When Novant Health created a new position last year dedicated exclusively to digital health, they tapped Angela Yochem, a seasoned leader with extensive experience with technology, and very little in healthcare. A few months later, the organization named Lety Nettles, who held leadership positions with Baker Hughes (a GE company), Walmart, and Dell, as CIO.
Although some may have questioned the moves, Novant Health— an integrated delivery network spanning four states — had a mission to “enhance patient experience through better use of technology,” according to Forbes. And there were no two people more qualified to carry out this digital transformation than Yochem and Nettles.
However, they knew going in that pushing digital to the forefront would require a transformation. “If we want to sit at the table and be a business partner, we have to start acting like one,” said Nettles. It has meant creating a digital products and services office, rethinking the organizational chart, and creating a culture in which innovation wasn’t just encouraged — it was enabled. Recently, healthsystemCIO spoke with Yochem and Nettles about how they’re leveraging IT to create a “consumer-level experience,” the concept of experimentation as a service, and why it doesn’t take a large organization to be innovative.
- Building diverse teams – “It’s been great to merge two words and pull the best from all types of backgrounds.”
- Background in retail
- From concept to solution
- Nettles’ transition to healthcare
- Collaborating across departments to identify “tech pain points”
- Digital culture – “The magic is in the operating model.”
- Learning, not failing
Based on learnings from outside of healthcare and from large organizations with a high volume of technology needs, we know that we have to keep the development of digital capability separate from the deployment so that they aren’t cobbled together.
I wanted to understand where the pain points with technology existed, and how that information was making it into digital products and services and into the organization.
We’re shifting our focus from rallying around an org chart and a particular leader, and moving it to a lab table concept where the capability and the digitally-enabled technology is going to exist, regardless of who’s at the table.
Failure only happens when you aren’t able to successfully test it. We’re not promoting failure here; we’re promoting learning, and we’ve made that very clear distinction.
Gamble: You talked about incorporating a spirit of agility into the operating model. Is this an area where it really helps having experience in industries where technology has been adopted on a wider scale?
Yochem: That’s the idea. The men and women in our clinical environment are doing amazing work in support of high-quality patient care, and it’s been absolutely inspirational to see. Even within our team, the Digital Products and Services group, we have hundreds of clinicians and technologists with deep familiarity of the clinical landscape and the healthcare space. Having that strong foundational expertise in healthcare has allowed us to invest in leaders who bring experience in areas not readily found in healthcare — things like consumer technology and digital products, artificial intelligence, world-class information management, digital transformation, and legacy business models. It’s been a great opportunity to merge the two worlds and pull the best from all types of experiences and backgrounds.
Gamble: Lety, what made you interested in getting into the healthcare space?
Nettles: Like Angela, a lot of it for me was in being able to contribute and add value to an area that’s so important to so many people. The expertise I’ve developed in the retail space has been around engineering teams to operate and move quickly. And so, if we can turn products faster, if we can improve the quality of those digitally-enabled products faster to help our team members and patients, that’s the heart and soul of Novant Health. That is what our CEO wants. We’re all about trying to make the experience remarkable and get there faster. The question becomes, how can we do that?
And so, as we talk about setting up this experimentation as a service upfront to help fuel the engine, we’re also thinking about how we can actually build and deploy these solutions. Based on learnings from outside of healthcare and from large organizations with a high volume of technology needs, we know that we have to keep the development of digital capability separate from the deployment so that they aren’t cobbled together. We also know that we don’t need a big bang.
You could build the capability and the product to its highest standard and align in with the technical strategy, and then as you look at deploying to each of the different channels — acute versus ambulatory versus internal corporate systems — they all have a different cadence and rhythm, and so nobody is subject to be held to one or the other. We can treat every channel uniquely while deploying the same quality of capability.
Gamble: In making the transition to a healthcare leadership role, how did you get to know the organization? And how did you establish your leadership philosophy?
