When an organization gets a new leader, the inevitable questions faced are: “What’s your vision? Where are we going?” And it’s quite understandable. But if a leader wants to guide the health system in the right direction – and make sure the right pieces are in place to enable progress while also keeping the trains running on time – there is no immediate answer. At least, not until the CIO has taken the time “get to know your people,” according to Jeffrey Sturman.
When he assumed the role at Memorial Health last summer, his first task was to become familiarized with everyone from the internal IT team to operational leadership to vendors. And only then did he start to shape his vision.
Recently, Sturman spoke with healthsystemCIO about the key objectives his team has identified, why he returned to Memorial after six years in consulting (and how he hopes to leverage that experience), and how the organization is transitioning from a reactive to a proactive strategy when it comes to data security. Sturman also discusses the “people side” of project management, what he would’ve done differently during his first stint with Memorial, and what it takes to grow leaders.
- Coming back to Memorial – “I missed the day-to-day operations.”
- Leading the selection & implementation of Epic
- 6 years in consulting
- Change management: “It’s more cultural than technical.”
- Bridging the gap between IT and operations
- First priority at Memorial: “Getting to know the people.”
- Value of CIO networks
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I knew what I was getting into to some degree, but this was a much bigger animal; deploying Epic enterprise-wide at six hospitals and all the physician practices and ancillaries was a huge project
Bridging IT with operations was key. The whole change management program and change in culture was successful largely because of our ability to work so effectively with our clinical and business owners.
You have to know what someone is good at, and more importantly, what may not be their strength, and you have to judge and balance appropriately so that you can surround yourself with enough talent to move things forward.
We spend a lot of money, and I want to know where that money is going. I want to make sure our partners are truly what I would call ‘partners’ and are collaborating to make us successful.
Gamble: You’ve been with the organization for about six months now, but you had previously been with Memorial a few years ago for a big chunk of time. What was it that brought you back to the organization?
Sturman: Memorial is just a wonderful place. It’s a very family-oriented organization, and when you work here, as I did many years ago, it kind of gets in your blood. So from that standpoint, I feel like I have two families. I have my family at home — my wife and my kids — and they’re extraordinarily important to me, so part of it was getting to spend a little bit more time with them. But then I also have my family at Memorial, and I found that I missed the day-to-day operations and the leadership role of helping a healthcare system like Memorial move forward. So when I was thinking about the next stage of my career and what I really wanted to do it, it made sense to look at Memorial and see if the opportunities could align, and they did. I’m really fortunate that things did work out and I’m happy to be back here. It’s about professional development in terms of taking my career to the next level from a leadership standpoint, but it’s also family development in that it’s a unique place. I’m sure a lot of people roll their eyes when I say that, but if you haven’t worked here, you don’t understand that it really is a special place.
Gamble: When you were there previously, was that during the Epic selection and implementation process?
Sturman: Yes. I was here for almost 10 years. I actually did consulting here for two years, from 2002 to 2004. I became employed here after that, and brought them through a strategic planning effort, system selection, and eventually the Epic implementation and rollout. Once I completed the primary functions of the Epic rollout, I had an opportunity to go back into consulting. From a timing standpoint it made sense, and so for about six years I did consulting work. I was exposed to a lot of places across the country; I thought it was terrific and had a lot of fun doing that, but I wanted to take advantage of the right timing to rejoin Memorial.
Gamble: Going through the whole process of selecting, planning, and implementing an EHR — I imagine it was a great experience with a lot of lessons learned.
Sturman: It was a tremendous experience. I had done a lot of implementation work previously. A project manager by background, I trained for 10 years at Ernst & Young Cap Gemini, and so I actually had worked with Epic before Memorial. I knew what I was getting into to some degree, but this was a much bigger animal; deploying Epic enterprise-wide at six hospitals and all the physician practices and ancillaries was a huge project. I helped plan it from the early stages through the end. It was a great learning experience, and I’ve tried to apply all those lessons, both from that project as well earlier in my career, to everything that we do.
Gamble: Looking back on that experience, were you able to learn a lot about change management and what it takes to lead through such a transformative period?
