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Straight from the CEO: How Learning gets a Seat at the Table - Part 2
Episode 1010th August 2022 • Human Capital Lab • Bellevue University
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Learning Leaders want to understand how to interface with senior leadership better and secure a voice in future planning.  But perhaps, as important, they want to know how senior leaders think about Learning & Development - and how they can better align what they do with the highest priorities of the business. 

In Part 2 of the Straight from the CEO series, Michelle speaks with Mike Cassling, Chairman and CEO of CQuence Health Group, and CEO of Cassling. Cassling sells and services world-class medical imaging equipment to hospitals in several regions across the U.S. Under his leadership, CQuence and its partner companies have earned multiple recognitions, including Modern Healthcare’s ranking as one of the Best Places to Work in Healthcare for multiple years, including two years at #1. 

Big Takeaways: 

  1. Companies stand to benefit by developing their employees not only professionally, but personally as well.  
  2. Moving away from doing annual reviews in favor of opening ongoing dialogues can be more impactful long term.  
  3. When learning and development become a key part of your cultural beliefs, it produces key results. 

This is a Growth Network Podcasts production. 




Let's discover what lies at the intersection between

learning and the lives of the people who make business happen. I'm Dr.

Michelle Eppler and this is the Human Capital Lab podcast. A constant theme

throughout this podcast and what I hear when I attend p

rofessional development

and/or conferences with learning leaders is, how do they earn the ability to

impact the organization more effectively? Learning leaders want to understand

how to interface with senior leadership better and secure voice in future


nning. But perhaps as important, they want to know how senior leaders think

about learning and development and how they can better align what they do

with the highest priorities of the business.

Mike Cassling is an executive that any L and D leader would l

ove to engage

with. He is Chairman and CEO of Sequence Health Group, a collective of top

healthcare organizations. And CEO of Cassling, a family owned company he

joined in:

cells and service

s world class medical imaging equipment to hospitals in several

regions across the US. Under his leadership, Sequence and its partner

companies have earned multiple recognitions, including modern healthcare's

ranking as one of the best places to work in he

althcare for multiple years,

including two years at number one.

Welcome, Mike.



Thank you, thrilled to be here.



Let's get started with some background, shall we? Tell us

about Sequence.



So Sequence was

formed in:

business, and still our largest business is Cassling, where we sell and service

medical imaging equipment, so basically anything to image inside your body.

We're now Siemens's largest global partner.

But we really

took a step back probably about 12 years ago and said, what are

we good at? And obviously we know healthcare, that's all we do. We know

from a 10 bed critical access hospital to a thousand bed teaching facility. And

then we have this array of amazing world

class support services, whether it's

marketing, IT, people and culture or HR, accounting, strategy, finance and all

those to support all our partner companies. Today, we have about 14 companies

that we own or have invested in across the country with proba

bly about:




Wow. So there's a lot of opportunity for learning there

with that many employees.






Great. Could you tell our L and D listeners how learning

and development is v

alued at Sequence?



At Sequence we have two things that guide us, all employees

across all companies. It's our cultural beliefs. So we have six cultural beliefs.

Two of those really tie into learning and development, which is learn from it

and grow together. But also we have our key results. So we have five key

results, which are about profit, obviously revenue profit, accountability, and so


But the newest one and probably most important one is development. So it's a

requirement that

every employee has a development plan each year, and they

get through at least 80% of their development plan across the board.



So that's definitely supporting that learning culture there.



It is, absolutely. We're a bi

g believer as I think others should,

I've always said as a company, if you're not growing, you're gonna be dying at

some point in time.

I think that's the same for people and your employees. So if they're not growing

and learning and developing, I think th

ey're not gonna be happy, because a lot

of people want to continue to learn and develop. But I also think it impacts the

business overall if they're not, if your employees aren't growing too.



And that also allows you to instill differe

nt cultural

values, throughout all of the learning that's going throughout, not only just the

jobs, but also what you want your employees to know that this is how we do

things here at Sequence.



Yep, absolutely. And I will point out too, wh

en we talk

learning and development, we look at it both professionally as well as

personally, because we look at the person as a whole. If there's certain things

they wanna do personally, to grow and develop, we look at that as well. And

that's part of the

ir development plan.



So when you mentioned some of the key performant and I

suspect there's a strategic plan that goes along with that. Where do you see

learning and development supporting these metrics as you look throughout your





think it goes back to the core thing. If our employees aren't

continuing to learn, develop and grow, our business will be static. So it's

completely tied into our strategic plan and our strategic plan is all about growth

and expa

nsion and so forth.

So it's a absolutely critical part, and that's why we've made it one of our key

results that we truly track.



That's great. Now you're in the healthcare arena, so the

pandemic definitely impacted your business. How d

id your team adapt and what

were some of the takeaways that learning and development may have done to

help you with that?



