An Interview with Allen Fredrickson, President and CEO of Signature Performance
By Margarita Caraway and Paul Clines, Creighton University MBA candidates
“Be proud of who you are and what you stand for and then align yourself with people that value the same things you do, because guess what - you will stand up, stand out and make a bigger difference”. This inspiring quote was one of many stated by Allen Fredrickson, President and CEO of Signature Performance, during an interview on April 10th, 2018. This interview, conducted by two Creighton MBA graduate students in collaboration with Omaha’s Business Ethics Alliance, had a purpose of identifying leaders and companies within Omaha who exemplify and practice strong ethics. Both Mr. Fredrickson and his company were clear contenders.
Created in Omaha in 2004, Signature Performance is a business process organization that serves the healthcare industry, specifically hospitals and similar entities. With nearly 900 associates working throughout its three offices in Omaha, and across the United States the company is a rapidly growing corporation dedicated to serving its partners and affiliates with revenue cycle services such as clinical documentation, coding and billing as well as claims processing, enrollment and other services for health benefit plan insurance companies and payers, handling claims, etc. Within all of their work, Signature Performance prides themselves on acting through their foundational values of Integrity, Courage, Passion, and Respect.
Mr. Fredrickson talked largely on those stated values of the company, the overall ethical environment of Signature Performance, and how his and Signature’s leadership team own morals are weaved throughout the company and its culture.
The following are highlighted sentiments from our interview with Mr. Fredrickson that reveal his genuine philosophy and principles of ethics. Based on his profound comments, one can easily discern that Mr. Fredrickson is an inherently moral and values-based individual whose leadership and mentality has grown his company and its affiliates into one of the most honorable entities within the Omaha community.
Background: Where were you born and raised? Did you always want to be a CEO since you were young, if not, what drove you to your current career path?
I was born in Pipestone, Minnesota, but moved to Nebraska when I was 4 - so I was raised in Nebraska. I wanted to be either a priest or a business person from an early age. Some of my driving forces are working with and helping people, solving problems, and creating innovative solutions through a faith-based foundation. When you think about some of the similarities between a priest and a CEO for instance, I would say that both are opportunities lead by a calling. Some may say that people are called to serve whether it be in clergy, the military, or healthcare. I think that being a CEO is also a calling, which offers the opportunity to provide employment, which is a beautiful gift. It makes me ask the questions, how is life enhanced when you are employable and employed; then what if you are promotable? What is the impact business can have on people’s lives? When people are employed they feel that they are productive, contributive, making a difference, giving to the community through charitable contributions, and helping other people by perhaps referring someone else for employment. Business can be impactful by how we treat one another, with love and respect, by becoming friends with people we work with, and by eliminating fear so that people can bring all they offer to the workplace. This allows ideas to flow, which forms an environment of seeing what is right in people and watching them grow. When your vocation becomes your vacation, you are in a very good place.
What do you like most about your work? Least?
- Improving the health of our client’s business
- Impacting lives in a positive fashion
- Creating a culture that fosters bringing out the best in people
- Helping to reach our potential (both the company and each of our associates)
- Excessive administrative work
Do you think there is a difference between “ethics” in general (personal) and “ethics” in business? What are the ethics/values of Signature Performance and how do you enact such?
There is no difference; to me they are one. Personal ethics and business ethics cannot be separated.
Our values are: Integrity, Courage, Passion, and Respect
These values are important to us in terms of the importance they have in every decision we make. We ask, what is the right thing to do? We lead with our heart and use our minds/heads. The main message here is that we are all on the same level. Equality, diversity, inclusion, and fairness are extremely important to us. To me, an employer-employee relationship is on two different levels, at least that’s how I’ve always interpreted it. We are “associates” [not employees]. We are all associates, members of one body, and all striving to live out our mission and achieve our goals.
Why did you choose Omaha as your base of operations? Do you have operations outside of Omaha? Where?
