For some people, being the new CIO means making a splash by setting big goals and implementing sweeping changes. But when Tressa Springmann assumed the CIO role at LifeBridge in the fall of 2012, it was more of a ripple. Although she was a seasoned veteran, having served the role for 13 years at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Springmann opted for a “listen and learn” approach at her new organization, and it has served her well. In this interview, she talks about the change management hurdles she had to overcome at LifeBridge, the deliberate strategy her team is employing to get physician practices on one EHR system, and what she does to stay energized.
- The defensive box
- Introducing change — “You need to be very careful.”
- Restructuring LifeBridge’s leadership team
- Teaching IS at St. Mary’s University
- Staying energized
- “I’m a continual student.”
LISTEN NOW USING THE PLAYER BELOW OR CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR iTUNES PODCAST FEED
To tell people, ‘I can’t believe you’ve always done it this way — what’s wrong with you guys?’ That’s not going to instill engagement. That’s going to put people in the defensive box.
People looking for a healthcare graduate degree in management need to understand the challenges that technology brings — not just to their organization as a whole, but how it impacts budget, how it impacts their regulatory space, and how it can be an enabler or an impediment.
You absolutely need to cater to both audiences. You didn’t want your healthcare sophisticated folks getting bored, but you also needed to ensure that you weren’t leaving other people at the door.
We’re in an interesting time and place where everything we knew that made us successful in the past are not necessarily those things that will make us successful in the future. That’s very exciting to me.
Gamble: So you were at this organization where everybody knew you and you had the credibility — did you have days early on when you were like, what am I doing? Am I sure this is the right thing?
Springmann: Yeah, it was kind of like a pendulum. Some days it was, ‘am I kidding myself? Why am I explaining this? Are you kidding me? This is so obvious.’ I think that with an organization that really has confidence in its identity and a pride in its mission and how it is perceived and what it accomplishes in the healthcare space, as a new leader, you need to be very careful about introducing change and doing it in a way that’s not an over-criticism of the way things have been done.
Springmann: You know what I mean? You really have to walk that line very delicately, because it may be an opportunity for improvement that you see, but to tell people, ‘I can’t believe you’ve always done it this way — what’s wrong with you guys?’ That’s not going to instill engagement. That’s going to put people in the defensive box. It’s much harder to get change when you’ve got to dig people out of a hole first.
Gamble: Yeah. Everybody is different certainly, but I think I personally would respond better to somebody who did the listen and learn approach, because it’s easy to get defensive. You don’t want to be told, ‘Hey, the way you guys have been doing things is all wrong.’
Springmann: Right. And you know what, it’s usually not all wrong; it’s just different, and different doesn’t always feel the same. I mean there are some people that have extremely structured leadership styles, and that’s great if they can find an organization that’s a direct match for their style and culture. But I think it’s a give and take to be effective.
Gamble: You said there were other leadership changes?
Springmann: Yeah, the CEO of our health system retired, and so one of our hospital presidents became the CEO of the system, and then his job needed to be filled, and so on and so forth. The CFO moved on to another position outside of the organization, so the system CFO was brought up from within. But then his chair was empty. When you take the very top of a pyramid and start rearranging things, there’s tremendous amount of change. And it was a leadership team that, similar to where I had come from — although where I had come had had some more recent changes — this group was really, really tenured. Most of them had worked here and worked together for 10 to 15 years or more. So it’s been a real time of transformational change for this healthcare system.
Gamble: I can see that. But it was probably really energizing for the whole system altogether having different people in those leadership roles.
Springmann: I’m with you on the adjective that you used or the description that you used, which was energizing. But keep in mind, with a workforce that’s highly tenured and very proud, most people are change resistant. And now you’ve got all these new people, and it’s, ‘where did they come from, and why are we doing all of this, because we’ve never done it before.’
Gamble: Right. That’s true, and that’s a perspective that you really have to take into account.
Gamble: But in some ways maybe that could make your transition easier; sometimes if there are other leadership transitions happening too, maybe it takes some of the heat off you so it’s not like everybody is still in place that was there, and then there’s the new CIO.
Springmann: Right, that is true.
Gamble: Okay. So another thing I wanted to ask you about is the teaching you did at St. Mary’s University. You taught a health IT course there?
Springmann: They had just started a graduate program in healthcare management, and I taught the information systems class.
Gamble: Interesting. We’re starting to see those pop up more, which can only be a good thing to have like graduate level courses on heath IT. Is that something where it benefitted you also, having to prepare the lessons?
