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Marcus Lanznar - Senior Vice President of Product at Signify Health, ideamensch interview

Marcus Lanznar is a healthcare technology and services executive with over 15 years experience across product, operations, and sales. He is currently Senior Vice President of Product at Signify Health, where he leads the advancement of Signify Health’s suite of products and services across in-home care, advanced healthcare analytics, and innovative value-based care. Here Marcus leverages his deep knowledge across healthcare to deliver expertise and solutions that improve care coordination and break down silos between clinical and social organizations to deliver demonstrably better healthcare outcomes.

Marcus was born and raised outside of Chicago and has always had a passion for science and learning. These passions lead him to a degree in neuroscience and to spend a year at an education non-profit, City Year New York, before going into consulting for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Feeling unfulfilled, Marcus went back to school to find ways to tackle some of the biggest and most pressing challenges facing healthcare today.

Marcus sits on the associate board for City Year New York, a non-profit focused on education in the New York City area that is challenging the educational status quo with tenacity, passion, and empathy, creating inclusive environments where young people can fulfill their potential and make an impact. Marcus and the City Year New York associate board support City Year New York AmeriCorps Members who act as positive role models and near-peer mentors to elementary and middle school public school students. By partnering with NYC teachers, “City Years” drive measurable gains in academic and social-emotional performance through in-class intervention, as well as robust after-school programs.

Marcus has a B.S. in Neuroscience from Vanderbilt University and an MBA in Health Care Management for The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Marcus lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two young sons.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

I have always been passionate about science, learning, and helping people. I studied neuroscience with the plan to become a doctor, and I actually went quite a way down that path. Eventually, I realized that I didn’t want to be in Medicine in a traditional way, but wanted to stay in the healthcare field. I liked the problem-solving and collaboration of building businesses and new products, but have always needed to feel passionate about the product or service we are creating. Healthcare provides that for me. It’s a place where there are endless challenges and problems to solve, and we can have a really powerful meaningful impact on the lives of people when we build great products. It’s an industry full of passionate people who really care about the work they are doing and strive every day to change the world.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Having two young children means there is no typical day for me. I have been able to really benefit from the shift to part-time remote work – being able to work from home and take a break to play with your kids for a few minutes is a really great way to reset yourself. If I am not traveling, I prioritize the mornings and the kids’ bedtime to be with the family. Outside of that days are typically very free form.

I try to block of time in the late morning to think for myself, as I find that I am the most focused and creative then, and I like small group working sessions later in the day, as that gets me energized again. I try to default to meetings that are 30 minutes long (or even 15) and if we need more time, take it, but meetings tend to fill the allotted time no matter the content, so trying to keep them as short as possible pushes us to be able to get more done. I also try to over-communicate – we are moving very fast organizationally, and we want to make sure everyone is on the same page, rowing in the same direction so to speak. I’d rather the organization feels like they know everything that is being shared than have something come up in a meeting that is news to someone and contradicts an approach they have been working on.

In healthcare, especially in the spaces we are working in where we are trying to innovate and do things differently, it can feel like there is a constant stream of roadblocks and challenges. When I’m working with our teams, I try to focus on removing distractions and small challenges, pushing the team to think broadly, and always being positive. Everyone who works with me should feel like I always think something can be done until we have tried every imaginable approach and failed. Nothing we are working on is easy and the most destructive thing for us is thinking that we can’t solve a problem, so I am constantly trying to be the biggest cheerleader for our teams.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am the definition of an extroverted thinker. I need to speak something to make it real. So I spend a lot of time discussing ideas with our teams and trying to build a framework for an idea. This ends up in a lot of free-ranging conversations and sketches. If I am working on an idea, I will often hop into someone’s office (or hop on Zoom) and pitch it to them. I love getting real-time feedback on an idea that is not fully formed and the repetition of selling the idea to different people helps me codify the idea and build it out.

I am also a big believer in the importance of prose in ensuring you have a full grasp of something. So after all those conversations, I spend time writing out those thoughts and ideas, building out a narrative that can be shared and dissected. In practice, this means a lot of bad first, second, and third drafts and a lot of documents that get trashed once they get written, because if you can’t clearly articulate the value in prose, you don’t have the idea yet – but when we do, you can tell just by reading it.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I love the movement toward individuals owning and measuring their health. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The shift toward each of us understanding our bodies and how our actions impact them is a real positive step forward. From wearables tracking how you sleep and recover to people starting to do more regular blood work, we are empowering people to take a more active and personal approach to their health and wellbeing. This trend is going to continue and we are going to continue to see people living more healthy lives as they age, which is really what it’s all about.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive?