We think highly of Omaha for many reasons. We have found it is a great place to do business and live. The community’s commitment of continual progress, the quality of the workforce and the overall competitiveness and livability are all attractive to us. We believe it provides us with a competitive edge that has served Signature, our clients and associates well.
We are based in Omaha and have associates in over 40 states across the U.S. About 60% of our workforce is located in Omaha and the other 40% is outside of Omaha. Our clients include health systems, community hospitals, federal health systems and payer organizations of healthcare.
The Ethical Omaha Project of the Business Ethics Alliance has identified the Omaha business core values to be the following – elaborate on how all fit within Signature Performance and what they mean to you.
Accountability: We are a very accountable organization. Goals, metric-driven, performance driven, and performance compensation tied to these are all integrated into our culture. Our name of Signature Performance was created based on accountability and quality. Signature, because we have found if you take what you do personally and are willing to place your signature on your work, then the quality will reflect this personal approach. Performance because we want our clients and associates to actually experience a tangible performance difference by engaging our company.
Community Responsibility: We believe strongly in this, demonstrated by our community financial giving and volunteerism. We believe that being more comprehensively involved in a select number of causes and organizations lends to a more effective outcome than scattering our resources too widely. Instead of giving a little bit to many different places, we try to contribute to a smaller number but go deeper and have greater meaning and bigger impact. An example of this would be our contribution to Puerto Rico after their hurricane devastation. We linked up with a business in Puerto Rico to ship goods from Miami to a port in Puerto Rico where the employees of the business we connected with would help to ensure the goods were delivered to where they were most needed. We facetimed with our newly established friends in Puerto Rico and it has turned out to be a valuable and meaningful experience.
Financial Vitality: We believe it is important to be strong and responsible stewards financially. This enables us to better serve our clients and associates and ultimately position us to realize our goals. It also allows us to serve our communities with greater impact. We place high value on issues like equality, education, diversity and inclusion and those who have served our country (military and veterans). Our community involvement reflects these interests. We sponsor Heartland Pride, various education scholarship programs and various humanitarian initiatives to help people realize their potential.
Integrity: This is one of our core values and is the compass in which we operate and make decisions.
Moral courage: Doing what is right and living by the golden rule – this is the framework of our culture…we believe it is important that this be very strong in our company, thus making decisions of integrity easy and non-threatening
Describe an ethical situation in business you have faced, your thought process, how it was against your ethics/values, and how you came to the conclusion that was made.
We made a decision to not become involved with a business partner who had great leverage into a client we were interested in pursuing. Our business development and operational leaders along with myself were involved. The organization we were working with was overpromising a client without the associated knowhow, or intention for delivering upon these promises. The client was going to be paying for something that they trusted, and thought was going to be delivered. As we got into the project, not all of us had the same conviction of delivering what we promised, so we walked away from the opportunity. We also walked away from the revenue which really put strain on our company early on in our existence when that revenue would have come in handy. It was a moment of truth where you have to ask, are you ethical because you can be and when it’s convenient or are you ethical because that is who you are in both good times and bad?
Were you every tempted to waiver on your ethics or did you find yourself in an ethical dilemma regarding the situation?
No, there was never any wavering from an ethical standpoint. I’ll tell you what we did do. We talked to the company and said look, we told the customer we would do x, y, and z and deliver on such in such date, but this plan will fall short so can we rethink this? We tried to enlighten them on the problem. It became obvious that the company didn’t care as much for how the client was impacted as they cared about how it would benefit them. It turned out we had different philosophies. Actions speak louder than words. It’s easy to advertise or speak of diversity, fairness, and ethics, but living these values out is an entirely different thing.
How does it feel talking to us about ethical quandaries you’ve faced? Is it easy or uncomfortable?
Yes, it is easy and no, it is not uncomfortable.
Are there unethical behaviors that give other companies and/or business people a competitive advantage? If so, how are you affected?
