When listing the traits of a successful leader, most people might avoid words like “impatient,” but to Sue Schade, being inpatient means refusing to accept the status quote, and instead aiming higher. “I like to see change; I like to see results,” says Schade, who recently spoke with healthsystemCIO.com about the winding road that took her to the University of Michigan, the steep learning curve all new leaders face, her crusade to get more women in technology roles, and what she believes are the keys to change management. Schade also discusses the balance CIOs must strike between being strategic and operational, her decision to tear down the walls and start her own blog, and what makes the CIO role both challenging and fun.
- 2014 CIO of the Year — “It truly has been an honor.”
- Being a role model
- Her road to CIO
- Leaving Partners after 13 years — “I wanted to have a broader role.”
- Jumping into an Epic rollout at UMich
- Being the new CIO
- Dealing with history and baggage — “It’s a new day.”
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To the extent that I can be any kind of a role model for others who are in these situations now and these positions now, I am happy to do that.
It is great to set those long-term goals, but you have to be open to the possibilities and the opportunities and recognize that your path can take different turns at different points in terms of where you go and where you end up.
With some of the changes and increased integration at Partners, I sensed that there would be a diminished role for people who were in site CIO roles, so I had to think about what was it that I wanted next.
It’s all part of the package you look at when you assess the organization, the people — where they’re at, where they’re going, where they have been. Is this going to be a good fit? Am I going to be able to make the contributions needed and be successful in it?
You can’t jump into an organization and think that you know what changes might be needed and make them in the first month or two. It’s really, drink from the fire hose, get up to speed about the organization, the issues, and the people, build the relationships, make the assessments of your team, and also learn the market.
Gamble: Hi Sue, thank you so much for taking some time to speak with us today.
Schade: Good morning, Kate. My pleasure.
Gamble: I’m looking forward to this. I’ve wanted to catch up with you for a while, but it’s been a busy year, so thanks again. I first wanted to congratulate you. I know this is going back a couple of months but, on being named 2014 CHIME-HIMSS John Gall CIO of the Year and obviously a tremendous honor. So I wanted to first talk a little bit about what winning something like that has meant to you?
Schade: Sure. Thanks for the congratulations. It truly has been an honor. I’ve talked to a number of organizations and publications since it was announced. My emphasis is that it is a recognition of not only what I’ve done within the organizations that I’ve served — here at University of Michigan Health Systems for the last two and a half years and previously at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, part of Partners, for almost 13 years as the CIO — in addition to the work I’ve done in those organizations, I think it’s a recognition of the contributions that I have tried to make within the industry through my involvement in a number of organizations.
So truly an honor, much appreciated, and to the extent that I can be any kind of a role model for others who are coming behind or who are in these situations now and these positions now, I am happy to do that and really enjoy trying to help others as they develop their work and their own leadership in their organizations.
Gamble: I like that even when you had just a brief window at HIMSS to accept it, you brought up the larger issue of advancing women in the field of IT. I think that it’s so important, and that this can be something even bigger than just an individual accomplishment, even though it is a great individual accomplishment.
Schade: Yes, and I don’t want to make too much of that, though it is striking that for about 25 years that there has been CIO of the Year awarded by HIMSS and CHIME, I’m the fourth woman who has received it, so I would hope that those numbers and percentages of male and female can change in time. And yes, I have been talking more and writing more about the need to encourage women to go into technology fields as well as to help them develop as they move up the ladder, so to speak. So I’m happy to talk more about that.
Gamble: Right. And I definitely wanted to get into that, but I did want to talk first about your career path. You’ve been at Michigan for two and a half years you said, and before that for 13 years at Brigham and Women’s. I wanted to talk a little bit about the road to becoming CIO. It’s something that seems to be different for every person, but I wanted to talk about what it took for you to get to that role, and was the CIO role something that you had in your mind for a while?
Schade: That’s a great question and I have had to think about that lately too, because I remember way back in the day working with a peer manager when I was at Integrated Health System in Chicago as a manager within IT. He very clearly had a goal of becoming CIO someday. He is has not, and I did not have that same clear goal, and I am. So what I tell people is, it is great to set those long-term goals, but you have to be open to the possibilities and the opportunities and recognize that your path can take different turns at different points in terms of where you go and where you end up. I think it’s important that you love what you do and that you have a passion for what you do.
