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Laura Tomaino

Laura Tomaino: Building a Better Future in Human Resources

From Academia to Corporate Innovation – A Decade of Leadership, Innovation, and Cultural Excellence!

“Can you build it out?” A seemingly simple question, a blank piece of paper, and the challenge to build and transform a Human Resources department. For Laura Tomaino, the answer was an unequivocal “yes’” marking the beginning of her journey from academia to the world of fast paced innovation where she would realize her potential as a forward-thinking human resource executive.

Her story is one of curiosity, courage, and a relentless pursuit of making a difference. Working at Dartmouth College and then Harvard University, she found herself immersed in an elite academic world navigating the intricate landscape of Human Resources. The environment was intellectually stimulating, a breeding ground for thoughtful analysis and rigorous decision-making. Laura loved this formative time in her career, yet after six enriching years, she felt a growing desire to do more. Specifically, to join a start-up and apply her knowledge to building programs and practices that would have impact and make a difference in a fast-paced growth environment.

Her transition came when she accepted a position at HealthEdge, a young software company with a fledgling human resources practice. There she was offered a blank canvas, a chance to shape and mold an essential aspect of the organization that was unattended. The allure of hands-on application and the freedom to experiment with new strategies and concepts fueled Laura’s excitement. Little did she know the extent of the transformative journey that lay ahead for both her and the company.

A Decade of Leadership

In her early years at HealthEdge, Laura was the sole member of HR, building a footprint for a department that didn’t previously exist. While the challenges were substantial so was her determination. The organization faced typical start-up challenges: how to attract talent without brand recognition, how to build team cohesion and alignment without formal training, how to manage performance and build momentum, how to leverage systems to build efficiencies, and how to do all of it with little to no resources. Laura knew the place to start was to establish trust and build value by solving current gaps in the organization. She listened intently and became an expert on the business, customer needs, the teams, and found the pain points.

In solving for the pain points, she became a trusted confidant and critical problem solver in matters far surpassing traditional HR. The consistent thread she pulled on was defining how the organization could improve the employee experience. She embraced the opportunity to create, innovate, and push the boundaries of traditional HR practices and build something unique and valuable that would attract great talent for a decade and beyond. Her story is a testament to the power of being a partner for the business, applying her knowledge to the challenges, and having the courage to embrace the unknown.

Established in 2005, HealthEdge was conceptualized with a forward-looking vision. Its mission was to introduce a next-generation Core Administrative Processing System, focusing on elevating accuracy and efficiency while fostering innovation within health plans. HealthEdge’s flagship product is claims processing, specifically aiding healthcare insurance payers in automating the workflow related to claims processing. As the company flourished, it made strategic acquisitions to build a synergistic product portfolio and expand the value it could offer to its customers. These additions included products in prospective payment integrity, care management, and member engagement.

Laura was a key figure and champion at HealthEdge throughout the growth, not only shaping the HR function and company culture, but also as a trusted confidant to the executive team informing the overarching strategy and operations.

Transformative Journey from Human Resources to the People Team

Today, research shows that a motivated, engaged and productive workforce creates significant value for the enterprise, but that wasn’t understood when she started at HealthEdge.  At that time, it was clear the expectation for her function’s scope was narrow and administrative (hiring, firing, payroll, benefits). While some leaders were skeptical of the broader approach Laura was taking, it was undeniable she was having a positive influence.

In 2016, Steve Krupa joined as CEO and bought into her vision of an employee-centered culture being a value creator for the business. The culture was lackluster, and growth was slow. Laura and Steve spoke openly about these challenges, and she was given the budget and the mandate to drive a stronger culture. Initially, the goals centered on improving their Glassdoor rating and measuring employee engagement. Once accomplished, the strategy evolved to a data driven continuous improvement approach.

To support the organization’s need to grow faster, she redesigned recruiting by hiring a new dynamic leader to break outside of the box. To build followership and a shared vision with employees, greater focus was applied to listening to employee engagement feedback and expanding the internal communication efforts. She repeatedly sought the same overarching goal – attract and retain talent as a competitive advantage.

