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Transforming Technologists: How Mike Arulfo Brought Individuals Together Through “In OUR Element”

In 2021, Mike Arulfo, Chief Technology Architect at Optum EveryCare, and the employee resource group, Shades in Technology, kicked off their In OUR Element program.

As co-founder of Shades in Technology, a technologist-focused employee-led group for Optum’s BIPOC community, Mike knew the group would benefit from a leadership program to instill confidence, self-awareness and influencing skills.

Organizational approval processes are robust everywhere, and it can be challenging to stay the course. We caught up with Mike to hear how he succeeded and about his experience with In OUR Element.

How did you find The Disruptive Element?

I came across The Disruptive Element (TDE) in a meeting while starting Shades in Technology. I knew a leadership development program was one of the membership's top priorities. So we looked at various solutions, and The Disruptive Element immediately came to the top.

How did you ensure In OUR Element was the right fit for your team members?

I wanted to make sure the specific needs of the BIPOC community were woven into the syllabus. Honestly, I was curious if TDE had that experience, so we had conversations about how they would typically meet that need. TDE interviewed each participant to understand their needs better, after which point they returned with a recommendation. In Our Element is built on a combination of 1:1 and group coaching, so they were confident they could personalize each individual's experience.

The Disruptive Element focused on the needs of the group, this included an individualistic focus initially and combined with group-oriented goals as part of the program.

Gaining approval for programs like this in large organizations is notoriously tricky. So how did you approach it?

It was easy to generate interest. We polled our Shades in Technology community and included various team member roles. We also gained input from our senior executive sponsors. We contacted our community and told them about the In OUR Element program.

The overarching process from concept to the pitching point took about six months, including several months to germinate, strategize, and get us to the point where we could pitch. It took three months to reach the point where Shades in Technology stakeholders and others were committed to the program.

Then, once we had that solid concept, we involved our high-level executive sponsors – two CIOs within the organization. Finally, we presented at town halls and community groups once we achieved individual-level support. This communication took time but resulted in many valuable partnerships, which helped us gain approval.

What were your hopes for the program and how did they come to life?

We had three critical outcomes that we were looking for. One aspect we identified up front was the need for the BIPOC community to build confidence. The second was gaining influencing skills and the ability to influence others. Lastly was self-awareness of development needs. Do you have a vision for yourself? How do you arrive at that vision for yourself professionally?

By graduation, we had accomplished our goals and saw a high degree of satisfaction from the participants. Everybody loved the program.

You were also a participant. What were the most meaningful outcomes for you and the team?

One of the critical things for me was understanding myself and what motivated me as a professional. I didn't realize how many internal barriers I had built up artificially that were really getting in my way. So it was super insightful to understand that and how it's rooted in my experience as an Asian American immigrant.

We talked about all these unique stories with each other. They're very personal. You get to know each other through conversations throughout the program in ways that you would typically not have.

There were many magical moments, but the most meaningful was building those connections. If you talk to anybody within the cohort, they would tell you the same thing because it was so cool to learn about these things.

What advice do you have for leaders who want to enroll their teams in a program like In OUR Element but may hesitate because of their organization’s approval process?

Some challenges, such as barriers to the budget, organizing, and salesmanship, are necessary to get programs like this off the ground. However, I encourage anybody to bring in a program with The Disruptive Element because the level of community you build is invaluable.

You build this wonderful community of individuals that have gone through this program and share a unique bond and have meaningful relationships at a different level. In fact, I would say all the connections from my specific cohort are hugely authentic and valuable.

Optum participates in multiple In HER Element programs and is a community. We built that community within our cohort and with other employees that went through a Disruptive Element program. It helps support those professionals that need to progress within the company. Everybody can help each other.


About In OUR Element

In Our Element is a breakthrough development program for senior teams that combines neuroscience, critical path mapping and 1:1 coaching to create unprecedented momentum and effectiveness.

Learn more about how In HER Element can benefit you or your team:


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