The difference between being a management consultant and a permanent CIO is big. In fact, Jessica Cornelius compares it being a plane that goes from 50,000 feet to 10,000 feet. “There are things you see,” she says. “It’s been more work than I ever anticipated, but it’s been extremely rewarding.” In this interview, Cornelius talks about the huge lift required to upgrade a 15-year-old infrastructure, the key component in change management, and how she’s working to transition the organization out of “break-fix” mode and into value-add mode. She also discusses Hendricks Regional’s biggest priorities for 2017, the importance of having mentors that give honest feedback, and her key takeaway from CIO Boot Camp.
- Focus on systems & applications in 2017
- Getting “out of break-fix mode”
- From a large academic to a community hospital — “There’s more agility there.”
- Keys to leadership: listen & stay engaged
- Mentoring — “The relationship has to be organic.”
- Advancing women in health IT
- Lessons learned from CIO Boot camp
LISTEN NOW USING THE PLAYER BELOW OR CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR iTUNES PODCAST FEED
The role of IT is changing, so we’re looking at how do we change the look and feel of our IT departments to match these initiatives? It’s getting out of that break-fix, commodity work and moving to that value-add working as liaisons in the organization.
When you’re flying at 50,000 feet, once you get down to 10,000 there are things that you find. So there it has been a challenge, and it’s been more work than I ever anticipated. But it’s been extremely rewarding
It’s important that leaders are always getting constructive feedback. My best relationships have been where people don’t tell me that I do everything perfect and it’s all great and pat me on the back, but tell me what I need to improve on.
There are times that we make mistakes in our careers and wish we had done things may be a little bit differently, and I think that trust carries you through those times. ‘Yes, this happened, but this is what we can do to correct this, or this is what we may do differently next time.’ I really value having that trust.
Saying that we’ll only work 9-to-5 is a little naïve. It’s not what IT is. We support patients and work 24/7. And so knowing when to take that downtime and making sure that you don’t miss the personal things in your life and making that time for family is really, really important.
Gamble: What are some of the other big priorities that you have right now?
Cornelius: This year we focused on all the infrastructure projects that I talked about. For next year, we’re really be focusing on systems and applications. The EMR assessment is a big one for us. We’ll make a decision by the end of 2016, and in 2017 we’ll look to implement. Whatever decision the organization makes, that’s what we’ll go with.
We’re also looking at business systems. We’re looking at an enterprise resource planning system, and we recognize as we look at the EMR, we have to assess our business systems as well. So we’re doing that. We would plan to run these projects in parallel and that assessment process is going on right now for the ERP.
I had mentioned voiceover IP — we’re in that assessment phase, so we will look to implement in 2017 as well. As we look at all of these projects, the role of IT is changing, so we’re looking at how do we change the look and feel of our IT departments to match these initiatives? It’s really getting out of that break-fix, commodity work and moving to that value-add working as liaisons in the organization — getting out of the basement, so to speak. IT always seems to end up in the basement. So we’re really trying to get the resources out and have them be more customer-facing.
Gamble: You’ve been there for three years, and you were there first on a consultant basis? How did that work out?
Cornelius: I have been here as the CIO operating in this capacity for the last two and half years. I came on prior to that to work as a management consultant and assess where the organization was in terms of IT, and then stayed on for that. So I currently report to the CFO, who I had known in a past working relationship. He had asked me to assess things, and then had asked me to stay on. So I’ve been operating as the CIO for the last two and half years.
Gamble: And was there an understanding that it could turn into a full-time role? How was that structured at first?
Cornelius: Yes, there was. I think it’s as much about you assessing an organization as it is the organization assessing your capabilities, and this is a good organization. I like not just the values here, but the mission here, which is to stay independent and indispensable.
And I’ve been on both sides of the house. I worked for a large academic medical center, and now coming to Hendricks, I’d have to say I like the midsize hospital environments just a little bit better. There’s more agility there. We can adapt to changes pretty quickly and we’ve been very blessed to have the support of the board and the executive leadership here at Hendricks in terms of IT.
Gamble: What were your thoughts about going into a situation like this where you knew there was going to be a lot of change?
Cornelius: It didn’t scare me. I was definitely up to the challenge, but I will tell you, when you’re flying at 50,000 feet, once you get down to 10,000 there are things that you find. So there it has been a challenge, and it’s been more work than I ever anticipated. But it’s been extremely rewarding to watch the team change, watch the organization change, and know that what we’re doing is preparing the organization for the future.
Gamble: As far as gaining that trust and getting that buy in, what was your approach to doing that, especially coming in first as a consultant?
Cornelius: I can’t stress enough how important it is just to listen to people in the organization. Things are going to happen that are unanticipated. Results are going to happen from any project, but I think staying engaged with the key stakeholders and listening to everything they have to say — that’s really important. We had a situation in our ED where we had lost some technology functionality that we didn’t really see as a big deal, but when you sit down and talk with that department, it’s a big piece of their workflow to have this functionality where they can suspend sessions throughout the ED without always having to log in. So it’s really important to listen. Even the small things matter, and having consistent communications with nursing leadership and physician leadership has really helped.
I’m certainly not one to sit in my office. I don’t think anybody on my team does anymore. We’re constantly out rounding, going to other facilities and seeing how things are going. We take the good with the bad and we take that back and think, how can we make this better?
Gamble: It sounds like it’s all part of what you were talking about with changing the role of IT and the perception of IT.