Absolutely, we have lost business as a result of competitors crossing the lines of what we deem unethical behavior by either overpromising or conveniently omitting key information from a client. We’ve lost deals and business opportunities because we chose to not participate in these acts.
Have you had any ethical mentors?
Many. I’ve been fortunate in that my parents, family, friends, and people I have worked with and for have all highly valued ethics. I’ve learned a great deal by the powerful examples they lived by.
I’ve been influenced by a quote from [Theodore] Roosevelt about being women and men in the arena, marred by dust and sweat and blood, who goof up but also change the world, who errors, and comes up short, who is worthy and understands the feeling of both triumph and defeat. A spectator will never know this but a person in the arena does. I was also largely influenced by W. Edwards Deming. Having done a thesis on him and his 14 principles, one particular one stood out to me – drive out fear. His research showed he had never seen an individual optimize their potential in a fearful state – nor had he seen a company reach their potential by being fear-driven and/or having fear-influenced cultures in organizations. After studying Deming and then being in the business world, I found this to be correct, so that’s why Signature Performance is a no fear zone. There is no fear here. When people aren’t afraid to speak up, aren’t afraid to make a mistake, aren’t afraid to be great, they thrive, and we practice this every day.
Having won the BBB Integrity award, can you explain the significance it holds for you and your company?
I was pleased for our people who work very hard every day to do business with great integrity. It’s not always the easy path…so I was so pleased to see our people and the company recognized for doing business the right way. Our associates were deeply flattered and humbled by the award.
Can you speak on the biggest ethical challenges that you believe face the younger business professionals today and/or provide any advice?
I’m curious and in some cases concerned with the impact technology will have on our society. It brings to our attention in more vivid ways than ever the best of humanity and on the other hand horrible acts of humanity. Will we become a high tech/low touch society? If so, what impact will this have on human relationships? Advice - Stay strong to your moral compass. I love the exposure, as distasteful as it is, that is coming out today about unhealthy and unethical behaviors. It is time that this surface and be publicly confronted.
Please provide some thoughts on the recent #MeToo movement and how that integrates within your company.
I love the #MeToo movement to the extent it brings forward inappropriate or illegal acts. We take harassment extremely seriously at Signature Performance. Having four sisters, growing up without much in the form of material means, knowing first-hand what being bullied feels like, all has created a strong conviction within me of standing up for the oppressed and disadvantaged. We have an aspiration to be among the most diverse and inclusive companies in the Omaha area. We are proud of this aspiration and work hard every day to achieve it. Our workforce demographics demonstrates our commitment towards inclusion/diversity. Our best places to work awards I believe also demonstrate this.
Signature Performance’s website states that you are “known for creating a company culture that attracts and retains amongst the industry’s best talent” – can you talk further on this and how ethics is enveloped in that culture you create?
Our values and more importantly, living out our values authentically, attracts and retains talented and incredible people. Most of our new hires are referred from existing associates. We plan to hire 100 new associates over the next 60 days and had over 600 applicants, most of which are referrals. So, we have a tendency to attract “like people” in terms of how they value ethics. What we do as a business is unique not only in our industry but in Omaha as well. Our innovative and comprehensive solutions are serving our clients well and that also attracts and retains high caliber people. People like realness and authenticity; they are attracted and hungry for it. I don’t see what we are doing as revolutionary or transformative. Gallup taught me years ago to put people in positions where they have a knack to do well. I truly believe in that. If you try to make me an IT programmer I’m going to struggle. Refrain from putting people in positions where they can’t be their natural selves or use the traits that they are gifted with. When someone comes into a new organization, that culture has to be strong and people will either adapt to the culture and find it attractive or they won’t. Here at Signature Performance, a lot of it gets self-filtered out. People will realize if they are not fitting. We are very team-oriented so if someone comes in and exhibits behaviors counter to that, then we will have a visit with them and coach them. [For example,] if treating people disrespectfully is occurring, we are going to take a strong stance on that. We have found it doesn’t take long for the associate or the company to know if they are a good fit.