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Michelle Bisson: Teamwork & Defining Success - Advice for Women in Healthcare Leadership [Podcast]

Posted November 22, 2022 by Michelle Bisson

Listen to this episode of the Healthy Vitals Podcast.

In this episode, Michelle Bisson, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, discusses the importance of having female leaders and shares her core values and practices.

Featured Guest:

Michelle Bisson
Responsible for brand and digital strategies related to key clinical services, health plan and regional areas of focus. She holds a key leadership position in growth, business development and consumer engagement.

Prior to joining Summa, Bisson held multiple marketing management positions at leading digital and advertising agencies, as well as consumer product organizations including JM Smucker Co. and American Greetings.

Bisson is active with many community organizations including a graduate of Leadership Akron, member of Leadership Akron Alumni Association and serves on the boards of Rachel’s Angels and Project Grad.


Scott Webb: On a special episode of the podcast today, we'll hear from Michelle Bisson, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Summa Health, about her leadership style, how she solves problems, and generally what it's like to be a woman in a healthcare leadership role.

This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. So Michelle, thanks so much for joining me today. We're going to talk about women in healthcare leadership. And that's who you are, it's what you do. You are a woman in healthcare leadership, so this should be a really interesting and fun conversation. I just want to start here by asking you who inspired you to be a leader and why?

Michelle Bisson: Well, thank you. I'm happy to join you today. Really, the answer to that question dates back to my surroundings as a child. I was one of the poorer children growing up in the neighborhood as well as going into high school. And I would look around at friends and families and they just weren't struggling like my family was. And I was inspired to want to earn a living that I was comfortable and not have to struggle for the rest of my life.

Scott Webb
: Yeah, I understand. That's such a human thing, right? So I'm sure, as a leader, you know, when you're sitting at the table and you've got groups of folks there working together, collaborating, whatever it is, how do you stay mindful of who's there and maybe who's missing?

Michelle Bisson:
Yes, interesting question. And it really depends on the topic and what we as a group are trying to achieve. So, as a marketing senior vice president, I really have a variety of roles and clients that we serve internally here at Summa Health. So certainly, we want to make sure that we're getting a perspective that is going to help inform the decision from beginning to end, so not just the planning process, but thinking about the implementation and maintaining whatever type of program or perhaps it's an innovation that we're thinking all the way through from A to Z. But certainly, we do need, you know, leadership at the table. But we also need those frontline folks that are going to be implementing and have those frontline insights.

So to answer your question, I like to have a lot of diversity in terms of functions, cross-functional team members as well as thought leadership, again depending on what types of roles and activities that we're going to be working with and impacting.

Scott Webb:
Yeah. And I'm sure a lot of what drives you, what motivates you kind of inside you are your values. I think that's probably true of all of us, but especially in a leadership position such as the one you have. What are your values and which ones are the most important to you as a leader?

Michelle Bisson: So, there's a variety of aspects there, right? So, in terms of interactions, what I value in interactions is respect, empathy, humility. Then, we have business philosophy. So when I'm interviewing folks to join the marketing communications team, one of the most important attributes that I look for is energy. Are you eager to come to work? Are you eager to make a difference in healthcare? It's somewhat servant leadership. We are here to serve the community. We are here to serve our patients.

And so, having energy and a compassion that you want to move the needle and you want to move the community from maybe a challenged healthcare situation to overcome whatever that challenge is to a new beginning. So, energy is really important to be part of the marketing team. But then, you know, I think maybe another category would be leadership style. It's very important, I feel, that an individual to be successful is going to be collaborative, ethical, ethics are very important, and then transparency. I think that kind of goes hand in hand with humility I mentioned as well. There's not just one opinion. There's many opinions that can get us from point A to point B. But having the ability to hear all of those different opinions and come to kind of an agreed upon solution, I think all of those attributes that I just pointed out is a secret sauce on the right individual and the right group.

Scott Webb:
Yeah, I'm sure it, you know, just really helps to have everybody buy in, all those folks we were talking about before, those people who were at the table who we need to have at the table. And you touched on leadership style there. So, I'm just wondering, how you lead, and maybe this is a loaded one, do you think that your leadership style, Michelle, is different from your male counterparts?

Michelle Bisson:
Maybe a little bit more humble in a way. My leadership style is I might be the leader, but everyone on the team is leading me. I wouldn't be where I was today without an amazing team. And it's their passion, it's their opinions, it's their energy that is moving the entire team forward. So, I just might happen to be at the helm of all of that activity, but my focus is to allow folks and to provide the platform here at Summa Health for them to really take on a journey that is going to be meaningful and impactful to them personally and professionally.