I think we were fortunate because we were already set to go

remote at any point in time. So literally when the pandemic hit, we flipped a

switch and all our employees were remote. We decided on a Sunday and

Monday everybody was remote. But during that tim

e we actually accelerated

our learning and development to keep people engaged, obviously use

technologies, zoom, teams, and so forth.

But we do a multi faceted approach when we look at learning development. So

we look at it from a overall corporate, from e

ach area, as well as personal. So

we had aspects of all those going on and like I said, because of the pandemic

and a lot of the stresses, we actually accelerated some of those programs.



Were there some lessons learned through that acc


that you're now keeping that are helping your business grow even more?



I don't know if there's things we learned that, I think it's just

the importance of keeping the learning and development on a continual basis.

We didn't take

the last two years off and just say, let's not deal with that.

So I think the one probably thing is during times of challenge and so forth it's

probably more important to have that learning development, whether it's

individually or group or team size. So

I think that makes a difference.



To what extent do you believe this learning culture and

these personal and professional opportunities for development impact your

ability to attract top talent?



It definitely impacts ou

r ability to attract. I'd probably say it

probably has a bigger impact on retaining then attracting. And probably to that

point, we probably should do a better job promoting that when we're hiring

people, so there may be a piece to that. But I do know empl

oyees across the

board of any age group really appreciate the opportunity to continue to learn.

And we do our learning a lot of ways, we have a LMS learning management

system where they can go on and just learn a lot of basic stuff, whether it's

Microsoft or teams or outlook and so forth like that. We bring in speakers for

different groups. We also h

ave our manager training group that meets quarterly

that has people come in.

Then we also have high potential group, that are our up and comers that come

in. And then we also send people, depending on individual development plan,

off to executive programs

at colleges across the country.



That's great. So when you think about the succession

planning, you were talking about you have a hypo program. What do you think

is the biggest impact that those hypo programs provide your organization a


you're looking at



think it is developing that next group of leaders, right? It's

giving them the skills to be successful into the future. I think it's absolutely

critical. Equally critical as is our ongoing management training. Obviousl

y the

fact of life is, people don't leave a company, they leave their manager.

So it's absolutely critical that we're constantly educating them, and working

with them as well as the high potential people. The other piece that's important

with the managers,

in the end of the day, our development program are

individuals. We do coaching with all our employees.

We no longer do an annual performance review, we do ongoing coaching. So

we also have to make sure our managers have the tools and know how to talk to


heir employees, to work with them, to create their development plans. Because

it's between, it's a plan that's developed between the employee and the manager.



Oh, that sounds really rewarding. Your company has been

cited as a best plac

e to work in healthcare for multiple years. What role does

learning and development have in this success?



In the end of the day, we're successful and we've been

successful for 37 years because of our people. And it's all about taking care


your people. And I think learning and development and which, because it's part

of our cultural belief, it's part of our key results. And we want employees that

want to grow and continue to evolve. And I think they look at that as a truly of

value that w

e add, and that we care about 'em and that we care about them

growing, not only professionally, but personally.



So there are a lot learning and development leaders who

are aspiring to work at an organization like yours, where it's part

of the plan,

right? For those who aren't as lucky to work for someone like you, what advice

do you have for those learning and development leaders who are trying to

convince their executives that a learning culture really makes a big impact and

allow them

to earn a spot at that executive table?



I think there's two things, which we talked about a little bit

earlier. The reality is, and most executives who know, if you're not growing as a

company you're gonna fail. I always use in the health

care world, Kodak, one of

the largest corporations in the world. They didn't grow and develop and they're


They're not here. And so that's the same with your people as you continue to

grow and develop in your business, you need the people to come alon

g. So

without learning and development tied to that, You're not gonna be successful. I

think people really want to grow and develop. I think even the younger

generations, maybe even so more.



They want that next step. So what do I need

to learn?

What do I need to do?

Those aspiring leaders really need to demonstrate the value of the impact of

retaining employees through different managerial programs. And really tying

what they're doing to the key performance indicators of the organizatio

n, and

then communicating those out in a way that, demonstrates their business


And so instead of communicating in a learning language, they're

communicating in a business language.



That's absolutely critical.



So as a CEO, what gets your attention when it comes to

elevating leaders to your executive team?



I need people that adapt and embrace change to take

advantage of opportunities.



Okay. So are there any new developments at Sequence

that you're getting ready to launch that you'd like to share with our listeners?



Probably the biggest ones that have been really impactful

longer term as we switched away from doing annu

al reviews to doing ongoing

coaching. It's more of an ongoing dialogue with all our employees and we try to

encourage them to do at least quarterly, if not more often versus just once a

year. And that's key as you look at learning in development, because t

hat needs

to be happening all year long.