Nettles: That’s a great question. Initially, my approach was to start outward in by meeting the executive leadership team and connecting with our strategic partners. I rounded at several acute care facilities with our CMIO and I met with external consumers who use and leverage the digital products on an ongoing basis. When I came in, I had already established relationships with the leadership team, and I could ask them questions.
Not only that, but I was on the hunt to understand how information was flowing across Novant Health. I wanted to understand where the pain points with technology existed, and how that information was making it into DPS (digital products and services) and into the organization, because that was the reason my team was feeling the way it was feeling. That helped me understand the background of my team so that they didn’t feel they had to justify anything. I knew exactly what it was. It was more of an outward-in approach; by the third month, my team started to see me making changes that helped adjust the imbalance between how we were operating and what we really need to do.
Gamble: Can you talk about what it takes to create a digital culture — not just for large health systems, but also smaller organizations with fewer resources?
Nettles: I think the magic is in the operating model — it’s not in the org chart. You see it in so many places where everyone is anchored around this org chart of who reports to who, and that reporting person is responsible for managing talent, getting products delivered, and supporting applications that were rolled out. At Novant Health, our org chart is structured around the way we manage our people and our talent. We’ve created an operating model that’s owned by DPS, because we’re responsible for getting the product out the door — that’s the collaborative piece. A digital culture is about collaborating, co-creating, and co-designing, and that ‘co’ includes both DPS and technical experts, along with subject matter and financial experts. They’re all working together to build products that are deployed to the different channels.
In a digital culture, it’s understood that nobody individually owns the technology or the customer or the innovation. It’s owned at the table. And so we’re shifting our focus from rallying around an org chart and a particular leader, and moving it to a lab table concept where the capability and the digitally-enabled technology is going to exist, regardless of who’s at the table and who’s shuffling around the table.
Yochem: That’s also helpful for smaller organizations, because you may have just a handful of people in your technology organization if you’re a small shop, but it doesn’t mean you can’t coordinate virtual teams through the smart deployment of your own team members, plus any third parties with whom you might engage on specific project or product delivery activities. And then they would roll off the table and perhaps even out of your organization.
Nettles: Another thing that comes to mind when we’re talking about strategies that can be leveraged by smaller organizations is the promotion we’re doing internally around the culture of learning. As you know, the technologies and capabilities that are available commercially are advancing so rapidly that gaining expertise in each one of those areas can be difficult, especially if you’re limited in size. And so I think the most important skill set these organizations can develop is the ability to very quickly scan the evolving technology landscape, identify which emerging capabilities might be most differentiating for them, and train individuals to learn quickly and adopt new capabilities. In doing so, they can create an opportunity to leverage their smaller size to be agile enough to leapfrog the competition in their space.
That culture of learning — that constant inquiry — is certainly something we’re adopting here. We’re a community of highly-credentialed, smart people — why would we sit back and use the same old technologies in the same way? As we enable our organization to evolve and transform, we’re promoting that culture of learning. That’s something that can be applied regardless of size.
Gamble: I imagine part of that culture is giving people permission to fail, as long as they fail fast and learn from it.
Yochem: It’s funny; I understand why people say that. They’re trying to train others not to shoot someone who tries something that isn’t successful. I get that. But I try to avoid the word ‘fail,’ because it’s an experiment. With the scientific method, you start with a hypothesis, then you test it. If a hypothesis is proven to be incorrect, that experiment is still a success, because you’ve essentially disproven the hypothesis. Failure only happens when you aren’t able to successfully test it. We’re not promoting failure here; we’re promoting learning, and we’ve made that very clear distinction.
Gamble: That’s a great way of looking at it. Well, this has been great, and I hope we can follow up in a little bit and talk about some of the initiatives that are still in the works. Thank you both for your time.
Nettles: As you can probably tell, we’re excited about what we’re doing here.
Yochem: Absolutely. This has been fun. Thank you, Kate.