How does one successfully pilot a business that is based on an on-site value proposition through a global pandemic that shutdown the world? Dr. Ari Levy, Founder & CEO of SHIFT (Life), a company dedicated to disrupting the traditional healthcare model, had to be agile and responsive as he dealt with an outside force that disrupted his own business. By seizing on opportunities as well as hyper communicating with his team and peers around the world, the organization not only survived but also thrived - coming out stronger in the end.
Here are my three big takeaways from the conversation:
Understanding the pandemic and its effects globally helped him recognize new opportunities, both short and long term.
When you serve others authentically, you become a trusted resource and opportunities will arise.
You must have the support of family and friends to help you maintain your equilibrium.
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Ari: I was scared for my family. I was scared for my business. Specifically I was scared for the employees. But I also felt a sense of responsibility for all of those people. So the first thing we did was we began hyper communicate.
Aaron: I'm Aaron Levy and I have this vision of a workplace where your manager doesn't suck; where your managers, your coach, helping you to reach your full potential.
I founded Raise The Bar, wrote Open, Honest, and Direct and started this podcast to help companies transform their workplace into a place where both the company and employee succeeds. In this podcast, I get to interview leaders who built high performing teams and learn from them what it takes to unlock a team's potential.
Aaron: Today, I am lucky to have an extremely special guest, a serial entrepreneur, former doctor of the BlackHawks, an MBA, a Crain's 40 under 40 honoree, a personal mentor, a friend, and my brother, Dr. Ari Levy. Ari has been laser-focused on working to fix a broken healthcare system.
And now in his second business SHIFT, he's made strides in developing a model for just that. In today's episode, Ari talks to us about the SHIFT model and how he's been able to grow his business and team despite the pandemic.
Aaron: Well, this is a fun, unique experience getting to interview my own brother for this podcast today. I've been excited to have this conversation with you for a bit. And I think the place I'd love to start is just to hear a little bit about kind of the SHIFT model, how it's different and a little bit about what it is so that people listening can get a sense as we go deeper into the current.
Ari: Yeah. Well, first and foremost, thank you for having me. It’s super surreal to be on my brother's podcast, you know, having a life moment right now You know, what is shift?
It's a facility right now. It's a location. But it's a little bit more than that. It's a facility where we integrate health, fitness and the medical field together. So what I think about when we talk about SHIFT is, you know, today healthcare, we really define it as sick care.
It's a reactive system. That's very complicated and very transactional. You have a problem. They find a solution. And what we're faced with today is information overload. There's no shortage of sources of information at your fingertips. And for us, we think it creates a trust problem.
It leads to poor decision making and really inadequate guidance. So what SHIFT does is we sit at that intersection between health and fitness and wellness and the medical secure arena. And what we do is we take care of people. So we are a group of people, doctors, trainers, nurses, dieticians, physical therapists, massage recovery experts, whose sole job is to take care of you, understand who you are, where you're at and make sure that you have the right resources to do the work. As we say, to go about building health in a meaningful and a measurable way, meaningful so you feel better and measureables so that we have the data to support that.
.Aaron: Kind of like the positive psychology mindset, which is not just looking at what's broken and fixing it, but also looking at what's working and how to make it keep working.
Ari: For sure. You know, we talk about it almost often from an organizational design standpoint, where we effectively become your executive vice president of health if you're the CEO of your life. And we help bring and coordinate and aggregate all the resources that you need. And where your caregivers or your primary care team.
Aaron: So knowing what SHIFT is, right. Not pretending like I don't, I was there yesterday getting some treatment and some help and understanding that it's a very, in-person very connected and you focus.
But the, I think the keyword there is in-person type of business. When COVID shut down, you were somehow able to manage the business and grow it. And my curiosity and something that, you know, we've talked a lot about. COVID, we've talked a lot about the last year. We spent a lot of time talking about growing our businesses, but what we have, what I haven't talked about is like how, where you're able to not only keep your team in place, but, but grow the business when your value proposition is on-site.
Ari: You know, it's really impossible, like connect the dots, looking forward. We always do it looking back. So, you know, I will try and make sense of it. I'll also just kind of tell you how I reacted to the pandemic. First and foremost, like everybody else, I was scared for my family. I was scared for my business. Specifically I was scared for the employees. But I also felt a sense of responsibility for all of those people; specifically it's our job to understand this. So the first thing we did was we began hyper communicate. And you know, I chuckle about that because I probably am a hyper communicator in general, but what we did was we made sure that we were super transparent, transparent with our employees, transparent with our members.
