Have you ever been sailing without any wind? On our honeymoon, Beth and I got stuck on a small sailboat in the middle of the Seven Seas lagoon at Disney World. You used to be able to rent them for the afternoon and sail around; during my last visit, I noticed that this is no longer the case.
I realized something that day; there is nothing more stressful than sitting in a shipping lane with an oncoming ship and no wind to propel your sailboat. Of course, this concept also translates to your business.
To the leader, the wind represents the good will of your staff. For example, try getting the EHR implemented when the staff is demoralized, confused, or frustrated. Everything seems to be just a little bit harder than it should.
Here are some things I heard from my staff over the six years as a healthcare CIO which may help you.
- Remind Me Why
Vision is the ability to see. To lead with vision is to help people to see.
There are two things you need to have in order to be The Leader of IT. The first is an ability to connect what you are doing in IT with the larger vision of the organization. The second is a clear reason “why” for the major projects on which you’re focusing.
In our health system (St. Joseph Health), the vision could be encapsulated by three things: healthiest communities, perfect care, and sacred encounters. This is all done with an eye toward the poor and disenfranchised, in the traditions of our founding Sisters. That was a fixed, immovable object. My role was to connect the work of the sysadmin, the call center staff, and the desktop technician to each of these — the purpose of the organization.
For those of you who think this is the soft stuff, you couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, every year this topped the charts as the highest ranking reason that people worked for our organization. The second place reason wasn’t even close.
A vision for the projects you are doing is imperative, as well. We moved to the cloud because of uncertainty in the healthcare space. We knew that uncertainty meant the organization required agility.
We didn’t know where healthcare might go. However, we knew that we needed to be able to react quickly, and cloud models are more agile than fixed-asset models. If we were agile, we would be able to deliver on the system’s vision more effectively.
Another example was our Data-Driven project. We believed the data held the key to a more personal care experience and better outcomes. This was the purpose for our data-driven initiative. The people that worked on our MDM, EMPI, Big Data, Analytics, and Integration projects all needed to know their purpose in the larger scheme of things.
John Maxwell used to say, “See it clearly, Say it often, and Show it creatively.” Leaders need to not only see vision, but also talk vision, all the time. Repetition is your friend when it comes to vision.
A team without vision is a ship without wind.
- Clarify My Role Today and for Tomorrow
We did a survey when I started as CIO asking people if their role was clear to them — did they understand what they were supposed to do every day?
Roughly 300 staff responded to the survey and the numbers were split 80/20. Not bad, right? Sure, except for the 60 people who didn’t really know what they were supposed to be doing.
A team without clarity is a ship without wind.
We did two things in this area in order to address the problem. First, we changed the bi-annual review process. Now, we would include a conversation between the manager and staff person, where they would write a sentence or two about what the role of the person was. We knew this wasn’t perfect, but it at least facilitated the conversation.
The second thing we did was a job architecture project.
Job architecture is a fancy term for consolidating job descriptions and career paths: creating clarity around where you are and what you need to do to get to the next level. We had close to 500 job descriptions and didn’t have that many staff in IT. So, there was obviously a discrepancy.
The power is in the process. Conversations with the staff about their future are powerful. Once we were done, we had three tracks; business, technical and managerial within IT. We learned that we had gaps. One of the more interesting ones was the fact that people became managers solely to make more money not because they wanted to be managers. This leads us to create some roles in the technical track which allowed for increased pay in the area where they added the most value to the organization.
The magic was in the clarity. People were able to articulate the skills and proficiencies they needed to develop in order to move up in the organization. This type of project takes months, but there is a notable return in productivity.
- What’s Next For Me?
Your staff knows things are changing. They have two choices: support the change or resist it.
If they see their future clearly, they will more than likely support the change. If, however, you have not mapped out their future in your vision, they will likely resist.
The IT staff resisted our move to the cloud with a passion because I skipped the part where I articulated their future once we completed the move. Robert Rice came in behind me and mapped the transition, from in-house administration to cloud-based dev/ops. Some weren’t able to make the transition, but they knew that early on in the process. We were able to give them plenty of notice for job searching outside of the organization, while others went through heavy training and made the transition.
A team that is worried about their future is a ship without wind.
- Listen to Me
This is the last point — not because it’s the least important, but because I believe we all know this deep down.
Your staff wants to be heard.
We had monthly town halls, breakfasts with the CIO, Pulse surveys, and email communication that went out to all staff. The more uncertainty there is in the organization, the more frequently you should communicate.
Our natural inclination is to do the opposite, but that’s part of why it’s so very important to implement. The most creative and scary thing I did was allow staff to anonymously ask questions during the town hall. They would type the questions into their phones and they would appear on the presentation behind me.
This isn’t for everyone, I’ll admit. I was insulted on occasion and my leadership team hated this. On the flip side, though, it was a way for the management team to participate in the water cooler conversation.
Many great things came out of this experiment, as tough as it was. While this approach may not be ideal for you personally, you need to find a way to show your staff that yes, you are indeed listening. Establish a system that opens the lines of communication, and you will see the positive impact it has on the company as a whole.
These four changes made all the difference when I was CIO. If you want to build a staff that works better together and, in turn, has a more positive impact, you may want to think about doing some of these things in your own unique way. Creating a vision, clarifying expectations, securing the future, and really listening to your staff aren’t just trivial boxes to check. At the end of the day, they might be all the wind you need to fill your company’s sails.
This piece was written by Bill Russell, a former CIO at St. Joseph Health who now serves as CEO of Health Lyrics, a management consulting firm. To view the original post, click here. To follow Russell on Twitter, click here.