We’ve all heard it the stereotypes about young leaders. They tend be more “more energetic and innovative” than their older counterparts, but are lacking in “management skills and balanced judgment” (Inc.com). And get its worse: they “know they are not ready for leadership, but want it anyway” (Forbes). With these types of perceptions floating around, it can be a lot for a young CIO to overcome. But what we found in interviewing four CIOs is that overcoming obstacles (and disproving assumptions) is all part of the job. In this interview, we spoke with Bryan Bliven, David Chou, Joey Hobbs, and Anna Turman about the challenges they faced when assuming the CIO role; the strategies they used to establish themselves as leaders; what characteristics are necessary in younger leaders; and what they’ve learned from their older counterparts. They also reveal the tough conversations they’ve had to initiate, the importance of work-life balance, and how the CIO role is evolving.
- Difficult conversations
- “Hire slowly but fire quickly.”
- Budget challenges — “I look at it all as a learning experience.”
- Meeting user demand
- “I don’t want to fit a problem into an app”
- Advice from Chad Brisendine
- Adjusting to the role — “Stop fixing and start leading.”
LISTEN NOW USING THE PLAYER BELOW OR CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR iTUNES PODCAST FEED
If you look at any organization that’s going through new leadership changes, there’s always at least a 30 to 50 percent turnover rate, whether it’s due to attrition or whether it’s due to these tough discussions.
I don’t want to fit a problem into an app. I want to take it from an angle of, how can I assist solving this problem? If an app is the appropriate tool, then let’s do that.
Regardless of the organization or the age of CIO, there’s a demand from the users of the tools and applications that things be thought of in different ways.
When you’re a younger CIO, sometimes even your staff can expect you to fix things that aren’t within what you’re asked to do anymore, and it can be a challenge to accept that and say, okay, it’s going to take this person 5 minutes to fix it. I know I can do it, but it’s more efficient for them to do so and me to concentrate on other things.
Gamble: Did anyone have to have tough conversations towards the beginning, either with another member of the executive staff or a physician leader? Were there any tough moments early in that role?
Chou: Oh yeah. I had some of them, even with my direct reports. I pretty much had to turnover at least 70 percent of my direct reports. Either they weren’t up to expectations or they just weren’t in the right role. If you look at any organization that’s going through new leadership changes, there’s always at least a 30 to 50 percent turnover rate, whether it’s due to attrition or whether it’s due to these tough discussions. I had to deal with those internally, and at the same time build that relationship externally with other stakeholders.
Bliven: Budget season is always a fun conversation. I started my role right in the middle of a budget season. Talking about allocations across the different departments is always a fun conversation. You have one-on-ones with the different departmental chairs figuring out and justifying the costs and the spend for next year while I was trying to get up to speed with things that had been done previously and what the exact science was behind it. So yes, absolutely some difficult conversations.
Gamble: Is there anything that you wished you had handled differently?
Bliven: I look at it all as a learning experience. I’m sure I would have handled it a little bit differently knowing what I do now, but I hope after this budget cycle I’m in right now that I’ll do it differently next year and try to keep improving on it. But thankfully, I had a good team behind me that had had experience that was able to educate me and consistently make me appear a lot better than I actually was at the time.
Chou: I had a really good conversation with the CEO from Avaya because he was in the same situation where he was brought into Avaya to do a turnaround. His quote — I’ll never forget it — was hire slowly, but fire quickly. When you’re doing turnarounds that’s something you really have to keep in mind, because it does make sense when you have to make those changes. It’s better to make them sooner than later.
Gamble: I’m sure. So, because you are all on the younger side, do you think there is that expectation that you are going to be more tech savvy or is that something you’ve not necessarily encountered?
Hobbs: I don’t know if it’s per se an expectation. I think from growing up inside of the organization, that’s kind of what’s helped me get to where I’m at — the desire with technology and embracing it, doing a lot of project management and putting in systems and things like that. From being here and growing up here, I don’t know that it’s an expectation because I’m not new coming in. It’s kind of a point of reference of where I’ve come from.
Gamble: Along the lines of that focus on technology, usability, and mobility, have any of you found that being on the younger side affects your strategy just as far as looking at things like websites and portals and apps, and just making things more mobile friendly? It may not necessarily speak to age, but is that something that you feel like you’re perhaps a little bit more focused on?