Gamble: And you said that you were with a large academic organization and that was your last organization?
Cornelius: That was my last organization. I was with a large academic medical center serving as number two to a CIO there for eight years, and that was a great environment. I learned a lot, but being in a midsized organization, there’s been much more exposure on a more personal level being able to interact with all the directors across the departments. It’s just a little bit different feel.
Gamble: As far as taking that step from the number two role to being the CIO, I imagine there’s a learning curve. I’m curious to see how you took that step — whether it was going through education or just talking to people, what really helped you in that transition?
Cornelius: There are a couple of things. I have two really good mentors that I lean on for support, and I actually finished my graduate degree right before coming here to Hendricks, so that was a big help. I’ve also enlisted the help of the communications coach to talk through scenarios with and really push what my perception of things is and to think outside the box and think about what it might be for other people. That has been a really positive influence for me, and has really helped me get to that next level.
And of course, I have been extremely involved in CHIME. I am always on the online focus groups and the College Live sessions. I completed my CHCIO certification a year ago, and that has really helped in having these resources to talk with. I will actually look at their mentoring program as well so I can continue to get feedback. I think it’s important that leaders are always getting constructive feedback. My best relationships have been where people don’t tell me that I do everything perfect and it’s all great and pat me on the back, but tell me what I need to improve on and what are the things that I really need to focus on as a leader.
Gamble: Who are the mentors you mentioned?
Cornelius: I have two that I’ve really relied on throughout my career, Chris Van Pelt, who is a partner with PWC and Izzy Rivas, who is currently the CFO at Hendricks Regional Health. I worked with both of them in the past.
Gamble: I really liked what you said about having people who will be honest, but obviously in a constructive way. It’s not always easy to hear that.
Cornelius: The relationship has to be organic. It can’t ever be forced. But when you find good mentors, it’s good to hang onto those and refer to them anytime you need anything and keep those relationships up.
Gamble: Is mentoring something that you do as well, or hope to do?
Cornelius: It absolutely is. I have a teenage daughter who is getting ready to go to college so I think you should start mentoring as young as you can. One of the things that I like to focus on is making sure that young women in high school understand what’s available to them in technology careers, and getting them involved. I’ve never had a female mentor; I find that a little bit strange, and so I really focus on mentoring women, whether it’s a management position, or people coming out of college, or even young women in high school, I want to make sure that they know what options are available to them.
Gamble: In health IT we are starting to see some women who are leaders, but there’s been a long way to go. What do you think can be done to help more women advance to these types of roles?
Cornelius: I think starting earlier with communicating what careers are available — that’s a big step. I talked about mentors and how you can’t have someone who just pat you on the back. I think that’s the inclination for women is, ‘I’m doing okay. I don’t need any other feedback,’ but it’s taking that feedback and doing something with it. My mentoring style is, ‘let’s have a discussion, and then why don’t you tell me what you did and what the perception was? Let me give you some feedback and let’s talk through that and go back and forth.’ And that’s a continuous process. That’s not anything happens in one meeting. A lot of my mentoring relationships I’ve been in for five to six years now, and I think it’s important to have that level of trust and communication and let people know that they’re doing things and to reach a little bit higher. You don’t have to settle for this position or that position. What is it that you want to get to in your career?
Gamble: And now in your role as a leader, what would you say are the characteristics that you value most and that you look for in people who you hope to help grow?
Cornelius: I think it starts with the trust. They have to have a level of trust. Competencies can be developed, but trust is something you really have to build over time. I think if people trust you, they will follow you anywhere. And there are times that we make mistakes in our careers and wish we had done things may be a little bit differently, and I think that trust carries you through those times. ‘Yes, this happened, but this is what we can do to correct this, or this is what we may do differently next time.’ I really value having that trust. Everybody that I have on my team, I trust implicitly. I have no doubts there.
Gamble: Right. So the last thing I wanted to ask you about was balance. I know it’s something that is stressed at the CHIME educational programs, and I wanted to get your thoughts on that. Obviously, this is something that can really be difficult when you have so much on your plate. What do you do and what can others do to try to maintain a healthy balance in their lives?
Cornelius: Great question. Work-life balance is a little bit difficult. I think we are, often at the organization’s request, trying to wear many different hats and trying to get many things done, and we work on many deadlines. I’m a single mom and have been for quite some time, so it’s important to me that I’m there for my family. Actually, in CHIME Boot Camp, that was one of the areas that they highlighted, and I realized I don’t really have this balance that I’ve been looking for. Work is always on. I’m always on, and I may be missing important things going on in my personal life. So one of the things I’ve decided since going through Boot Camp is when I take vacations, those are vacations. I do not bring my laptop. I do not check my email during that time. It’s a time for me to rest, rejuvenate, and come back ready to go. And I encourage that of all of my team — if you’re on vacation, be on vacation. We don’t need you to be here.’ I think saying that we’ll only work 9-to-5 is a little naïve. It’s not what IT is. We support patients and work 24/7. And so knowing when to take that downtime and making sure that you don’t miss the personal things in your life and making that time for family is really, really important.
Gamble: Like you said, it’s not easy because you get to where you are by working hard, but it is really important. Well, that covers what I wanted to talk about. This has been really great, I really appreciated you taking the time to talk.
Cornelius: Thank you so much. It was my pleasure.
Gamble: Alright, I’ll be in touch. Thanks so much and best of luck.
Cornelius: Okay, great. Thanks so much, Kate.