All this led to an expansion in influence of the function. She evolved the team from Human Resources to Human Capital Management and then to People and Culture because the team kept rising and overcoming the challenges. Much of the team’s success and growth enabled momentum to fuel overall revenue and headcount growth.

Evolving Strategies

As the organization grew so too did the strategy for the People & Culture team. Laura reflects on 3 north star objectives during this evolution.

Build an ever-maturing strategy around excellence using continuous improvement. Knowing your customers better than the competitors and building differentiation into your products/services fast is a winning strategy. The HealthEdge leadership team always kept this approach to continuous improvement at the forefront across the organization. Despite being an internally facing function Laura and team were always focused on customers (both internal and external).

Michael Porter’s Five Forces enabled HealthEdge to discover that its “competitive supplier force” was talent. Laura and her team used this language to express the value of breeding excellence into attracting and curating top talent and how it under-pinned the company’s overall success. The goal was clear: to thrive and overcome this competitive force, the organization needed to be a great place to work so employees would be thrilled to join and to stay.

Being a great place to work. While an intentionally robust statement, Laura and the leadership team set out to do just that and played the long game towards building intrinsic cultural value, as opposed to the short game of quick wins.

“We measured being a great place to work around our ability to attract and retain the best talent, our engagement scores and feedback, and helping employees continually grow, thus motivating them to remain part of our journey. We would speak regularly about the intrinsic connection between customer satisfaction and employee experience. Our staff knew we cared deeply about their engagement because of how often we spoke about it and acted in response to feedback. We made it safe to speak about what could be better and as a result employees co-owned building the great culture with us.”

Laura was fortunate to collaborate with forward-thinking and inventive employees and leaders during her tenure at HealthEdge. “Our leadership team aligned around a people-first focus – we listened to our customers and our employees, and that remained at the forefront of decisions.” HealthEdge’s approach to being a great place to work was comprehensive and strategic, focused on fostering growth, customer satisfaction, and employee fulfillment.

Becoming resilient in the face of change. Speaking regularly with staff and staying aligned on the mission, upcoming goals, and the overarching pursuit of continuous improvement developed a pattern of trust and resilience followed suit.  This resilience strengthened and mobilized a new chapter of dynamic and exponential growth when private equity firm Blackstone acquired HealthEdge in 2020 and ushered in three subsequent acquisitions, tripling headcount by the end of 2021.  This period accelerated the evolution of Laura’s teams in size, scope, and maturity. She became newly responsible for an expanded scope including crisis management, communications, and addressing broader social trends and impacts. In 2020, Laura also rose to face unprecedented challenges in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, a remote workforce pivot, social injustices, followed by the great resignation, and a surge in the “war for talent” in 2021.

With each metamorphosis, she engaged in discussions with the CEO and the leadership team to navigate the unpredictable changes happening internally and externally, and together formulated innovative work methodologies that would launch HealthEdge forward. Never one to back down to a challenge, Laura continued to revel in the opportunities to learn, grow and improve.

Fostering a Thriving Company Culture

In the journey of building and nurturing the company culture at HealthEdge, Laura was a guiding force. For culture to be successful however, it requires action by everyone and they were successful because they worked as one. The adoption and alignment of the leadership team was steadfast and HealthEdge, all were committed to building a community of belonging.

Fostering a sense of belonging meant employees were informed, valued, championed the company’s vision, and shared the responsibility and accountability for the culture. Internally it was referred to as “co-owning HealthEdge’s success”. Employees were encouraged to share wins and actively contribute to solutions when they had concerns. Laura’s approach has proven to be the driving force behind HealthEdge’s empowered workforce and enduring success.

The catalyst was when they started conducting employee engagement surveys. These surveys established an anonymous yet robust dialogue, supported by data, to glean insights on areas for improvement. The results were analyzed by leadership and transparently shared with the staff. While the survey data itself was informative, the cultural co-ownership emerged strong with open discussion of results. The leadership read out on the survey results was an active demonstration of listening and a commitment to incorporate feedback into future decision-making.

The company was consistent about addressing concerns and taking action to improve. While not able to address or act on everything, focus was applied to the most widespread feedback. The mantra for these surveys became “use your voice and be heard,” underscoring the importance of employee feedback in the company’s evolution.