Scott Webb:
Yeah, for sure. And I'm wondering, you know, do you handle stress any differently? We're talking about your male counterparts, so how do you think you handle stress and do you handle it differently or maybe better? It's okay to say better if you want to, but is it different?

Michelle Bisson:
I think we all handle stress in a different way. I like to camouflage my stress. And if there are stressful situations, I just like to remain calm, cool and collective and know that there is a solution, it's just a matter of finding that right solution. And the right solution may not be right in front of us this moment. Whether it's a couple hours from now or maybe a day from now, maybe even a couple days from now, the solution will surface. And so, it's about patience and perseverance and knowing that stress might be intense right now, but it will be alleviated once we find that right solution. So here again, it's a matter of patience and perseverance and knowing that there is an end in sight.

Scott Webb: Yeah. There is a solution there. You just got to find it, right?

Michelle Bisson:

Scott Webb: Even at a fabulous organization like Summa Health, systemic change is never easy, right? Growing pains and change, it's just never easy, even for fantastic organizations, Summa and otherwise. So, how do you push for systemic change around ideas that maybe are new and maybe not as popular as others would like them to be?

Michelle Bisson: So, I think that's one trait in marketing that just goes along with the territory. So, you can't continue just to do the same thing in marketing over and over and expect the results to be new and invigorating and different. So, marketing is always evolving. And we have to be change agents. We are on the forefront of what is new. How can we test and learn? What is the innovation? How can we educate our community to let them know of this new procedure and all of the amazing outcomes?

There are miracles happening here at Summa every day. How do we communicate that? How do we get the word out? And, you know, mediums are changing, everything is diluted. You ask five people, and those five people are going to get their news in five different ways. There are challenges. But yeah, from a marketing perspective we really do focus on how we can break barriers and find new ways to impact our populations, our communities throughout the Akron area.

Scott Webb:
Yeah. And you know, Michelle, I may be biased, but I hear that podcasts are a great way to reach people.

Michelle Bisson
: Absolutely

Scott Webb:
It's great way to get information out. I hear that they're quite popular and catching on. Just putting that out there.

Michelle Bisson:
And that's why we're having this conversation today.

Scott Webb:
Absolutely. Michelle, wondering if you could hop on a time machine and go back and find your 25-year-old self, what advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?

Michelle Bisson:
Well, it's interesting that you bring up this question because my 25-year-old self is my oldest daughter. And so, she's just recently entered the workforce. And, you know, your children are a mirror image of yourself. And I see myself as the coach and I see me 25 years younger. And the words of wisdom that I've been giving to her is patience. I think that this generation is really looking for immediate results. Take your time. Absorb. Every action, every interaction, every meeting, every outcome is a learning experience, and appreciate that for what it is because all of these learning experiences are going to add up to a lot of really valuable insights that you're going to be able to take with you and learn from and grow. So, it's more about patience, perseverance, and the appreciation for kind of these challenges that you may be thinking like, "Why can't I just get this done. If only this needs to happen." But if you pull back a little bit, look from the outside in and pause and just observe, I think you'll get a lot more out of it and you'll appreciate that challenge in the moment.

Scott Webb:
Yeah. You know, I had the opportunity to kind of look over your resume a little bit and you've had an interesting path to Summa Health. I know you worked for American Greetings and some other corporations. So, interesting journey, and I know that healthcare is an interesting industry. So, how'd you get there? What drew you to healthcare and Summa Health in particular?

So, it has been an interesting journey. And so, in advertising and marketing, typically you're on either the client side, so that American Greetings, Summa Health, JM Smucker Company. Or on the other side of the spectrum, you're working in an advertising or marketing agency. And in that scenario, you're working with many different industries, clients, products, services. And so, I kind of purposely went back and forth, so I could get a lot of experience and understand from the agency side, why do clients make those types of decisions? I wouldn't make that decision. So, curiosity really took me back and forth on both sides of the spectrum there.

And I guess one of the challenges, when you get to a certain point in your life is like I want to make a difference. I was in a position where I had a family. I needed to work. And so, since I have to go to work every day, I want to make sure that I'm making a difference in this world. And I had worked with some healthcare clients and it felt to me as though that is an industry, a vertical that rolls up to a higher good; that physicians and nurses, it's a very noble profession. And while I didn't go to school to be a clinician, what I can do is I can support clinicians and I can support the medical field, and I can help educate communities on health and wellness programs and services that are available and help them find their way to better health. And so, I feel as though healthcare rolls up to a higher good. I'm very proud and grateful that I've been able to make my way to Summa Health because it has been very rewarding.

