When Brian Sterud meets with his staff, he often asks two questions: “What can we do to make this more productive,” and “What did we not do well enough?” Not just because continuous improvement is a key priority for the organization, but because it provides a platform for construction criticism, something he feels is crucial. In this interview, Sterud talks about the momentous decision his team is about to embark upon, why switching from one EHR system to another is almost more difficult than going from paper to electronic, the “sense of urgency” across the industry to beef up security, and the “holy grail” when it comes to portal adoption. He also talks about the enormous impact CHIME Boot Camp has had on his professional growth, and the characteristics CIOs need to have going forward.
- From “hands-on” role to strategic management
- Coming home to Faith Regional
- CHIME Boot Camp & CHCIO certification
- “It was a nice way to advance beyond my years.”
- MBA in healthcare administration
- Today’s CIOs — “You have to be able to adjust very quickly.”
- Transformational vs transactional leaders
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I definitely felt like that might be a nice opportunity to transition away from being that hands-on expert from a technical perspective, and move a little bit more into the management strategic role. I knew that was something I might want to do.
It gave me the opportunity to try to advance myself by making up for some of what I lacked in years of experience at that time, and bring myself forward rather than literally waiting for those years of experience to be under my belt
You don’t have to reengineer the wheel. You don’t have to create that. You can work with other facilities and gain ideas and maybe adapt them a little bit to your own facility.
I think being open-minded is huge. I think that the new leader — and this is probably industry agnostic — is that transformational leader versus that transactional leader.
If I don’t provide a platform to allow for constructive criticism and constructive ways to improve a process or a meeting or fill in the blank, then I’m really not going to ever be any better tomorrow than I was today.
Gamble: I noticed you have a background in engineering. Did you plan to stay in that capacity or did your career just kind of progress? How did that work?
Sterud: Well, what you’re probably seeing in there is engineering from the network engineering perspective. So, like many — actually, I don’t know if everybody necessarily takes that same path — I started hands on working with systems and networks, and evolved through that network engineering role and sort of moved on up from there.
Gamble: As far as eventually getting into the role you’re in now, is that something you aspired to? It’s interesting too that the CIO role has changed so much in the past couple of years, but is that something that had you zeroed in on at one point and thought, ‘this is what I want to do?’
Sterud: To be really honest, when I was doing hands on consulting work, I worked for a consulting company where we did installs and that kind of thing for an area. It was a value-added reseller so I had a number of industry certifications and was pretty really technical. One of the customers that I had was a hospital that happened be in my hometown. So there was an opportunity that came about there, and it was a good fit for me.
So when you asked if that was that something I aspired to, I definitely felt like that might be a nice opportunity to transition away from being that hands-on expert from a technical perspective, and move a little bit more into the management strategic role. I knew that was something I might want to do.
The healthcare was piece was mostly by accident. It wasn’t necessarily anything that I had identified. It was just a really good fit where I had gone. It was a little bit smaller facility and it was a director position. And while it was the head of the IT department at that particular — a smaller system — I knew I had a desire to continue to progress my career, and this opportunity, particularly in northeast Nebraska, was a great move and a good opportunity, because it still allowed me to stay relatively close to my family and where I grew up. My wife and I are from the same town, so it was a good way to have my cake and eat it too.
Through the years, a lot of us are in this position where you get phone calls and you get emails about opportunities scattered around the country. No disrespect to some of the places that I’ve heard about jobs and opportunities that honestly I would have been a great fit for there, but I had no interest in living where those particular opportunities were located. So this is a blessing for us to be able to be as close as we are to home and still have a great opportunity.
Gamble: Definitely. That’s huge. If you’re not all about living in the city, you’re not going to be happy there. That’s really important. Now, as far as taking on that CIO role, I noticed that you have some certifications, and it seems like that’s a really smart thing to go because of the complexity of the CIO role. And I imagine that it was also valuable getting that knowledge from people who’ve been in your shoes.
Sterud: It’s tremendous. If I’m able to make a huge pitch for the CHIME boot camp, it was a really big deal and it was a really smart decision for me to attend that. I think it gave me the opportunity to try to advance myself by making up for some of what I lacked in years of experience at that time, and bring myself forward rather than literally waiting for those years of experience to be under my belt, if that makes any sense.
