What a Successful Human Resources Organization Looks Like

Stephanie Harris Human Resources, Issue 09 - Jan/Feb 2014 Leave a Comment

Catamaran CHRO Mike Rude shares his three-part recipe for a strong human resources function.

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Throughout his more than 25 years of human resources (HR) experience, Mike Rude, Senior Vice President and Chief HR Officer for Catamaran, has realized the importance of building a solid team of talented employees. Having mastered the skill of developing a strengths-based organization in which staffers are able to do what they do best, Rude joined the pharmacy benefit management(PBM) company just over a year ago with the intention of elevating its HR function to the next level.

“For the last year, I’ve been focused not only on understanding the business and the PBM world,” he said, “but also bringing some of the HR practices we employed at my other companies to Catamaran and building the foundation and basic principles around engagement, talent selection and great leadership development.”


Rude has been charged with the task of changing the firm’s HR service delivery model. In doing so he is relying heavily on his previous success at companies such as Baxter Intl. and Stryker Corp., realigning HR resources into distinct areas: HR Business Partners, Centers of Expertise and HR Operations.

Laying the Foundation

Rude has been providing HR services within the health care industry since he completed graduate school. Prior to joining Catamaran, he spent 12 years of his career as the Stryker’s first-ever Global Vice President of HR.

“It was a very decentralized organization, and I was charged with bringing all the different divisions together,” Rude said.

During his tenure at Stryker, the business expanded considerably: revenue grew from $2 billion to $8 billion, and the number of employees jumped from 10,000 to 22,000.

“This was a place where the value and impact of HR really played out in driving organizational engagement, as well as great leadership development, succession planning and great staffing,” Rude said. “I think we really took HR to the next level.”

Rude_Mike_headshotWith his past success as a foundation, Rude has been redeveloping the HR function at Catamaran by adding new positions and talent (about 60 percent of the HR function is new within the past year), clarifying roles, implementing new processes, establishing succession plans and developing new management practices.

“It used to be that HR was a collection of folks with a few people in specialty areas,” he explained, “but what we’re doing now is aligning the HR resources in three distinct areas.”

One area is the “HR Business Partners,” the people who interact with the field leaders on a day-to-day basis. “They are responsible,” Rude said, “for understanding the managers and teams, helping them with organizational design, looking at succession planning, assisting with key selection within the group, and helping drive employee engagement.”

The HR function is also comprised of specialty areas, or “Centers of Expertise,” including compensation and benefits, leadership development direction and strategy, and staffing and development, for example. These expertise-driven areas support the HR Business Partners.

The third area is dubbed “HR Operations.” “This is the actual high-volume administrative work that goes on,” Rude said. “What we’re trying to do is pull that off of everyone else’s plate and centralize that into a core group of people. They bring a great level of expertise, effectiveness and efficiency to these high-transaction issues, such as FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] leaves and administrative HR system issues.”


Rude_Mike_photo2(Re)Building the Team

Rude has spent the past year realigning the HR organization into this new structure and service delivery model, and the pieces are falling into place. But in order to get to this point, he first had to find the right people for the job.

When seeking out new talent, he says he looked for those with a deep understanding of the business and a history with the organization as well as the adaptability and curiosity to learn new things.

“I looked internally first to see if we had the right people in place, and I identified a handful of people who I felt had great experience, an understanding of Catamaran and also the ability to move and be flexible,” Rude said. “Some of those people moved into new roles. I was trying to match the job with their strengths.”

After seeking out talent internally, Rude then went outside of the organization to hire subject matter experts. “When I go outside of the organization, I look for people with a high focus on results orientation, intellectual curiosity to learn new things, honesty, integrity, responsibility, and people who deliver on what they say they’re going to deliver on and follow through on their commitments.”

Just as importantly, Rude looks for people who have experienced things differently. “They can bring experiences from different companies into Catamaran, so as we grow we have people in the HR function who in some respect have already been where we are going, and they can help navigate the course to where we want to go.”

bankofamericaEmpowerment to the People

Once he has brought in the right talent, Rude’s focus as an HR leader is making sure employees have the tools and resources necessary to effectively do their job, providing them a direction and then getting out of the way.

“This lets them come up with the plans and deliver on them,” he said, “and my role is to keep them in bounds and make sure progress is being made.”

Rude prefers to give employees a lot of responsibility and accountability, taking on the role of breaking down any potential or existing barriers so that they can get the work done.

“I might have an idea as to how something should be executed, but when you bring in great people who are empowered to do their thing, they come up with ideas that are even better than what you would come up with.”

Not only does a great team filled with talented staff drive better results, but it also makes it easier to disconnect from work once in awhile to maintain a healthy work-life balance, according to Rude.

“If you have a great team underneath you, you will feel comfortable and confident they can handle anything in your absence,” he said. “Building a great team gives you that freedom and flexibility to disconnect and trust that everything is going to be OK.”


Mike's Key Partners:
 Bank of America / Merrill Lynch (Benefit Plan Services)Gallup (Employee Engagement Survey) | Businessolver (Benefits Administration) | Cigna (Dental provider) | VSP (Vision provider)

Stephanie Harris

Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.

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