When I left that system in Chicago after being there for 12 years, I was in a role that probably could be defined as a regional CIO, having responsibility for most of the IT activity at a couple of the sites within that organization. I spent some time then working for a vendor in a consulting firm, and then came back into the provider organization as the CIO at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. It was a great opportunity at the right time. I was really able to be part of an excellent organization there, working for the Partners-level CIO with responsibility for all the IT activity at a large academic medical center — Brigham and Women’s — as well as having responsibility for the community hospital, Faulkner Hospital, that was part of the Brigham family. And then in the end, also having oversight responsibility for the IT work at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which was part of a joint venture relationship. I left there to take the opportunity here in Michigan—a lot of similarities, some differences, so we’ll see where else you want to go with that.
Gamble: Definitely. I did want to talk about that decision. You were at Brigham and Women’s for a long time — especially today that’s definitely considered a long time. That’s a big move, and I wanted to get your thoughts on what made you ultimately decide to do that and what were concerns you had?
Schade: When I considered opportunities, I was interested in a top spot. Within Partners, being the CIO at a site, Brigham, I reported to the CIO at Partners. It was a big job in and out of itself, but I wanted to have that broader role and top spot. I also saw that with some of the changes and increased integration and standards and commonness at Partners — which was absolutely the right thing and I supported it — I sensed that there would be a diminished role for people who were in site CIO roles, so I had to think about what was it that I wanted next and for the long-term.
University of Michigan presented an excellent opportunity as a leading teaching, academic organization and leading organization in research and clinical care, and it was a great opportunity to be part of this organization. Midwest was a great location for me, and I decided to jump in and make that move.
Gamble: And I guess it had been discussed that there was going to be a clinical transformation, so you had to have been pretty geared up for that as well?
Schade: Here at Michigan, in terms of our path?
Schade: At the point that I started, we were in the middle of our EHR journey with Epic. The ambulatory and revenue cycle had already been successfully implemented several months earlier, and the active planning for the inpatient component was underway. And so I was able to come into that somewhat midstream and make sure that we carried forward on that journey and had a very successful inpatient implementation in all our hospitals last summer.
Gamble: Did you have hesitancy about that part as far as coming in midstream? I imagine that comes with its challenges.
Schade: No, I didn’t have hesitancy about that. When you are interviewing and talking to people about the opportunity, you really want to understand how’s it going so far, what’s next, how strong is the team. But those are questions you’re going to ask in any situation when you’re considering a new opportunity, whether it’s post a major implementation, in the middle of it, or you’re gearing up and going to the board for support and funding. It’s just really all part of the package that you look at when you assess the organization, the people — where they’re at, where they’re going, where they have been. Is this going to be a good fit? Am I going to be able to make the contributions needed and be successful in it?
Gamble: What about as far as stepping in as the new CIO — how did you approach that just as far as those first meetings or just how you went into that?
Schade: Well, it’s really important when you come into a new organization at a senior leadership level that you start building relationships day one. Actually, you start building the relationship through the interview process, because you’re getting to know the team and they’re getting to know you and how you would work together. When you come into a new organization like this, you have to have a very long list of people that you do what we call, meet-and-greets where you get to know them, they get to know you, and you learn about their organization, how you’re going to have to work together, etc. So that’s really important. That’s your peers, that’s your key customers, leaders.
Then there’s assessing your own team and getting to know your senior leadership team within IT — who your strong players are, who your emerging leaders are, where you might have some gaps that you need to address. And all that takes some time. You can’t jump into an organization and think that you know what changes might be needed and make them in the first month or two. It’s really, drink from the fire hose, get up to speed about the organization, the issues, and the people, build the relationships, make the assessments of your team, and also learn the market, because healthcare is complex, and the markets vary. Is there a lot of M&A activity going on? Is there one big player that’s growing and doing a lot of acquisitions or affiliations? Where are you with accountable care organizations? What are the relationships within the region or the state? It’s challenge, it’s fun, it’s kind of exhilarating when you get into that new situation, and it’s a steep learning curve.
Gamble: Sure, I can imagine. You’re two-and-a-half years in now, so does it feel like home? Does it feel more comfortable?
Schade: Certainly, but in an organization like this with a really deep, rich history, I’m considered a newbie. There are people who had been here a very, very, very, very long time, and people love to talk about the history. My view on the history is you need to understand the history and respect it, and let it inform you in terms of going forward. Sometimes you hear too much history and you hear baggage and you hear, ‘We tried that, we couldn’t do that because so and so pushed back.’ And I’m like, ‘You know what? It’s a new day. Help me understand what that issue is, what you tried, what happened, and now we’re going to figure out how we move forward with it.’