Sixer Spotlight with Kiel McLaughlin

Finding Purpose in Government Contracting

Meet Kiel McLaughlin

After a decade of working in the government contracting space, Kiel McLaughlin gets candid about what it’s like working in government, how he’s motivated by purpose, and how coming to Agile Six turned on the care and the commitment to meaningful work. Let’s find out why he’s planting his roots here and learn about his journey to Agile Six.

Q. How long have you been at Agile Six, and what do you do?

I started working at Agile Six in the summer of 2019. Today, I am an HCD UX Researcher supporting the Quality Payment Program at CMS.

Through my communications and journalism background, I learned how to listen, I learned how to look for the story, and uncover what's at the root of it. That's a lot of UX research: talking to people about what they need, communicating that with your team, and figuring out the best features to build and the best policies to write to meet that need.

Q. How long have you been working in government contracting?

I worked for an HHS division for two years before going to Social Security, where I was for almost three years, and now I've been with Agile Six for about three and a half years.

Q. Why do you think working in government is so challenging?

Government is hard. Making a change in government is hard. It's not a case where the problem is always very easily understood. When somebody is hired to come into a space, to be able to build something or fix something, that may be a halfway understood challenge that you're walking into. As a result, when you walk in, you might need to figure out the question before solving the problem. That can be challenging for some folks, especially those with expertise in a specific discipline or method. They are fixers. If you are uncomfortable in that messy space where you're trying to figure out the challenge, you can get frustrated. These are incredibly talented, brilliant people in their disciplines. Working in government takes a very specific type of mindset to be able to come in and work here. I’ve decided this is where I want to be and the space where I want to make a difference.

Making a difference in these government spaces is like pushing a boulder up a hill and being able to push that boulder up the hill successfully; that makes the wins that much sweeter.

Q. How did you find Agile Six?

Government contracting is a small network. There are a lot of companies that do this, and there are a lot of people who move in and out of those companies.

A former colleague that I worked with at Social Security introduced me to Dan Levenson; he was not at the time, but is now the president here at Agile Six. Dan told me about the company, and what he described sounded a little pie in the sky and idealistic. I wanted to give it a shot because I had done the other things, and I was ready for a move and to try something different. Everything that he sold me then is still happening three and a half years later.

Q. How is Agile Six a Different Kind of Government Contractor?

Dan said that Agile Six was a different kind of government contractor. At first, there was a bit of a Silicon Valley-type vibe, but as we talked more about it, it was clear Dan was committed to making a difference in government. The focus was on the American people and their needs–that’s what was going to drive our decision-making. It was not going to be what are we going to sell that could make the most money, or how are we going to put the most butts in seats. It was how we would make the greatest difference in the lives of those utilizing government services. That motivated me, and getting a chance to come over to Medicare and work on a program where our administrator is saying, first and foremost, we need to build systems that create health equity in our society - motivates me.

Agile Six is committed to working in these spaces where we have human services and we have human outcomes. That is what's going to keep bringing me back to the table every day.

Q. Tell us about the Quality Payment Program.

The Quality Payment Program is a regulatory compliance program for clinicians who bill for Medicare reimbursements. If a doctor's office, hospital, or health care system is billing Medicare at a certain threshold, they have to report data back to the agency to be scored on the quality of the care they're providing. That quality of care then leads to either positive or negative effects on their future reimbursements. So this is focused on ensuring that patients receive the best possible care. It's not just pay-for-service. It's value-based care. This is a big challenge to our healthcare system - how do we motivate clinicians to prescribe the best care for the best outcome, and not the best care to receive the biggest reimbursement? That's the purpose of the Quality Payment Program.

Q. Tell us about your team.

I love my team, and it’s the best team I've ever worked on. We are a centralized Human Centered Design Team operating on a Scaled Agile Framework on a very large program with more than a dozen development teams, public-facing and back end. We are a team of researchers, designers, content strategists, web developers, product owners, and a scrum master, and we have purview over nearly the entire public-facing direction of the programs. We work toward creating a seamless, comprehensive, highly useful, and educational digital experience for all of our users.