Culture in Action

Improvement initiatives were always grounded in the empowerment of employee voices. With the pursuit of “being a great place to work” as the north star, surveys and open dialogue created collaborative effort to build greatness together. Feedback led to improvements in many areas, in HR improvements included: DEIB efforts, performance reviews, promotion cycles, communication strategies, goal setting, the transition to virtual work during the pandemic, and the evolution of enterprise town halls. All of that, and more, started from survey insights and highlight Laura and HealthEdge’s creativity and innovation in the employee experience.

The impact of HealthEdge’s culture on the company’s achievements was paramount. Laura shared the criticality of the connection, saying “I can’t imagine achieving anything without the culture we built,. Culture is the heartbeat of the relationship with talent, and Laura believes creating an environment where employees feel connected and valued is a winning strategy. “Never forget your talent has options so be a place worth staying and improving together.”

Art of Building a Team around Behaviors

As a team of one in those early years, Laura was deliberate when it came time to build her team. Her approach to interviewing is something she cultivated and is proud of. Initiating interviews with a personal touch, Laura introduces herself and articulates her genuine interest in the position, setting the tone for an open dialogue. Her intention is not merely to evaluate skills but to delve into the core of the individual’s character—understanding their values, passions, and the people and ideals they hold in high regard.

Preferring a conversational interview style over the rigidity of scripted encounters, she endeavors to create an atmosphere where candidates feel at ease, enabling them to authentically express themselves. She believes that the true revelation of a person emerges not under stress but in the free-flowing exchange of ideas. “I am looking for the person who will show up to the job – not the polished resume version that shows up to interview. I seek to learn about the person under the polish, what they value and how they face adversity.”

Her distinctive approach stems from her firm conviction that hiring for behaviors is a more successful approach, in high growth-setting, than fixating exclusively on specific skills of the job. Over her years of experience, she has found that the most successful hires are those whose values, hustle, and creative problem-solving align with the team’s values.

When it came to building her team, she focused on assembling personally motivated individuals with a shared vision, strong change resilience, great sense of humor, and a proclivity for growth. A former daycare professional thrived at customer service and managed the early days’ employee experience as a generalist and grew with the team. A former Professional Services Operations expert built out HealthEdge’s top-tier recruiting function constantly searching for more ways to improve the culture.

These decisions were guided by Laura’s instinct and a deep understanding of what she believed each person could contribute to the team in addition to the important function-specific skills. “When you are building a company it is more than just assembling a puzzle of tasks to be done. It is about curating a culture with every hire — a culture of people who love challenges, being adaptable, believing in the mission and creatively pursuing the vision.” Her leadership philosophy revolves around the belief that understanding and nurturing the person behind the skills is the key to fostering a team that not only excels at tasks but that grows and thrives together in the face of evolving challenges.

Cultivating Team Loyalty

Laura expresses a deep sense of gratitude for the remarkable retention within her team over the years, with most members surpassing the two-year milestone and several hitting five years. She attributes that loyalty to the team’s interconnectedness and the shared sense of purpose and collective growth that characterized those dynamic years and defined the unique essence of HealthEdge.

While there is no magic formula for retention, Laura credits the enduring commitment of her team to the fact she and other leaders on her team never stopped seeking to understand and support the individuals within it. At the core of this team’s approach was a genuine interest in each other’s lives. Laura wanted to know about families, interests, hobbies, and the ongoing events in their lives because she believes genuinely championing personal endeavors leads to trust and results in getting the best out of them.

Admitting to imperfections over the years as both a boss and leader, she reflects on her rapid career progression and the substantial learning achieved through hands-on experience rather than training or observation. “I wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t easy moving that fast.  I misspoke at times and made my share of mistakes but in all things, I stayed open to learning how to be the leader I would want to follow and striving to continuously improve and be better for the team.” Her profound care for her team is evident in how she spoke about concerted efforts to create a safe space for receiving feedback. During her tenure she encouraged open dialogue by asking questions like “What am I missing?” and “How could I have done that better?”

