In healthcare and academic medicine, Shannon McClenton has worn enough hats to outfit a professional baseball team. Her impressive list of skills includes managing finances, operations, medical facilities and company growth. She’s helped renowned organizations such as Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and UCLA run like clockwork. In November 2021, she brought her 25-plus years of experience to Worksite Labs to work as our chief operating officer.
McClenton, who lives in Los Angeles, spoke with us about her career beginnings, what led her to join Worksite Labs, her love of travel, and how her behind-the-scenes work touches virtually every part of the company.
Tell us a bit about your career background. What drew you to a career in healthcare operations and financial management?
I went to a temp staffing agency almost 30 years ago, like a lot of people did. I was assigned to a medical center in South L.A. as an administrator. That led to various roles: front office, back office, insurance verification, surgery scheduling – you name it.
My administrative career morphed into finance (contract and grant management), which, in turn, morphed into budget management operations. Then I became a division administrator at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and eventually chief administrative officer for UCLA’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics. Those roles involved clinic management, clinic expansion and business expansion – overall, growing operations while keeping them running smoothly.
What led you to join Worksite Labs?
CEO Gary Frazier, Chief Nursing Officer Lindsay Williams and I belong to the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE), a professional organization for Black healthcare executives. I served as president of the Southern California chapter for almost three years.
During that time, Gary worked with me on fundraising and getting our events sponsored, so he became very familiar with my style and work experience. He contacted me last year to ask some questions about systems management. We talked through a few things, and he said, “Yeah, I think I need a chief operating officer.” I threw out a few suggestions, but he said, “No, I think you would be a good fit.”
I was at UCLA at the time, and I thought a COVID-19 testing company wouldn’t be around long term, so he suggested joining Worksite Labs as a consultant, which I did for about six months. I became familiar with the operations and the culture of the company.
During that period, I saw this company had the vision and strategy to become a long-term player in the laboratory space, so I joined full time. It’s a great place to work, and the vision for how we’re going to expand is very exciting.
Give us an overview of your responsibilities as chief operating officer.
In short, I concentrate on being the glue that holds all the company’s major pieces together behind the scenes. I make sure we’ve got the right systems in place, that they’re functioning properly, and that we’re all communicating and working together.
I’ll set calls and meetings with key stakeholders and various equipment suppliers to understand where they’re having issues or bottlenecks. I’ll audit the different systems, platforms and technologies that keep our company running –from our customer portal and company Zoom account down to finding a good copy machine for our Long Beach offices. I also ensure that new company policies are effectively rolled out across the company.
No two days or weeks are alike for me. It kind of depends on the project that’s front facing at the time. This winter, there was a huge Omicron surge, and we had staff out with COVID-19, so leadership jumped in and helped at the sites that were short staffed. The leadership team and I made sure that every testing site had the resources it needed to continue testing amid the surge.
Worksite Labs works to improve the quality of access to healthcare diagnostics so that businesses, organizations and individuals can move forward with certainty. How does your role within the company ultimately connect to and further that mission?
If we’re functioning well behind the scenes, that bolsters our front-facing systems and improves our customers’ lives. If we have systems and processes in place on the back end that allow our testing and laboratory staff to function well, that’s what the customers ultimately see.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job? How about the most challenging?
The most rewarding part is definitely working with the people on our team. It’s a very collaborative, innovative environment. Because of our innovative thinkers, we tend to figure things out and adjust pretty quickly if an issue arises or we see one coming. That’s refreshing, coming from large organizations like UCLA and Children’s Hospital, which are less flexible due to their size.
One challenge is making sure all of our workers across the country communicate effectively and stay engaged with the company. It’s not a huge challenge, but it’s different from what I’m used to. Many companies are resuming in-office work at least in part and getting to form face-to-face, responsive working relationships. We’re not that; we’re all around the U.S. One way we’re working to bridge that gap is by implementing a company intranet and quarterly in-person meetings.
You’re known to travel in your free time. Which travel destination has had the greatest impact on you?
I would say India has had an interesting impact on me. It’s an assault on every sense, in a pleasurable way. The colors there are vibrant. The clothing they wear is bright and beautiful. They use so many spices in their food. It’s a very dense, populated country, so there’s a lot of noise and movement. I’ve never been somewhere where you’re driving down the street and a cow just walks up to the car.
But I’ve also never seen the level of poverty that I saw in India. To see that is a humbling experience; it really makes you appreciate what you have. If you travel somewhere new, it can give you a new perspective on life. That’s why I love working for a company that makes travel testing more accessible and offers peace of mind related to our health.
Shannon McClenton is chief operating officer for Worksite Labs.