Q. What are you most proud of, and what's the most rewarding part of your job?

I've had an opportunity to be involved in a lot of the hiring work here. Something I love about Agile Six is that if you're interested in getting involved outside of your project, the door is open.

We had a call recently with most of the HCD folks across the company, many of whom I had been involved with the hiring process, and seeing what they're doing now is just incredible. Hearing their voices raised on issues and their passion for all of this is just so rewarding because you can see that we are building something here. We are building a great team, not just within QPP, but of talented HCD experts.

I've learned that it's not good enough to have expertise and methods or a specific skill set. You can't teach somebody to care, and you have to truly care about the outcomes to succeed. We have people who care, and that's part of the attraction of purposeful work. If we keep winning, we will bring in people who care and make a difference.

Q. How would you describe the company culture at Agile Six?

The company culture is very positive, it's open, and it's transparent. This is a place where if you're willing to lean in on some things, you’ll get your voice heard and have an opportunity to do a lot.

Q. What core value resonates the most with you - purpose, wholeness, self-management, inclusion, or trust?

Purpose resonates the most with me. Before I was going to go into journalism, I wanted to be a teacher, and that was because I wanted to make a difference. Then I went into journalism, and I wanted to make a difference, and that did not work out. Then I looked around at nonprofits. I wanted to be motivated by a good cause and purpose in my work. I never realized that I would find that in government contracting.

I was born and raised in the Baltimore area and government contracting is a natural resource here in Maryland. There's plenty of it around.

I have a number of family members who were feds, and I had a negative opinion of it growing up by the way they talked about it. I never saw myself in this space until I got older. I realized this is a space that can really make a difference in people's lives and have a positive impact on hundreds of millions of people. If I can find a little corner of that and make a difference and impact, that’s motivating for me and keeps me going.

I was not really all that familiar with the idea of wholeness as a job tenet. When I first got here, work-life balance was a buzzword that you saw on every website. But what did that really mean? Agile Six was the first place to describe it as wholeness for me, and I have been able to really embrace it. I never had a remote job before I was here, and it’s changed the way I approach my life. I recently became a father and have a six-month-old now. I’m able to drop my son off at daycare every day and not feel like I need to rush back in order to be able to answer emails. I don't get a lot of time to spend with him, and I don't want to spend those hours with him before his bedtime working on slide decks. I want to be able to spend it with him.

Agile Six gives me that flexibility and confidence that I can prioritize my family and the way my life is changing seemingly every week.

Q. Instead of looking for a job, look for a place to plant your roots, what did you mean by that?

By the time I got to Agile Six, I saw it as a place where I could make a difference in both the company as well as the work with our clients and our partners. As I mentioned before, making a difference in this space takes time. This is not a startup that is trying to ramp up our profits to the point that we're going to impress a venture capitalist and sell out for the highest dollar.

I worked for one of those companies. It wasn't great for the employees. It made us feel like we were just a body and a line on a spreadsheet. We don't have that feeling here. Agile Six gives you the opportunity to dig in as much as you want to plant those roots and really have an impact on the outcome of the company. I believe that if I have a positive outcome on this company, I'm going to have a positive outcome for our partners. If Agile Six is succeeding, we’re succeeding because we're providing great services to our clients and in turn to the public. I see a direct connection between the work that I'm doing internally with Agile Six, as well as on the projects, and the long-term potential outcomes for those that we serve.

Q. What would you say to someone who is considering a career at Agile Six?

If you are the kind of person looking for this type of environment where wholeness is prioritized, purposeful work is prioritized, and self-management is encouraged, I couldn't think of a better place. So it's a matter of looking at yourself and deciding what you want, and if these values resonate with you, bring it all. You'll find a place where you can dig in, like me, put down some roots, and make a difference.

Final Thoughts

Coming to Agile Six was the culmination of many years of searching for me. I got here, and my caring turned back on for a job in a way that I hadn't had in a long time where I wanted to see the company thrive because I thought if we did, we could make a big difference. I felt like I could be part of that, and that motivated me in a way that I hadn't in a long time, and it's gotten me engaged and kept me engaged.

Sixer Spotlight is an ongoing series to share the stories of our team. If Kiel’s story piqued your interest in a career with Agile Six, explore our open roles.