This one is probably a double-edged sword. One of my neuroses is a constant dialog that goes on in my head as I think through problems. I think this helps me move quickly on a lot of things, as I am constantly running an idea over in my mind, thinking about risks, alternatives, options, and everything that could go wrong, or right. I’ll be on the subway, at the gym, or just walking down the street running an idea over and over in my mind.

The risk for this is that I get stuck focusing on things that are not critical to the work that we are doing. So I need to constantly ask myself, how important is this and should I be focusing on this right now?

What advice would you give your younger self?

Go work for people who you trust, who are smarter than you, and a living a life you would want for yourself in the future. Travel more, no matter how much you travel there is always more of the world to see.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

There are, I think, a good number of people who understand this, but it’s hard to accept in practice. We are governed significantly more than we would ever like to admit by our genetics.

What is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Take breaks and exercise. Working in healthcare I see every day the detrimental impact poor health care can have. All the other things we focus on every day fall away in importance when we lose our health.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

In our space, and in healthcare generally, there are always constraints. One approach that I often take is to try and frame the problem or question in a very abstract way. Instead of focusing on the specifics, getting very broad and general – and then trying to see what a problem like that would look like in other industries. It doesn’t always work, there are lots of things in healthcare that have controls and restrictions for good reason. But a number of times, approaches like this have helped us shift our perspective and, in many cases, push us to do better. Where the average or standard might be one level in our industry, in others it is much higher. And we are not looking to just be a great healthcare company, we are looking to be a great company. We never want to limit ourselves in any way.

What is one failure you had, and how did you overcome it?

A few years ago we developed and were launching a product that everyone was incredibly proud of. It had all of the proof points, external validation, and was honestly a really cool offering. We generated a ton of interest in the product and had a lot of meetings with prospects digging into the opportunity. But ultimately, we were not driving sales across the finish line.

We did a lot of digging and internal and external research, and ultimately what we came to understand was that we had made two critical errors. First, we were too ahead of the market, we were trying to sell something that was just too far ahead of what our clients were comfortable with and able to wrap their heads around. Second, and tied to the first point, we weren’t listening to our clients and prospects enough. We were trying to sell them what we thought they wanted, not what they were telling us they needed.

Once we were able to recognize this, we spent a lot of time back with our clients and prospects just listening. And from that, we were able to realize that our product was not that far from what they wanted and we were able to both modify the product and the messaging, and from then on we saw a huge growth in sales and our product’s performance in the market.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A marketplace app for childcare. So much of childcare is referral and word of mouth. An app that lets you see what services and people your network is using and likes would be a great improvement to text chains and social media chat rooms.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A chef’s knife and a meat thermometer. If you like to cook, there is nothing better than a great sharp knife and a thermometer to help you know the exact temperature of anything you are cooking. Especially for grilling during the summer.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I am a very non-linear thinker, so anything that allows me to be able to constantly jot down notes wherever I am, and the ability to transfer between my phone and computer, is critical to me. Right now the tool that I use is Notion but I find myself trying something new every year or so.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I think good fiction is a great way to reset and a really good way to see how well-formed prose brings something to life. We all spend a lot of time trying to convince others and sell our products and businesses. Good writing can do that without you even noticing. Anything by Mick Herron is great, and I loved a Gentleman in Moscow. The storytelling is just spectacular. If we could get just a few percentage points of that in what we do, it would amazing for our business.

What is your favorite quote?

“Travel is fatal to prejudice” – Mark Twain

Key Learnings:

  • Communication is key, be it with your team, your customers, or yourself. If you can’t articulate an idea, you need to spend more time on it.

  • Innovation takes thinking outside of the box. Don’t just look at your company, your industry. Take a look at businesses outside of your space to learn about how you can improve.

  • In order to be successful in your work, you need to engage in other things. Be it family, travel, reading, or other hobbies or facets of your life, don’t make it all about work.

Stefan Junge • June 3, 2022

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