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Igniting Human Understanding: Jon Tanner

Mountains, marathons, and managing a team

You may not immediately see the connection between running ultramarathons in the mountains and leading a product innovation team, but to Jon Tanner, Product Leader, the parallels are obvious. Both involve setting ambitious goals, overcoming obstacles, and finding fulfillment in testing limits.

“One of my favorite things about product management and long-distance running is the extensive time dedicated to creative problem-solving,” Tanner shares. “I prioritize listening and learning. I spend most of my time listening to customers, trying to understand the problems they face. I then work with our design and engineering teams to translate this valuable feedback into concepts and ideas.” He adds, “I am by no means a great runner—but I am stubborn. I try to carry that same determination into addressing challenges in my professional life.”

Intern-turned–product leader

Tanner started his journey with NRC Health as an intern while finishing his MBA program at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. His plan was to complete his MBA and go on to get his Doctor of Business Administration degree. Instead, his work on the product-management team quickly turned into a lifelong passion.

“I was initially attracted to NRC Health because I’m a data geek at heart, and we have such a treasure trove of data,” he explains. “But the longer I stay at NRC Health, I find myself caring less about the data, and more about the stories they represent. I get excited by the fact that healthcare works better when health systems know the people they’re serving.”

The obstacle is the way

Another parallel between product innovation and running for Tanner is that what makes it fun is the fact that it is challenging—and going too fast can get you into trouble. He explains that the process of discovery, listening, and learning can be exciting nevertheless, and it fuels the urge to get products to market quickly, to fill the need and close the gap. “You want to get the product out into the world as soon as possible, because that’s when the real learning starts to happen,” he says. “Running has shown me that sometimes you move faster than your ability, but the process of failing makes you better.”

One of Tanner’s team’s most significant accomplishments was the rapid growth and success of the patient-experience feedback solution. This product significantly reduced the time it took to gather patient feedback, making it possible to reach a broader and more diverse patient population. In essence, it changed the way the patient experience was understood and enhanced.

However, with growth came unexpected challenges. Tanner and his team faced issues when early adopters of the product reported that they loved the core benefits of the product, but were missing some of the features they were used to in other patient-experience solutions. “We’d built a really fast car, but we’d saved time by not putting in AC and power windows, and we got called out on that,” he says.

Instead of seeing this as a setback, Tanner and his team invited the customers onsite to collaborate with them and help them come to an understanding of how the product could better meet their needs. Consequently, the initial pushback resulted in a stronger product. “The three-day onsite set our roadmap for the next year,” Tanner explains. “At the end of the year, we had a better product than we ever would have if we weren’t challenged by our customers.”

The spark behind Human Understanding

The Human Understanding program is built for health systems to get to know each person they serve—their behaviors, preferences, wants, and needs—not as point-in-time insights, but in the context of an ongoing relationship that extends beyond the care setting.

Tanner explains how his team focuses on creating solutions that encompass the entire healthcare journey. Traditionally, he says, the healthcare industry has narrowly defined the patient experience, typically focusing on a patient’s most recent clinical encounter. However, their solutions aim to take a broader perspective of the patient’s overall experience, as this is how patients themselves define it.

In all this, Tanner says, it’s crucial to recognize that experience extends beyond the clinical encounter. For instance, if a patient struggles to find the right type of care due to a confusing website, their experience can be just as dissatisfying as if they were to encounter rudeness at the front desk. Similarly, if patients have difficulty understanding how to fill their prescriptions, it poses as significant a risk to them as a care-team member not explaining something clearly.

“With this wide view of what constitutes a healthcare experience, my team has a big sandbox to play in,” Tanner says. “We are constantly listening for ways our customers think we can help them.”

Tanner and his team maintain a close partnership with their customers, actively addressing their challenges and bridging gaps. One of their recent product innovations, driven by customer feedback, was the introduction of Compliment Sharing.

“We consistently heard about the significant problem of employee burnout in healthcare today, where some care-team members aren’t feeling the appreciation their patients hold for their care,” Tanner says. Despite this, he points out, it’s clear that most patients hold a deep appreciation for their care teams: NRC Health gets thousands of comments a day from patients expressing how grateful they are for their doctors and nurses. This feedback led to the development of Compliment Sharing, a tool designed to identify positive experiences and facilitate the sending of e-cards and templates to frontline healthcare workers every time a noteworthy positive interaction occurs.

Tanner stresses that unlike running, innovation is a team sport. “Bringing a new product capability to life takes a lot of team effort,” he says. “Starting with viewing customers as teammates to getting their feedback and continuing through to our entire NRC Health team, no new feature comes to life without contribution from dozens of individuals.”

Live your passion

Outside of his professional life, Tanner seeks balance and solace in the tranquility of running amidst the stunning Colorado mountains, where he is usually accompanied by his wife Tammy. In addition to their shared passion for running, he and Tammy delight in the joy of chasing after their niece and nephew, and cater to the whims of their beloved but distant Shih-tzu, Henry.

The Igniting Human Understanding series shares the personal experiences and passions that influence and shape our approach to humanizing care.

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