For Drex DeFord, Seattle Children’s Hospital offered quite a few selling points. The organization, which includes a 250-bed teaching hospital, research institute, and foundation, is among the nation’s top-ranked children’s hospitals, and is located in the scenic Pacific Northwest. But perhaps the biggest boon was the organization’s belief and involvement in lean methodologies. At Seattle Children’s, continuous performance improvement is a core philosophy that bleeds into every area and is guiding the way through Seattle’s five-year IT transformation. In this interview, DeFord talks about the role of change management in a successful implementation; the importance of not just training physicians, but helping them to see the big picture; what policymakers need to keep in mind when it comes to Meaningful Use; and why it’s critical to taking time away and unplug every once in a while.
- Leadership and mentoring
- Avoiding staff burnout
- How Drex relaxes
In many ways, they are like your family, and you’ve got to take care of them. And a lot of people that work in our business aren’t great at taking care of themselves. They will work themselves 60 or 70 hours a week, and you’ve got to watch for that. Sometimes you have to give that military order—‘You’re on vacation. If I see you on e-mail, you’re in trouble.
As a good manager and a good leader, I think you’ve got to create a situation where they can get their satisfaction from working really hard, but also understand that somebody’s looking out for them that might have a little bit better insight than they do as to when they’re going too far or working too hard or going overboard.
The higher you are in the organization, the more responsibility you have, and the more difficult it is to unplug like that. But you’ve got to figure out how to do it, because in the long run, I’d rather lose you for two weeks out of the year—a week here and a week there, than lose you permanently.
It is so beautiful here in the summer time, and even the winter. I mean in the winter, you can just pop over the ridgeline and there is tons of great snowshoeing.
Guerra: Let’s switch gears a little bit back to managing. On your LinkedIn page, you have two areas that you like to focus on: leadership and mentoring. You actually have a long list, but I’m interested in those two. You mentioned before in the interview when we were talking about your staff, that they have a life and you have to keep that in mind. How do you do that when there’s enough work to keep everyone going 24 hours around the clock? Do you force people to take time off? Do you watch that people are not getting burned out? How do you avoid turnover from people having too much on their plate?
DeFord: I really think that we do all of that, and again on the team that I’ve built, a lot of the conversation and a lot of the culture that I’ve created in the department is focused on that—understanding that your teammates are your teammates. In many ways, they are like your family, and you’ve got to take care of them. And a lot of people that work in our business aren’t great at taking care of themselves. They will work themselves 60 or 70 hours a week, and you’ve got to watch for that. You can see the guys and the ladies that are terrific hard workers and really willing to overdo it, and sometimes you have to give that military order—‘You’re on vacation. If I see you on e-mail, you’re in trouble. You have to disconnect; you have to be away. Don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine. You got your cell phone; we’ll call you if we need you. But if I see you online, you’re in trouble.’
And there are some people that you have to treat like that. But great teammates are awesome to have, and you certainly don’t want them to burn out. You certainly don’t want them to get frustrated with their work or have a reason to leave. So as a good manager and a good leader, I think you’ve got to create a situation where they can get their satisfaction from working really hard, but also understand that somebody’s looking out for them that might have a little bit better insight than they do as to when they’re going too far or working too hard or going overboard. And again your teammate has to trust you that when you set them down and say, ‘You really need to take a vacation, you’re starting to snap at people,’ that they take that advice.
Guerra: Especially if they start snapping at you.
DeFord: Well, yeah. For me—and this has taken a lot of a lot of counseling from really good friends—I try to tell my folks to do the same thing. Put vacation flags in your calendar and stick to them. Plant a flag, and go on vacation at those times. And sometimes it even means talking to a spouse of somebody that works really hard and saying, when you go on vacation, you need to take their Blackberry and their laptop and make them lock it in a bag, and you keep the key. And if there’s a problem, we’ll call you and you can give them the key, but you need to take them offline and really make them have a vacation.