Her journey, much like the culture of feedback instilled in the company, a testament to the transformative power of embracing feedback, even when it’s not easy to hear. The candor displayed by her team members in providing honest feedback became a cornerstone of their shared learning experience. “My growth as a leader was always fostered by my team’s openness with me. They held me accountable and I am so grateful for their confidence to speak to mistakes or missteps.” It’s a story of collective growth, her leadership fostered an environment where individuals were seen not just as professionals but as unique, multifaceted individuals. In cultivating that holistic understanding, HealthEdge, under her guidance, thrived as a community where loyalty, connection, and continuous learning could flourish.

Impact at HealthEdge

In the corporate journey of HealthEdge, Laura stands as a beacon of leadership, leaving an indelible mark on the organization over the course of a remarkable 10-year tenure. Over the years she helped usher in external awareness of the great culture of HealthEdge:

  • Best and Brightest Company to Work for Boston (2018–2023)
  • Best and Brightest Company to Work for Nation (2019–2023)
  • Best Places to Work Boston (2021–2023) by Built-In
  • Top Places to Work (2020) by The Boston Globe
  • Best Places to Work for Tech Professionals (2020) by Tech in Motion

As a testament to her impact, in an internal farewell message, HealthEdge’s CEO, Steve, expressed gratitude for Laura’s instrumental role in the organization’s growth and shaping HealthEdge’s success:

“After a remarkable 10 years with the organization, Laura Tomaino has decided to leave HealthEdge to pursue other opportunities… Saying goodbye to Laura will be a tough day for me. She was our cultural leader for many years and the mastermind behind our objective of making HealthEdge a great place to work. When she started at HealthEdge, and when I came to work with her seven years ago, she was a department of one. We were a very different company then. We didn’t feel we had the culture that would attract special people to the company and enable us to have fun, develop friendships, and grow professionally together. She created a vision of what our culture could be, and we set objectives that corresponded to what we defined as important in our culture and community. It started with a twice-a-year engagement survey, the first of which didn’t look so good, and with those, we incorporated lots of ideas from our employees and from other sources, including our own creative energy, all designed to enable a more engaging environment for our work. 

Today, I am very proud of what we built under Laura’s cultural leadership. She paved the way, stepping in to lend a hand with everything from recruiting to accounting, and she fostered the expansive, award-winning people function we have today.  Laura has championed many of our initiatives, including most recently leading the communications function and launching HElix, our new intranet. To her last day, she has left her mark on this organization and will be missed by many, especially me. Thank you, Laura. Please join me in wishing her all the best.”  

. – Steve Krupa (HealthEdge CEO)

A Maverick’s Perspective

For Laura, the excitement is always in the journey ahead and how to build new possibilities. Defined as a Maverick by the Predictive Index, she embodies the spirit of a visionary, challenging the status quo and embracing innovation. With a high tolerance for taking chances, she thrives on achieving unprecedented feats. Her passion for HR is grounded in the thrill of supporting organizations through their evolving workforce challenges.

As a Maverick, opportunities to pioneer change and contribute to the future of human resources drive her enthusiasm. She anticipates the next great challenges revolve around the AI tech evolution, redesigning the nature of hybrid work, and building more human connection and experiences.

  • AI Tech Evolution: Exploring the transformative potential of generative AI and other tools that facilitate asynchronous work and how to teach people to work smarter alongside these advances.
  • Work and Workplace Dynamics: Delving into the changing nature of work and the redesign of workplaces, with a focus on leveraging hybrid work models.
  • People-Centric Employee Experiences: Embracing the role of technology and the influence of upcoming generations in shaping the future of work. Skills development around change resilience, empathy, DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging), and collaboration.

Building and Inspiring Beyond HealthEdge

Laura is so grateful for her time spent at HealthEdge, the wonderful people she worked with, and the invaluable lessons learned. She made a strategic departure in 2023 and helped usher in a new wave of leadership and direction. As Laura looks ahead, she is excited and eager to find her next professional home. Her ideal destination includes a leadership team characterized by innovation and a collective eagerness to build something extraordinary and a dedication to making a positive impact on the world.

Laura, inherently a positive force and an innovative leader is also consulting and speaking with early startups experiencing rapid growth, or audiences looking for a leader to talk about striving, persistence, goals and attitude.  She also shares insights gleaned from her journey on TikTok and Instagram – follow her at @nonstop_optimist.