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.
- Driving culture change
- “You have to get people to a state of readiness.”
- Traits of a successful CIO — “A good balance of strategic and operational.”
- Avoiding the black box
- IT as ‘part of the extended care team’
- Her blog — “I wanted to share my experience and lessons.”
- Avoiding the blame game
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In some respects there’s tremendous inertia in bigger organizations, and to an extent, complacency about change. The leader has to have a view of what’s working well, what is not working so well, what are the gaps, and what do you need to do to improve, and start early on working with the team along that path.
There’s not an area of the organization that doesn’t have an IT dependency, and you want people to view you as a business partner that can work with them. You do not want people to say, ‘I have no idea what’s going on in IT; it’s a big black box.’
It’s important that you stay pretty grounded in the needs of the business, yet continually are looking out there for what new technologies and innovations you can be bringing into the organization — not for technology’s sake, but to solve real problems.
That’s the kind of thing I get a lot of positive feedback about — my transparency and being willing to share those kinds of stories, because people learn from them.
Gamble: I wanted to break down your leadership style more. Maybe not quite like ‘Here’s me in a nutshell,’ but I wanted to get your thoughts on things like change management, which you’ve dealt with a lot in your career, and some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way for how to facilitate change.
Schade: Sure. I assume you’re talking about not so much change management associated with the project, which is huge when you’re bringing in a new EHR, but you’re talking more about culture change?
Gamble: Well they’re both pretty big, but I guess I would say more along the lines of culture change.
Schade: This takes time. One of the blog pieces I wrote in the past year was about patience and the fact that it takes time to make culture change, but you need to try to take it on. I think it’s important to establish your broad vision to share with people what your values and guiding principles are, something that I did pretty much day one with my team and I continue to reinforce. I think you do need to be patient and understand where people are at and kind of take them where they’re at. I’m a fairly impatient person; I like to see change. I like to see results.
One of my lines with my direct reports is, ‘I don’t want to be talking about this still in six months,’ and they know what that means is we need an action plan. We’re not going into analysis paralysis. We’re not just going to stand and talk about this forever. We’re going to figure out what the problem is, how we need to solve it, what changes we can make and implement them.
Still, you have to take your time and make sure that you’ve got people on board with you. I think in some respects there’s tremendous inertia in bigger organizations, and to an extent, complacency about change. The leader has to have a view of what’s working well, what is not working so well, what are the gaps, and what do you need to do to improve, and start early on working with the team along that path.
Gamble: And is that something you’ve seen or experienced earlier in your career, things that made you said, ‘Okay, maybe that’s not the way to approach things?’
Schade: Well, you don’t want to be a bull in a china shop, and I probably can be at times. I think one of the key things I’ve learned is you really have to get people to a state of readiness for change. In the change management’s theoretical models, they talk about how people have to feel the pain, and until they see the problem and feel the pain, they’re not going to want to make the change. That’s important — you can’t push things too far too fast. At the same time, you can’t accept the ‘that’s just the way it is’ status quo complacency, if in fact there are problems that you need to address and changes that need to be made.
Gamble: Right. And if we’re talking about it in terms of project management, I’m sure that some of that also applies, as far as making sure that everyone is ready for the next step.
Schade: Right. When you talk about change management for a major project, we had a very structured change management approach working with our partner for the inpatient implementation last year. There’s this whole curve that starts with early awareness of the changes that are coming, and then you move up that curve to understand what are the changes are, how it’s going to impact you to the point of a level of buy-in and ownership and helping with the changes. That takes time, but we have a structured approach of engaging people as you move up that change curve.
Gamble: Right. Now as far as the CIO role, that’s ever-evolving and it’s interesting to see, but what do you feel are some of the traits that a CIO needs to be successful right now, as far as things like maybe a willingness to push the envelope or maybe knowing when to push it and when to hold back?
Schade: Sure. In terms of traits, I think that CIOs have to be a good balance and combination of strategic and operational, and I think sometimes people just want to work in the strategy sphere. Yet, if you are not running an effective department and don’t have a team of people under you that you can count on to execute and deal with all the day-to-day operations and the successful major projects, you’re not going to have the opportunity to work and think at the strategic level. So you have to have the skills in both those areas and you got to have a strong team that can really deliver in terms of the operations.
Communication in all manners is critical. Building a relationship with your peers is a must and a requirement. I think being very open and transparent, proactive in your communication is key. There’s not an area of the organization that doesn’t have an IT dependency, and you want people to view you as a business partner that can work with them. You do not want people to say, ‘I have no idea what’s going on in IT; it’s a big black box.’ Black box is a very common term you hear about IT with organizations when you talk to people, whether it’s the style of the CIO, the closeness of the entire team — it’s just not a good place to be and you’ve really got to make sure that you break that down.
I think that being a continual learner is really important. Healthcare continues to change, technology continues to change, both that at a pretty rapid pace. I think it’s also important that you stay pretty grounded in the needs of the business, yet continually are looking out there for what new technologies and innovations you can be bringing into the organization — not for technology’s sake, but to solve real problems that the organization is addressing.
It’s a challenging role, but a fun one. And as I tell my team — and I emphasize this all the time in terms of customer service — we need to view ourselves as part of the extended care team. We do not touch the patients directly, but the people who do depend on the solutions and systems that we provide support every day. So it’s being passionate about healthcare, what we do makes a difference in people’s lives and we’ve got to make sure we’re doing it well, we’re doing it right, we’re doing it in a safe way.
Gamble: Right. Another thing about you in particular is that you’re somebody who brands yourself and put yourself out there. And wanted to talk about that, because I know that for a lot of people, something like writing a blog is a scary proposition. It’s really a lot of transparency, and I wanted to talk about what made you want to do that and what hesitations you may have had.
Schade: Sure. It’s funny because I mentioned to someone the other day and they said, ‘You know, that’s really cool. I thought of doing that, but then I thought I’d have four things to write and I then I would run out of ideas.’ I don’t think I ever worried about that because when I first decided to do it, what I wanted to do was share my experiences and lessons. I think that with these many years in the business that I have something to contribute in that way as well, in the written form.
I think I worried about whether I could write well enough and I’ve kind of gotten into my groove with that. It’s a discipline each week to publish a post. There are times that I probably haven’t given it enough and I’m not as satisfied with my post as other weeks. But as far as sharing and covering a lot of ground and having a lot of different topics, there’s no end. I have a running list of topics that I maintain as things strike me. And then sometimes it’s just what has happened this week that I have a lesson to share.
It’s funny because about six weeks now, I was racking my brain — ‘What’s my topic this week? I don’t have anything yet.’ And then as the week went on, I’m like, ‘I still don’t have anything yet.’ And then it came to me that I had the perfect topic, and it was sharing a very important lesson about why we had to change our go-live date pretty much at the last minute with our Epic upgrade. I titled that one, Making the Tough Decisions, and I thought, ‘I’m okay talking about this; sharing this as a lesson and what did I pull out of it.’ That’s the kind of thing I get a lot of positive feedback about — my transparency and being willing to share those kinds of stories, because people learn from them.
Gamble: I remember that one and I was slightly pleasantly surprised to see that, because sometimes even in an interview with a CIO, there’s a little bit of hesitancy to talk about that. But then they see that other people go through this too, and I think that that is huge for people to see and say, ‘okay, Michigan is even going to hold off.’
Schade: That’s the kind of thing you have to be careful about. There was no blaming there; there was not like some fundamental problem that everybody should worry about. It was more, what was the set of facts we found ourselves with that led me to make that call, and then, how we handled it. And how to apply that, as a ‘Making the Tough Decisions’ broad lesson to all sorts of situations.