Melissa Gardner, vice president of strategic business programs for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, builds relationships with hospital systems and physician networks that enable a shift away from incentives, based on the volume of health care services provided, toward population health management. She leads a team of clinical, program management and analytic professionals who work with systems of care to align incentives and enable change. They identify, develop and implement innovative solutions to meet cost, quality, trend and member-satisfaction goals across a network of nearly 1.5 million members and 30,000 providers.

During her 13-year Excellus BCBS career, Gardner has made important and innovative contributions, including supporting the successful implementation of ICD-10, the most significant change in coding in the United States in more than 30 years; launching an interactive quoting tool; attracting and developing leaders to drive cultural improvements resulting in increased employee engagement and satisfaction; helped to oversee the transition from five membership claims systems to one; and mentoring other future leaders from inside and outside the company. She has been a member of the Health Care Financial Management Association since 2013.

“In thinking about diversity,” says Gardner, “I think of people’s stories. Each story is made up of experiences, backgrounds and values that are unique. Inclusion requires curiosity, to want to understand each story, as well as similarities and differences from one story to the next; appreciation, to value the role stories play in personal interactions; and intention, to ensure openness to everyone’s story.

“Businesses operate in communities made up of people with varying backgrounds and experiences, so the best way to ensure a business is meeting the needs of its customers is to be like its customers,” Gardner explains. “Beyond this, when teams of people come together and maximize individual strengths, the potential for excellence is much greater.”

Gardner, who says that her greatest professional accomplishment has been “connecting people and passion,” offers this bit of wisdom to other professional women, “Don’t underestimate your own abilities or the impact you can have on others.”