DeFord: I think people understand that, but sometimes they don’t do it well.
Guerra: A lot of that comes from your manager. I’m sure there are some managers that don’t think that’s acceptable and will say that if you’re at a certain level, you better not lock up your stuff. And that makes it really hard to disengage.
DeFord: It is hard, but at the same time everybody deserves that opportunity for some time to be really completely unplugged. And I think you’re right; the higher you are in the organization, the more responsibility you have, and the more difficult it is to unplug like that. But you’ve got to figure out how to do it, because in the long run, I’d rather lose you for two weeks out of the year—a week here and a week there, than lose you permanently because just worked yourself into either quitting or making yourself sick or whatever the case may be.
And the other thing we do here is, we have a few different groups that do different things, and several of us run. I run a few miles a week. For me, I think some of this is maybe also the example that the leader sets to the the folks that are working for them and helping them understand that it’s okay. It is okay at lunch time if you want to run and maybe be disconnected for 45 minutes while you run, as long as we’ve sort of got it figured it out that somebody’s covering while you’re gone. That’s okay, and again, this encourages you to have a good teammate; a good backup for yourself that knows the stuff that somebody else needs to know. And that’s a hard culture to create, but it’s the right thing for the organization. It’s the right thing for the person.
Guerra: Now I’m the intrepid reporter and so I’ve done some online research and I’ve discovered what you enjoy to do away from work. And you can kick yourself for putting this out in cyberspace, but you enjoy spending time with your daughter Rhiannon.
DeFord: I do, yes.
Guerra: I can assume you’re a Fleetwood Mac fan?
DeFord: That’s true. Twenty-one years ago I was definitely a Fleetwood Mac fan, and I still am today.
Guerra: You enjoy exploring the great Northwest.
DeFord: It is so beautiful here in the summer time, and even the winter. I mean in the winter, you can just pop over the ridgeline and there is tons of great snowshoeing. It’s a beautiful area. I love to hike, and I’ve put my mountain climbing days behind me really, but I’m still a very avid hiker.
Guerra: And you enjoy not wearing a tie.
DeFord: Not a wearing a tie, yes. When I first came to Children’s I wore a tie every day, and now I rarely wear a tie. So over time, I have talked my boss and others into letting me not wear a tie as much as I used to.
Guerra: And do know what the last one is?
DeFord: I’m trying to remember—you’ve done some good research here.
Guerra: Cruising in your 1963 Ford Falcon convertible.
DeFord: That’s right, and actually I drove it to work today. It’s a fun car. I drive it all the time so it’s not a garage queen. It’s just a fun old car and I always get a lot of hollers and waves when I’m driving it around so it’s fun to drive. That’s good research.
Guerra: I can assume the best of time of your life is when you’re doing all of those at once—driving in the Ford with your daughter in the Northwest with no tie.
DeFord: That might be the perfect day, yeah. I’ll actually try to pull that off here in a few weeks. My daughter is coming out from the East Coast and so we’ll load up the car and we’ll go for a cruise and stop for a hike, and I think that’ll be a great day.
Guerra: As long as you don’t accidently put on a tie, I think it will happen. Alright Drex, is there anything else you want to add?
DeFord: No, I don’t know that I have anything else. You’ve done a great interview. I think we’ve talked about a lot, and I’m interested to see in the transcript how terrible it comes out.
Guerra: Well you’ll see that and you’ll also get to hear yourself, which I’m sure everyone will enjoy.
DeFord: Oh great, that’s fantastic.
Guerra: Really, this was wonderful, and I’m sure the listeners and readers are going to enjoy it so I want to thank you so much for your time today.
DeFord: Thank you, and I thank the listeners and the readers for being a part of it. You do great work, and I really enjoy the interviews that you publish and the stuff that you report on. It’s very insightful and I always enjoy it, so thanks for letting me be a part of it.
Guerra: You’re very welcome. Thank you, Drex, and you have a wonderful day.
DeFord: Okay, you too.