The other part of that is the CIO certification. I think when I passed my test, it was still just under 100 in a country that had the certification at that time, and that wasn’t that long ago. But it was a nice way for someone like me who was young and new to healthcare, to advance myself maybe beyond my years by working with the faculty that we have at the Boot Camp and then taking the exam, which I think means something. It doesn’t mean you know everything, but it definitely means something. That’s probably the most important thing to me.
I think as I progressed and then determined that while I had the technical background and I was gaining the healthcare experience and background, I felt like adding a little better business component to what I could offer made a lot of sense. So then I went along and completed my MBA, which had an emphasis in healthcare administration. But it was an MBA, so I think that helped kind of round me out a little bit too to balance the business acumen with the technical IT background that I had.
Gamble: Right. That definitely seems like a smart way to go, and I think one of the things that’s interesting to me about the courses — the certification and Boot Camp — is that you’re getting access to people who have to face the same challenges and maybe getting a window into how they look at things or how they do things. That seems like very worthwhile.
Sterud: Absolutely. I’m willing to bet the percentage is very high of people that have went through — and you could say this about other classes as well — but specifically with Boot Camp, I have individuals that I could call right now and be able just kind of bounce some things off and they’ll answer the phone. Honestly, that’s worth its weight in gold. So I think a lot of us figure out very quickly that you don’t have to reengineer the wheel. You don’t have to create that. You can work with other facilities and gain ideas and maybe adapt them a little bit to your own facility. That goes a long way. I think that’s probably one of the better ways to advance yourself or to evolve.
Gamble: So now, in the few years that you’ve been in the role, do you think that your style has changed a bit or evolved, or is it something where you think it’s going to kind of continue to change just because this environment is so rapidly changing?
Sterud: Are you talking management style?
Sterud: It’s a really great question. I think many of us get enjoyment out of reading some leadership books and some of those kinds of things that are thought-provoking. I don’t know how much my style has changed and I don’t know necessarily where it would go other than I think we have to be very dynamic. We have to able to adjust very quickly and really not close your mind to anything. I think being open-minded is huge. I think that the new leader — and this is probably industry agnostic — is that transformational leader versus that transactional leader. In the past it was a lot more command and control, and I think the new age is more empowering and be more transformation leader.
I always find it interesting to talk about these kinds of things with people because I think a willingness to be open to continuous improvement is critical. We talk about that in healthcare all the time. But sometimes, I don’t know that leaders are always open to that. I say to my staff all the time — even just in meetings — what can we do to make this more productive? What did we not do well enough? And to be open to that continuous quality improvement type of philosophy. I think that with some, that thought of looking for and seeking criticism can be seen as a weakness. There are some individuals that I think it can be tough for, because it can appear as being weak or admitting that you made a mistake.
I do think it’s interesting to watch people and see how they operate in those types of environments. And clearly there are exceptions to everything, but I think many of those that are successful today are open and subscribe to the fact that nothing is perfect, and if I don’t provide a platform to allow for constructive criticism and constructive ways to improve a process or a meeting or fill in the blank, then I’m really not going to ever be any better tomorrow than I was today. So from a leadership style perspective, those are the things that I live by. How that may or may not change, I think, is a really interesting question. I would invite you to call me in a few years and we’ll find out maybe.
Gamble: Yeah. I’d definitely like to catch up and talk about some of the changes that your organization is going to be going through, along with the whole industry. I would definitely like to catch up again down the line, but it sounds like you guys are doing a lot of interesting work there, and it’s enough to keep you busy for now.
Sterud: I don’t think anybody in IT has to go looking for anything to do these days. That’s for sure.
Gamble: Yeah. Okay, with all that being said, I’ve taken up a lot of your time, but I really appreciate it. Lots of good thoughts. Again, I would definitely like up to catch in a little bit just to see how everything is going, to just check in and see how the organization is going. So thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Sterud: I appreciate it, Kate, anytime. I enjoy these kinds of discussions. It’s always nice to kind of take a little bit of a break and shoot the breeze.
Gamble: All right. Well, thanks so much, and I’ll be in touch soon.
Sterud: All right. Thank you.