And with one another to talk about where we were at that and what we were trying to figure out and specifically that meant lots of connecting back and forth with one another. You know, we, we just marched as a team forward. We talked about what we were doing and doing what we were. We told our employees, our staff, we weren't sure, you know if we were going to have to let people go, but we would let them know. I started with a weekly email. We held some Informal meetings about what we could do.
What were the opportunities, what were people seeing and sensing out there in the marketplace? And that's what we did as an organization internally. The other thing that we did was we made sure we understood the pandemic and what was happening. So amidst all of these lines of communication that typically would take time to connect to various organizational leads from the medical side of things. We saw an ability to communicate across the globe with amazing fluidity. We were able to talk to people in China. We were able to talk to people at HHS and in major organizations around the city and make sure we were all sharing information.
So it was a great amount of information transfer to figure out what was signal versus what was noise.
Aaron: In those weeks where your employees and your team of nurses of PTs and massage therapists have dieticians, how are they staying focused and engaged and right.
Tell me a little bit about that hyper communication, that transparency and what, what do you even mean by that?
Ari: I mean so,if we want to peel the layers back, it was one of those times where Alicia, my wife, my better half was worried about me because I was working a ton of hours.
I was talking to employees, we were working on messaging. We were talking to our members and checking in with all these people. And oh, by the way, the customer, the corporations we serve as well, were reaching out to us. So there's a lot of committees. And a lot of the communication was simply, Hey, we don't know, Hey, here's what we're seeing.
And here's who I'm talking to. Here's what's coming up next. Let's go through that cycle, right? It's an iterative constant cycle so that we were making sure first and foremost, everybody was safe. We were open. We’re a medical practice. So it was a medically necessitated business, certain things that we did where we broke up our workforce into different groups that worked on different days.
So in the event that anybody did get exposed or have COVID our operations, we continue to run. So we had different shifts, if you will. So that's how people were working and you know, the months of March and April were like everybody else, even though we were open you know, we did very little in-person business.
We did do some but, but very little.
Aaron: It sounds like, you know, you said putting the pieces together from the view I have of it right now is it's almost a little bit of a process you put in place, whether knowingly or unknowingly with the, I like honest, open, hyper communication, right. That was super transparent, but also like listening and exploring, not only to your team and to you.
Clients, but also to the market and to the medical space and they're moving that were going on with the world, because things were moving so fast. And then I think the third thing that you said was we made everyone feel a part of the process. I think by communicating that they felt like they were a part of it.
And so those are three awesome steps and things that anybody can learn in any type of crisis is speak up, share a lot, be honest, listen, and make others a part of it.
Ari: Yeah. And, I'm sure there were plenty of times where we over communicated, you know, and I think that we can over communicate when your mind isn't right.
And you haven't fully thought through stuff. But for us being able to have partnership, you know one of a great clinical team who's able to deliver care and connect with members and help set up processes, having an amazing operator and operations team where, you know, I was able to go out and to the world, if you will, and connect with people to see what was happening, what they were talking about, what was the city of Chicago doing?
What were the major academic institutions doing? Where were we getting testing from? What were the pathways going to be? And then bring that back to the organization. All the, while the organization itself was trying to make sure that we were taking care of members, understanding where they were at finding new and iterative ways to help our corporations and our individually.
Aaron: So all of that, like all of what you described was like maintaining and like staying afloat during this, you know, March and April and the early parts of COVID. And yet what I know is that you actually grew the business and you primed the business for growth in 2021 and 2022. So how did you transition from the maintain and like, just survive to actually, this is an opportunity for us to grow?
Ari: During this time a lot of our, the organizations we serve started asking us questions. We became a central voice for them. It, within the boardroom amongst the leaders, because when you have a trusted relationship with a clinical team, you lean on that at this time.
That's what we saw. And so what we ended up seeing was that there were a number of opportunities to help organizations understand how to create safe work environments, how to create the right practices, how to understand testing, how to make sense of all of this. So, first and foremost we just tried to make understanding of what was going on. Very simple, right? Talk about COVID make it very real, break it down. How to think about infection, fatality rate, understanding the virus itself and the mechanisms, what to do, who to reach out to. So providing useful relevant information at the time And then, you know, a couple of different opportunities presented themselves, particularly around testing where, you know, we as an organization knew that, you know, was shelter in place and all of the remote working or working from home people weren't coming in at the same frequency.
And so those were opportunities.
Aaron: And you were, it sounds like you were quickly able to get, you know, the team operating in a different way and showing up in a different way, because testing is very different than some of the other work that you do on a daily basis.
Ari: I really think, you know, the credit goes to my operator, right?