Springmann: It was horrible. Because with most classes you can find content; I couldn’t find content. I couldn’t find a curriculum. I had to develop it from the ground up. I had to pick a textbook. And I’m not an academician; I’m an applied person. I come and do my job everyday, and so it was super duper hard to develop the curriculum in a meaningful way.
Understanding around management information systems in healthcare is really critical. People looking for a healthcare graduate degree in management need to understand the challenges that technology brings — not just to their organization as a whole, but how it impacts budget, how it impacts their regulatory space, and how it can be an enabler or an impediment. These are very high level business conversations, and you can’t even get there until you have the conversations about EMRs and HIPAA and Meaningful Use and all of these things that, frankly, are foreign concepts to folks coming into these programs who are from outside healthcare.
It was a great experience. I taught two semesters before I took this job, and then I thought, I’m going to a job that’s like two times in terms of complexity and budget and people. So I’m still an adjunct. I haven’t said I’m not ever going to come back, but I certainly said for at least the next couple of years, I needed to turn my attention to my new job, my new employer, and make sure I was not shortchanging either of those.
Gamble: Right, and then in a few years you can go back.
Springmann: So I gave my curriculum, my textbook, and everything else to one of the other folks who teaches there. One of the other professors who was teaching the performance improvement class actually works for 3M and graciously took over my class, and so he is teaching it this semester. Ironically, one of my employees is actually in the class. She was very disappointed I wasn’t going to be her professor.
Gamble: Yeah, I’m sure.
Springmann: I was like, ‘No way, I don’t give easy A’s.’
Gamble: Well just think, if you go back to it in a few years, you’re going to have a whole new curriculum to teach.
Springmann: That’s it, and so it’s got to be based on a textbook and relevance, and yet it’s such a quickly moving space. So I think the biggest challenge for me was student diversity. I had some who were like the COO of a hospital or vice president of a homecare company — they understood healthcare. They understood what CMS meant, what an FQHC was, what ICD-9 is, things like that. A couple of my other students were from banking or the financial services industry. One had a retail background. That’s a super heavy lift for those individuals, because it’s not just a conversation about how do you go get an analytics tool to manage population health. They’re way back in, what is population health, why do you need it, what does ACO stand for — the whole gamut. So that made it a challenge, because you absolutely need to cater to both audiences. You didn’t want your healthcare sophisticated folks getting bored, but you also needed to ensure that you weren’t leaving other people at the door.
Gamble: Oh yeah. I didn’t even really think about that at first, that you are dealing with different sectors too. So it’s not necessarily just healthcare.
Springmann: We didn’t have that as a requirement. I guess maybe some have a pre-requisite with regard to some healthcare exposure, but our graduate program did not.
Gamble: That’s impressive that you found the time at all to do that.
Springmann: Well, I’m one of those crazy people that every couple of months I say, ‘let me try this. Let me try that.’ In fact, this morning I found a gym that has this crazy Pilates on steroids called MegaBar, and I just signed up and I went to it. I’m not going to be able to walk for four days. One year I wanted to run a 5K. Another I said let me see what it would be like to teach. Not all of them have worked out very well, let me tell you. Tomorrow I may not be walking, but that’s how I keep myself energized, by continually exposing myself to new people and different opportunities in small measure while the rest of my life continues.
Gamble: That’s great. It gives you a different perspective and also it’s just a way to get your mind on other things or just get your mind away from things, which we all need at times.
Springmann: Yeah right, a little bit of both.
Gamble: Alright, well, I’ve taken up a lot of your time, but I really appreciate it. I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you and I think that so much of what you’re saying, a lot of people can relate to and learn from. I really do appreciate that.
Springmann: I’m sure many can relate. I’m not sure who can learn, because I still am a continual student myself. We’re in an interesting time and place where everything we knew that made us successful in the past are not necessarily those things that will make us successful in the future. That’s very exciting to me — it could be very frightening, and I think to some, it is. I’m excited for it, but I know that each day there are different legislative decisions, different organizational decisions, or even just inter-departmental actions that give you pause for thought on how you’ve led in the past and what the most effective direction to take and the new course will be. So believe me, I think I learn much more from others than I probably can contribute to them.
Gamble: It may seem like that, but I’m sure it works both ways.
Gamble: Sometimes just hearing about the experiences you’re having and what you’re dealing with and how you’re dealing with it is what helps a lot of people, I think. We appreciate getting that perspective from you.
Gamble: Thanks again, and I hope we can catch up a little bit down the line to see how everything is going and how everything has shaken out in the state and nationally.
Springmann: Great. Well, thanks, and I hope you have a wonderful week, Gamble.
Gamble: Thank you, you too. I hope to talk to you soon.