approach includes finding ways to celebrate success together, even when the workforce is still partially remote. Likewise, Hilary believes it’s equally important to be honest about setbacks. “Our goal isn’t to be derailed by setbacks, but to acknowledge them, learn from them, and figure out how to get back on track and get better from those experiences,” relates Marden-Resnik. As part of her transparent leadership, Hilary produces video communications every other Monday morning on various topics. She also offers walk-in hours for people to stop by and discuss items that are important to them. “We have places for employees to submit questions for the CEO. We also conduct all-employee meetings every three months and find opportunities for all senior leaders to connect with their teams in meaningful ways,” expands Marden-Resnik.
The notion of a “people-powered workforce” heavily drives the culture of UCare. Hilary describes the mission as being laser-focused on ensuring those who historically or currently experience barriers in accessing care can receive the care they need. “Our strong mission attracts people who are looking for meaning and purpose in their work and want to impact the community, especially to help those who are underrepresented or marginalized,” explains Marden-Resnik. Likewise, UCare is equally concerned with diversity, equity, and inclusion within the workforce and beyond. For example, UCare recently made a public statement sharing its intent to be an anti-racist organization.
Internally, that allows everyone the opportunity to participate in some way – whether through training, community involvement, or an internal committee focused on equity. “We recently created a new Equity and Inclusion department, led by our Associate Vice President of Equity and Inclusion, Joy Marsh. She is building a team and helping ensure that UCare is making progress in our work and bringing an equity lens to our strategic priorities and board responsibilities,” remarks Marden-Resnik.
Externally, UCare aims to serve those who experience the most severe disparities in outcomes and access and believes technology will help them advance those goals on behalf of their members.
In 2016, the UCare team realized their legacy claims system needed updating and was not poised to meet the needs of the future. Considering it was the same claims processing system initially implemented thirty years prior, it was due for an upgrade. “Our digital platform was quickly getting outdated, as were our data platforms, care management tools, appeals and grievances systems – and more! To remain relevant and competitive, we needed to reimagine our technology needs for the future,” conveys Marden-Resnik.
Thus, UCare embarked on an incredibly aggressive, multi-year technology transformation. “We went through a process with an external technology advisor to assess the current state of our technology end-to-end. We focused on platforms, services, and processes to help us look into the future for UCare and the marketplace and create a vision for our long-term needs,” elaborates Marden-Resnik. This process resulted in a roadmap known as the Technology Vision and Plan for the Future (TVAP) that bridged UCare’s current state and desired future state.
It covers four major areas:
• Core Claims Processing
• Care Management / Appeals & Grievances
• Digital Transformation
• Data Management & Reporting
While a business necessity, this level of transformation would bring a period of disruption for the organization. “When we first started rolling it out, many people were excited but also overwhelmed,” Marden-Resnik reveals. Even the best plans can draw criticism. Skeptics in the community suggested UCare couldn’t achieve such a lofty transformation in time. “We all agreed it was the right thing to do for the company, so we knew we had to try. We developed a plan, budgeted appropriately for the investment, and worked hard not to cut any corners,” recalls Marden-Resnik.
While there were many days when the project felt insurmountable, the team made steady progress and took the initiative one step at a time. The leadership team acknowledged that it would be challenging and set up a series of support systems to ensure success. “One of the big difference-makers for us is taking a strategic view of the change management component of this effort. More than just training or communication, we made sure to have a ‘change-capable’ culture,” Marden-Resnik explains. This approach proved deeply valuable. Complex technology implementations are prone to failure if the right change management aspects aren’t in place. Likewise, another important element that led to success is the ability to stay focused. “We had to make some tradeoffs. We had such big plans for our technology transformation that we knew there were other important initiatives we had to turn down so as not to risk achieving our technology goals,” expounds Marden-Resnik.
"To remain relevant and competitive, we needed to reimage our technology needs for the future."
With diligence, patience, and transparency, UCare successfully executed the TVAP roadmap. Nearly all of the major tools and technology platforms are in place. “There’s always more to do, but we delivered on the highest priority items and are now ready to focus on stabilizing and optimizing. We want to make sure we’re getting the most benefit from these technologies,” says Marden-Resnik. “We have the best people-power and the best workforce in town. When we didn’t have the right tools and technology for them in the past, it was harder to meet our mission. We’re looking forward to enabling our employees to be at their best and to serve our customers and partners more effectively and efficiently!” Marden-Resnik shares with a smile.
For organizations facing similar challenging technology transformations, Hilary believes it’s essential for the leadership team and board to be realistic about what can be accomplished and remain calm in the face of adversity. “There’s no way you can implement a large technology system without some fallout that impacts operations – and maybe even creates member abrasion. As much as you try to avoid that, you’ll never get there if you’re waiting for perfection,” states Marden-Resnik. “Being calm and focusing on your priorities is important. It allows the team to do their best work and stay on track,” she adds.
There’s no doubt that the UCare team can – and will – achieve any goal they aim to tackle. The people-powered workforce is a true competitive advantage.
UCare is an independent, non-profit health plan company powered by some of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet. By partnering with health care providers and community organizations across Minnesota and western Wisconsin, they provide, de-complicate, and figure out health coverage for their more than 630,000 customers.