Jul 29, 2022
Women in Public Affairs to Know: Kimberly Lawson
Kimberly Lawson is currently vice president of government services at VSP Vision Care. Kimberly oversees business development for national growth and retention in health and government programs. She has over 15 years of experience in selling to state programs, including Medicaid, Medicaid Managed Care Plans and Medicare Advantage Managed Care plans.
The interview below was conducted by Michele Satterlund, senior vice president on McGuireWoods Consulting’s Virginia State Government Relations team.
Question: Having had the opportunity to watch you lead large teams of people, I’ve always been struck by your leadership style. Can you share your thoughts on what makes a great leader and how you developed your own leadership skills?
In her spare time, Kimberly enjoys golfing in her beautiful home state of Arizona.
Kimberly Lawson: There are numerous qualities that have helped me build relationships as well as lead teams, and the first is the willingness, as a leader, to put yourself in the role of your team. This gives you empathy and compassion for what they do and leads to open and honest conversations.
I grew up a military brat traveling all over the world. And having that experience has helped me as a leader -- having compassion, having empathy, having the confidence to understand that your team is unique and that their skillsets are going to propel them in the right direction. Whether it’s a teammate that’s confident in front of people, or somebody who might be an introvert and not as comfortable presenting – As the team leader, it’s your job to figure out how to weave the team’s skillsets together. There must be a willingness, as a leader, to put yourself in the role of everyone else on the team and to roll up your sleeves. And then there’s also a courage. You have to take a chance and that chance may not always be right. Often, it’s that gut feeling, and then you go and you take the chance, and if the chance turns out not to be the right chance, then as a leader, you have to take the ownership of “hey we did it, it didn’t work and now let’s pivot and let’s move to another direction.” And lastly, ultimately, it’s loyalty to the team—the idea that we’re all in it together.
Question: Given the tumult happening in today’s world, with workforce shortages, social issues, and supply chain issues, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing leaders, particularly those working in government affairs?
Kimberly: I was with two peers last week, and we were talking about this, discussing the challenges of retaining employees and keeping them motivated. This is particularly important because we all get that “Zoom box head” where, at the end of the day, it’s like, I put a load of laundry in, I’ve done a few things, but I really haven’t broken away. So I think it’s retaining employees and finding a balance with the work family and the home family. And then, it’s also developing a work environment where they actually have fun, and setting up some type of activities that they feel engaged in.
I think there’s eventually going to be a gap in leadership where we as a group are losing so many people, whether it’s because of retirement or from employees transitioning into different careers> So I see that the gap in leadership, is going to be a priority to think about over the next five years. I also think technology will be problematic. Every single month there is a new web platform, or there’s a new way you can find healthcare information. So I think technology is going to be a challenge that we’re going to have to face. Additionally, we’ll need to deal with the mergers and acquisitions of all of our health partners in the government space. And, you know, what does that eventually look like, and where do we go on that front with the mergers and acquisitions.
So I think, there are so many things that we look at and then we have to think about how the economy hits us, with more people going onto Medicaid with Medicare, and it becoming a $300 billion industry. How do we deal with all of these challenges? I wish I had a Magic 8 ball that comes up with the right answer. But in the end, I think it’s a really going to be retaining quality employees and keeping them motivated.
Question: You’ve successfully worked with multiple state governments on numerous health care initiatives, many of which often involve a state’s most vulnerable populations. Talk about your experience and the tools you’ve employed to create and implement successful initiatives that are a win-win for everyone.
Kimberly and her family on a special trip.
Kimberly: I think that most important in my success has been to develop a really thorough market capture plan. Whether it’s isolated to a specific state, or a region, or even, isolated to a specific client. But, developing a plan and putting a process in place that outlines what the steps are, and who’s responsible and then utilizing the entire talents of each team. Also, hiring a team that knows where you’re going, whether it’s a government relations professional like yourself, or whoever the expert is, it’s important that those experts are involved in the actual day-to-day soup of what we are doing.
Also, it’s really important to build brand awareness. It’s important to have brand awareness and a value proposition that employees live and breathe—it’s a culture within the organization. Otherwise, your value probably means nothing. These three together have led to success, at least in my history, and I’ve watched competitors and even larger plans go out and do the same thing. So I think you really have to have a solid match –a strong market capture plan in order to be successful.
Question: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you and did you follow it?
Kimberly: My grandfather, who grew up during the depression, and who really lived through some tough times, was able to put himself through college and become a CPA. As a kid, I remember sitting on his lap. He used to smoke a pipe and tell me stories about different things. I recall, once, he said, “Kimmy, (which is my nickname) if you’re in the middle, you’re just as close to the bottom as you are to the top.” I looked at him and asked, “but isn’t that good?” He replied, “well, don’t you want to be towards the top.” I’ve always used his question as my guide. I really strive to be towards the top, whether it’s the way that we conduct ourselves in business, the way that we treat our peers, the way that we interact with possible clients, and really, where our goals are. I never want to be just in the middle. I want to be at the top, both personally, professionally. I want to be known as a leader who pushes forward with innovation. So, that’s helped me through my life and, you know, coming from somebody who lived through such a horrible time, I’ve always thought it was wise advice.