Turman: I try to angle my focus a little bit differently. I don’t want to fit a problem into an app. I want to take it from an angle of, how can I assist solving this problem? If an app is the appropriate tool, then let’s do that. So depending on the technology, what is the appropriate tool it needs to enable them? Because otherwise you get some disruptive technology, which in some cases can be good and some cases can be bad.
Chou: I agree with that. I look at the fact that we are living in a mobile world now. It’s how we live. It’s how we operate. You think about that number of technologies that your cell phone has replaced — that tons of technologies have replaced these days. I won’t say it’s a matter of age or being in the younger generation, but I really think that’s just how we’ve evolved as consumers of healthcare or any other vertical. So I think that is the expectation we have in our industry moving forward.
Bliven: I would definitely agree with that. It seems like probably regardless of the organization or the age of CIO, there’s a demand from the users that are using the tools and applications that things be thought of in different ways. Mobility, usability, simplicity, and innovations around that front are really something you hear quite a bit of, so it’s probably industry-wide and not just focused on the age of the CIO.
Hobbs: I agree. I think we still have a long way to go internally in what we provide from EHRs and add-on applications that work from a mobility point of view. From a consumer point of view, I do think it’s important to have those things available to patients. One of the things we’ve looked at over time is we still only run about 25 percent of our traffic from our internet usage and things like that from a mobile device. While there are more and more people using it, and we still do have a strong point of usage from a standard environment, whether it’s a PC or Mac or whatever, but not necessarily a mobile device. And so from Anna’s point of not trying to push everything to an app or to be mobile friendly, I think we’re definitely going to live for a while in a world of, what do we do to make everybody happy? It’s enough of volume and enough of an evolution that we need to have solutions, but it can’t be the only solution.
Gamble: A lot of good points. So last year, we had published a blog from Chad Brisendine from St. Luke’s and he was offering advice for young or first time CIOs based on his own experience. He was the regional CIO for Christus at 25, which he said was like being thrown to the wolves. I can only imagine. Some of the main things he talked about was building trust by listening and getting to know people, educating yourself by either rounding or asking questions, and then surrounding yourself with smart people. I wanted to ask if any of these really stick out to you. Some of you have talked a little bit about understanding the business, but which of those really speaks to you and the experience you’ve had so far?
Bliven: Not to cop out on your question, but I’d say they’re all very important, and I’d even add what David mentioned earlier around industry resources like CHIME and others where you can get up to speed and have a source of information that you’re learning from there. I think they’re all very critical to being able to move forward. I mentioned early on I thought the relationship side is where I would lean if I had to pick one as building those relationships and getting out and meeting people. I thought it was a great blog post, and I would just add maybe that industry knowledge piece as well.
Chou: I really believe that the CIO is a leadership role, so we really do have to surround ourselves with people who are smarter than us. I think a lot of leaders are a little bit tentative or hesitant to do that, but I think that has to be the right approach, because at the end of the day, this is a leadership role. We’re not going to be the doers. Our role is to lead the organization and lead the team. The only way to do that really well is to surround yourself with the best team and the best folks, and the talent around you in order to get to where you need to be.
Hobbs: I would just piggyback on that. I think that surrounding yourself by the people is key. Going back to growing up within an organization, I think another key piece is really being humble and accepting that you’re not going to be the one to fix things and be the doer. When you’re a younger CIO, sometimes even your staff or other people can expect you to fix things that aren’t within what you’re asked to do anymore, and I think sometimes it can be a challenge to accept that and say, okay, it’s going to take this person 5 minutes to fix it. I know I can do it, but it’s more efficient and effective for them to do so and me to concentrate on other things, and I think that’s important.
Turman: I’d like to agree with him a bit on that. At some point early on, I had almost an identity loss for a moment of trying to stop fixing and start leading a little bit more. But you get over that hump. And I’d say it’s surrounding yourself with very bright people. If you educate yourself by rounding and asking questions or looking at the processes of growing from the ground up, that covers all the basics that he’s talking about, because you’re listening and you’re looking at the processes and you’re looking at the global view of the business. I think I’d like to add to his ideas as well one of the things I’ve learned early on from going from completely paper to completely paperless, and it’s that you need to be positive. I feel like I’m positively charged for change. It has to be Anna that helps follow through and go forward and get to your goals. And there’s a little bit of risk taking in there too.