I am wrapping up week 3 as the interim CIO at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio, and I’m drinking from the fire hose. I have to learn a new organization, a new team, a new set of projects and priorities, and a new set of tools. This much change takes patience — first with myself. I realize I can’t learn it all in one day or one week.
The good news is that there are many common themes and issues between health care organizations. With so many years of experience in health IT and leadership roles, I can jump right in. Imagine trying to learn this industry for the first time at this level!
I meet with other executives for the first time in “meet and greet” sessions. I want to get to know them and understand what they need from IT. So, I’m asking each of them 4 key questions:
- What’s working well?
- What’s working not so well?
- Considering I’m interim, how can I have the greatest impact?
- What are the key requirements for the next CIO?
I’ve asked all of my management team in IT to consider these same questions. More good news, these questions are opening up some very honest and candid discussions. And they are helping me identify key gaps and focus areas.
In my first week — actually, day one — I jumped right into discussions on system performance issues and whether a major project should continue as planned. The players are new, the systems are new, and the projects are new, but the issues aren’t.
My new leadership team is getting used to my probing questions as I try to understand history, current issues, and why we do things the way we do. And one of my favorite questions — “Who owns xyz and who is waking up every morning worried about it?” Not that I want anyone to lose sleep, but it’s important that there be a single owner; when it’s a committee or “everyone,” then it’s really no one.
I’m looking forward to next week when we have our monthly IT Town Hall meeting and I get a chance to meet many of our dedicated and talented IT staff.
Being an interim CIO takes a different mindset and approach than a permanent position. You need to quickly establish trusting relationships with your team. You need to determine where you can have the greatest impact in a short period of time. And you need to learn and listen — as much as you may want to, don’t assume you already know something.
Serving as an interim executive takes a particular set of skills:
- Ease in establishing good rapport with people
- Being a quick study
- Ability to determine what’s most important to focus on
- Ability to make an objective assessment of current state and issues
- Honesty and directness about what’s working and what’s not
And of course it also takes flexibility and adaptability in your personal life. You live in a different city for a period of time. Managing things like doctor’s appointments and haircuts in your home city can be a challenge to schedule. It’s a variation on the consulting road warrior life. On the other hand, having an adventure in a new city can be a lot of fun!