My favorite part of any interview is when the subject says something that really strikes a chord. Maybe it was a piece of advice that altered the course of their career, or a misstep that almost did. Whatever the case, there’s something so powerful about hearing the words being said and thinking, “Exactly.”
For me, it’s happened several times. Like when Kyle Johnson (CIO at Eastern Maine Healthcare) opened up about the moment she knew it was time to leave her former organization. Or when Sue Schade (interim CIO at University Hospitals of Cleveland) reflected on the challenges of advancing in her career while raising two young children, which often meant fighting rush hour traffic to get to daycare on time. Or when Cara Babachicos (CIO, Community Hospitals and Post Acute Care at Partners Healthcare) talked about the need to be willing to take chances — even when the timing isn’t right.
When we hear someone open up about their experiences with challenges we’ve also faced, it can be extremely beneficial, for three reasons:
- There is comfort in knowing that others have been there. It’s the entire premise behind support groups and organizations around the world.
- We get to learn how they overcame those obstacles, and hopefully apply the lessons to our own lives.
- It can offer a fresh perspective on a situation.
During a recent interview with Brian Tew, CIO at Greater Hudson Valley Health System, I had one of those “exactly!” moments when he talked about taking over an IT department where morale was low and expectations were even lower. The staff — who had seen three different CIOs in as many years — felt underappreciated, and probably had little reason to believe that another new leader was going to be the answer to the organization’s problems.
At least, that’s how I picture it, having been in a similar situation years ago, when I worked at a company that had adopted the leadership carousel philosophy. A new person was brought in, they’d try to fix everything overnight, and when that didn’t work, they either quit or were shown the door, and the process started all over again. To say it was frustrating was an understatement.
The worst part was that every time a new manager came in, he sat us down and asked my colleagues what we thought the problem was, and we gave answers:
- We have no real direction.
- We’re understaffed.
- We have so much on our plates with our day-to-day editorial duties, but we can’t focus on them because every time a specialty project is sold, we have to drop everything and tend to that.
And yet, nothing changed.
So when Tew related his story, I was all ears, waiting to see how he approached the situation — and I wasn’t disappointed.
Yes, he wanted to turn things around quickly, but instead of coming in guns blazing with a blueprint for change, he listened. He asked the staff what their biggest challenge was (project prioritization), and he developed a long-term plan to address it. And before he even approached the IT strategy, Tew built a leadership team to support the core group, and began implementing standards for things like helpdesk tickets. He shared his vision with his team, enabling them to see the potential that he so clearly saw.
Most importantly, he followed through on promises. “It didn’t matter what I was telling them — if the printer that they print to every day jams and they have to call the helpdesk, they’re not going to listen to what I say,” he said. “So I had to fix all of those things first just to get street credit throughout the organization.”
By doing this, he was able to establish his team’s trust, and it quickly paid off. Less than two years after his arrival, the organization has achieved HIMSS Stage 7 and Most Wired recognition, and is now focused on expanding its presence in the community.
I enjoyed hearing his story — not because I could relate (at least, not to the ending), but because it gave me hope that others will take heed; that maybe someone will read about his experience, and it will be exactly what they needed to hear.