The credit goes to Mark and the clinical team that was able to, you know, I presented the opportunity. when I see it and I pressed on the opportunity and they saw it as well, and. You know, it was a complete pivot, right? It's not a core piece of our business. It was, as we would say, we, we believe testing was a quick race to the bottom.
We think that testing is absolutely necessary, extremely valuable, and it's not part of our business that we seek as a revenue generating activity for the future. It's not how we seek to build our business. And in the meantime it was something that we could do and deliver well.
And out of it, you know, we had a bunch of demand from a number of our organizations in-state and out-of-state as well as the individuals we serve in Chicago, right there.
Aaron: What are the insights that you're taking from that experience and from the last year, and how are you kind of playing that forward into 2021, 2022?
Ari: You know moments matter; I think sometimes you just have to capitalize on certain moments and it was what was in front of us. It's what we needed to do. It was very clear. And I think that one of the things that I take away from it is it doesn't force us to deviate from what our strategic objectives are, what we're going after. It's just, it was, I mean, it was a moment in time, right.
We lived through a pandemic that affected the world, affected our country and You know, it was about presence, be here now, all of this hokey stuff sort of really matters. And having the right support around you really matters because there is no way that I could have done this by myself without support of you, my family you know, all the folks at work.
I mean, it was very stressful.
You would think, and I know, I definitely thought, and we'd talked about this, that the pandemic and work from home and just people's mental states, all of that combines to push people, to consider their health more. Now.
Aaron: How are you thinking about that? How is that changing your approach if at all? As you think about future locations and expanding?
Ari: Yeah. One of the things we've talked about is that health isn't a priority - It's the priority. And we've seen that you know, we saw our individual membership grow by over 30% last year.
And we've seen our corporate business grow by over 35%, just in the first five months. In terms of our total eligible or corporate accounts have doubled. What we've seen here is that people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care. And so, you know, serving and serving well really matters.
And so for us, what we're trying to figure out is how can we leverage the momentum we built in 2020. Capitalize on growth and that's what we're trying to do right now. We are getting ourselves ready to go. Build more locations across Chicago and beyond as well as leverage the technologies that we're working on, putting in place so that we can do some of the predictive modeling to help people change.
Aaron: And you mentioned earlier, because you said at the start of the pandemic, my wife, Alicia was worried about me. And I told you, I was worried about you in a hectic working non-stop mode. And I'm wondering, how did you get yourself out of that place? Into what sounds like a very much calmer Ari today.
And what I've noticed as a much calmer Ari, what have you done on yourself to get out of that place and show up in a different way?
Ari: I think that strength is found through weakness. You've heard me say that all the time. it's written in lots of places.
I have people who are my anchors in my life; you being one of them who are able to tell me when they see that I'm a little bit awry, they're able to point out a blind spot. And if the people in my life are saying that and they are my anchors, it's my job to listen to it. So, you know, thank you.
It's what I tried to do. it doesn't have often an immediate effect. But you know, there's a little bit of a delay in the processing of it, but, you know, we were able to get there and that's what, that's all I can ask for myself.
Aaron: Yeah. And it's so interesting that you say that because it's what you do for patients.
It's what you, you and you as a plural, right? You as gift and your team does for other people, it provides that anchor to provide that blind spot awareness of where they're at and where they're not at. And it sounds like, and I know from personal experience that having that trusted person to point out and say, Hey, this isn't you at your best really is the driver and it's so funny to see how it's, it's the same thing that you need to, right? Like the health that you provide is the health that you need
Ari: For sure. And, you know, I think it's one of those moments where looking back on all this stuff,, there's a lot of self-talk that goes into all of it.
How much of that work and that fanaticism was valuable, how much of it was not et cetera. And I don't know that we can make sense of all of it. And I really just want to have the right people in my life to support and love me and, and pay attention to me for when I may go astray so that they can raise the red flags.
Right. If they're looking at the metrics, the dashboard of who I am and how I'm showing up and then go about doing the best I can. And then leaving it all on the table.
Aaron: Ari. I don't say this enough, but I'm just super grateful to have a role model, to have a brother, a mentor, someone to go for runs with and someone to learn how to grow my business from in you.
And this, I guess is just a great example of how you show up and constantly are willing to be vulnerable and learn and get better and listen. And so thank you for being you and thank you for, for sharing.
Ari: Wow. That was really kind. I'm gonna hold on to that last piece and make that a little voicemail I play to myself often. So thank you. Love you.
Aaron: Open Honest and Direct is produced by Raise The Bar, where we help organizations level up their leadership by empowering their managers with the tools, skills, and training to be better leaders of people you can get in touch with us at raisebar.co. Thank you for listening and go put your learning into practice.