It shouldn't just happen in January or December or whenever of each year. The

other one which we're excited about, that we're just launching is the concept

around mentorship. So your coach is your boss, but now look

ing at helping

people to continue to grow, we're creating a mentorship program.

I could be working with some of the younger people in the company and other

executives and other managers across the board to give them guidance and

insight. Especially the you

nger kids and so forth, trying to figure out, okay what

do I need to do if I want to continue to grow? And look at it from a longer term,

broader picture versus their managers that would probably look at it more on an

annual basis. We're excited about what

we think that can do.



Are the mentors within their own division, focus of

emphasis, or is there an opportunity to be exposed to different types of

opportunities within the companies?



The goal is not within their area.

It's somebody outside their

area. So there's truly no ties to what they're doing day in out, and they can be an

objective person to help guide , help them grow.



One of the things that I've often heard is that so many of

our newer empl

oyees as we're replacing and addressing some of the gaps that

we've had because of the pandemic is that, new employees aren't really sure

what other pathways are there. And they are finding, just like you are, that the

exposure to these different pathways

and helping the younger generations

understand that most of our careers are not a linear thing.

That there isn't just a direct ladder that goes straight up. That it's really more of

a curving pathway as you grow and learn and expand and understand all your

different skills.



Yep. That's absolutely correct. And I think you can just look

at the success of mentorship programs at the high school and collegiate level,

because you see a lot of those programs across the country and they're very


cessful. So it makes a lot of sense that you just keep tying that in into the




Great. So Mike, tell us a little bit about how you examine

the key performance results. For these professional development plans at the

executive l




So our five key results are obviously revenue, profit, which

everybody has. Accountability. We drive an accountable culture, and so we

have a thing we do annually with all our employees across the country that look

at accountability.

So we're looking at those, that's more of an annual number.

And then customer service is a big one of ours. So we do a variation off a net

promoter score, we're looking at that data. And when I say net promoter score,

so at the Cassling level, we're actua

lly doing a variation, a combination of

multiple scores, like a net promoter score with our customers.

So we're watching that on a monthly basis. Then as Sequence, because we're

more of a support company to all our companies, we're doing a similar survey to

say, how are our support services doing for you? So that's the customers service

goal. And then as I

said, the development side is all employees have to have a

development plan and at least 80% of their development plan needs to be


So we're tracking all those numbers. So I can look up at any given time, we'll

use learning and development. In Ju

ne, 70% of the employees had development

plans and 33% were done just randomly. So then we know, we need to push the

managers to get all the development plans done and they probably need to keep

pushing along to make sure they're farther along on working o

n their plans.



What sort of return do you see based off of the number of

professional development plans that are actually completed? How does that the

completion of the professional development plan move the business forward?




That's where we work closely with our managers to make sure

they have the tools and so forth. Again, it's both personal. So if you wanna learn

to garden or learn to play the guitar, that's actually absolutely fine in the

development plan. But at th

e same time it's working with that employee

individually to figure out what do they need to continue to grow in their job?

Looking at it from them personally for the department and for the overall

company. So that's where it really is important. We do prog

rams like the top

performer or high potential where managers submit people in there which is a

broader program, but really learning and development becomes to be individual.

And so it's working with them. Okay, you need this skill, you need to grow in


area, how can we get it? Do we do it locally in seminars, do we send you

off to a college or university? So it is really down to the individual level.



And so those professional development plans then really

align with the engagement a

nd the retention of employees when it comes to

bottom line data?



Absolutely. I think that ties into our small attrition rate of

about 1%.



Yeah, which is amazing.



And, also our continued year over year




All right. It's always interesting to learn about how those

in charge of leading and developing others, learn. I'd love to hear what you go

to, a podcast, a favorite book, if there's blogs, a special newspaper, conferences.


ow do you develop yourself?



Like everybody, I've always been a believer of constant

learning. And even after being in this business for 37 years, I'm constantly

learning both on the healthcare side, as well as the leadership side. I'm not much

into books, probably because I have ADH

D and my ability to sit down and read

isn't as good as it used to be when I was in college.

But really looking at master classes, I'm tied in with Harvard and Stanford and

ASU on some of their business schools ongoing. Harvard and Stanford have one


cally in healthcare, so going to those, as well as ongoing education with

those. But any type of Ted talk, podcast, I signed up for this company called

Masterclass Series where you pay an annual fee and you can literally learn

anything from business to pla

ying the guitar and stuff.



Great. I really wanna thank you for sharing about

Sequence, about your culture, a little bit about yourself as well. Thanks again

for joining us, Mike. Thank you for joining us on the Human Capital Lab


t, a Growth Network Podcasts production in collaboration with Bellevue

University. For more about Bellevue University's Human Capital Lab, head to

If you were inspired today, pass the link on to a colleague or friend. Stay tuned

for ou

r next episode and until then, keep learning to unlock the long



potential of human capital.


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