Yeah. And I'm sure the feeling is mutual. I'm sure that Summa Health is happy to have you there and certainly happy to have some of the amazing women that I've spoken with not only at Summa, but just generally what I do. You know, I find that there's not only a need for women in healthcare, but they're really good at it, right? They love what they do. They're super passionate. So when we think about women in healthcare and leadership roles, what are your feelings about that and how do we encourage more of that?

Michelle Bisson: Here again, when we think about healthcare, healthcare provides services to all people, all sizes, shapes, colors. And so therefore, people who represent a healthcare system need to also be very diverse. It's very reflective of, even though again I'm not a clinician, I feel it's important that we do have, you know, an important diversity focus. And again, it could be not only race, but gender. And so, I feel very fortunate that I am able to be a leader here, a female leader at Summa Health. I've been here for 10 years and did not start at the top, but I've worked my way up. Every couple of years, I've been able to take on new challenges. Grateful for being able to prove myself and get to this level.

Scott Webb:
Yeah. You definitely have worked your way up and that sort of prompts me to wonder when we think about where you are today and how you got there. What advice would you give to women entering healthcare? It could be your 25-year-old daughter or other people's 25-year-old daughters. As they're entering healthcare and setting on that journey towards especially healthcare marketing, what advice would you give them?

Michelle Bisson:
So healthcare, it's not an easy profession. It is, especially on the clinical side, many years of school. And then, if you're going to become a physician, there's residency and fellowship. So many, many years. But, again, if you have your eye on the prize and that passion, the impact that you are going to be making on communities of people and bringing them from sometimes it's the worst time of their life to a tragic situation and being able to be there for them and move them from a clinically challenging place to a new place in their life where you give them a new beginning, and that's powerful. And that's a skill and a talent that is very special to, you know, the clinicians. I did not go down that path. But what I am trying to do with that, with servant leadership, is to be able to support those physicians and nurses in any way that I can and helping to get the word out of the good work and all of the services that are here for our community members.

Scott Webb:
Yeah. And I know as the host for Summa's podcast, I just know it's been this recurrent theme, this common thread that's run through these is how much Summa cares about the communities that they serve and really getting the word out. So, let's talk a little bit about how you define success, right? So for you, at the end of the day or at the end of a project or whatever it is, how do you define success?

Michelle Bisson:
So, I guess I would first lean into the team that I'm working with. And if the team is feeling positive, if the team is feeling that they were successful and that they had the support and that it was time well spent and that they were able to move the needle on a, you know, specific initiative, that to me, knowing that the team that I was leading and supporting, that they felt as though that they made an impact. So, that would be one area.

And then, two, certainly anything that marketing does, we like to have a yardstick and we like to make sure that we have baseline data that is indicating here's where we're starting. And then, because we are investing people resources, money resources, whatever the case may be, that we're going to get to this place when it's all said and done. So, making sure that we are investing wisely and that, at the end of the day, we can see where that investment took us.

Scott Webb: So, Michelle, it's been so great to learn more about you, about your journey, the way you approach your job, the way you handle and work collaboratively with your team and so on. So as we wrap up here, Michelle, what do you believe are the main factors that influence a woman's rise to leadership?

Michelle Bisson: So, I believe that some of the key factors to success is having a good understanding of who you are, what you want to achieve, and what your limits are, and putting your mind to make the decision that you're all in. For example, having energy, there's a lot that resonates from that personality attribute. Energy gives us a reason why we get up in the morning and purpose for heading into work no matter what that job may be and feeling fulfilled by whatever that activity is. And so, I really feel that folks that are lacking that energy haven't found the right opportunity for them.

And I would just recommend keep looking because it's out there and it's just a matter of patience and perseverance. It's going to take a while. It's going to take some trials and tribulations to head down this street and decide, "That's not a great fit, so maybe I'll take a turn and I'll try this street and see what I can learn there." But you know, I feel life is a journey and it's all about learning about what fulfills you and what doesn't. And then, continuing to just kind of take on that journey until you get to the destination where you are personally and professionally fulfilled.

Scott Webb: Everything is a journey, right? And some, you have these highs and lows and ups and downs. It's been really great to just learn more about your journey today. You know, things you've done before, you're family, how you started at the bottom a little bit and worked your way up and how you lead your team and the advice you'd give to young women entering healthcare and healthcare marketing. So, good stuff today, Michelle. Thank you so much. You stay well.

Michelle Bisson: Thank you.

Scott Webb: And if you found this podcast to be helpful and informative, please share it on your social channels and be sure to check out the full podcast library for additional topics of interest. This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well, and we'll talk again next time.


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