Sturman: Yes. The change management piece, with these types of projects, are more cultural and people-oriented than they are about technical change. When we implemented Epic at Memorial, we were, for the most part, converting from one system to another; we weren’t moving from paper. In some respects we were, but for the most part we weren’t, and so some of the technical change had already been accounted for and managed through. But certainly some new processes and changes were introduced in terms of how you actually take care of patients, billing, registration, and scheduling — all of that was affected. All of the change aspects, both technical and people-focused, had to be learned again. I think the harder part of these projects has always been the people side and making sure the right processes are in place.
Gamble: What do you think is the key to that? I’m sure a lot of it is communication and listening.
Sturman: It was. In my consulting days, I always considered myself to be a project manager, but I think toward the end I realized that relationships are really important to achieving success. Maybe I didn’t recognize this early on, but it’s those relationships with your business owners and clinical owners throughout the operation that help facilitate this change. And so for us, bridging IT with operations was key. The whole change management program and change in culture was successful largely because of our ability to work so effectively with our clinical and business owners. Our chief medical officer was intimately involved, as was our chief administrative officer and chief financial officer. Everyone was on board and played a sponsorship role. I worked extraordinarily close with various department leaders — they were my champions in the project. In some organizations, IT is completely driving the ship, but for us, it was operations driving it.
Gamble: Right. As far as your experience on the vendor side, did that help to shape your strategy, especially the way you approach vendor relationships?
Sturman: Yes. To be clear, I was always on the consulting side of things — I never worked for a software vendor. And so I think the experiences I had early in my career with being exposed to so many different vendors and so many different organizations certainly helped shape me in terms of how to work with diverse groups of folks and facilitate projects. The time I spent during my first round at Memorial helped me to be successful as a consultant in shaping implementations and projects and advising other IT organizations and CIOs across the country. In similar fashion, I’ve taken those experiences and brought them to Memorial.
Continuing to evolve and learn from everyone in the industry is something I’ve always wanted to do. I always said the reason I went into consulting was because I didn’t know what I wanted to do; 25 years later, I still don’t know exactly what I want to do. I just know I want to do a lot and continue to learn, and so I’ve always taken that approach in my career.
Gamble: That’s a great way to look at it. As far as the CIO role, one thing that seems to be a really critical leadership skill is being able to nurture talent and get the most from people. What are your thoughts on that?
Sturman: That’s a good question. You have to know what everyone’s talents; those are things that you’ll learn over time. I have a great team here at Memorial — I’ve had great teams I’ve worked with over many years. But you start to realize that not everyone is good at everything; therefore, you have to know what someone is good at, and more importantly, what may not be their strength, and you have to judge and balance appropriately so that you can surround yourself with enough talent to move things forward. That idea of self-awareness and knowing what you’re good at also is extremely important. It’s a matter of balance and getting people with all sorts of skills, whether it be clinical, operational, business, or technical security, and finding that right mix of resources so that you can continue to be progressive while also just maintaining.
I’d like to spend more time on innovation, but the reality for a lot of folks in my position is we’re doing a lot just to maintain. So again, it’s that balance of resources that makes you successful. My team has great strengths and is very subject matter-focused. I’m not a deep technologist by background. I’m a project manager; I know this, and so I surround myself with people who are really good subject matter experts.
Gamble: That really meshes with what we’ve seen in as the CIO role evolves; that it’s not necessarily about being able to get deep in the weeds with the technology, but really having that vision and being able to grow people and leverage their skills.
Sturman: Since I’ve been back at Memorial, a lot people have asked me what’s my vision, where we’re going, and what we’re doing; so much of my focus has been getting to know my people again. Some of them have been there very long time, and there are some who are relatively new that I don’t know well. And so the first six months — maybe even the first year — is about getting to know my internal IT team, and getting to know the stakeholders and operational leadership within the health system. We have 13,000 employees, and so you can imagine it’s going to take some time to get to know operations, and then get to spend time with our vendors and the different partners who support our business. To me that’s just as important, because we spend a lot of money, and I want to know where that money is going. I want to make sure our partners are truly what I would call ‘partners’ and are collaborating to make us successful. I also want to understand their viewpoint, because they can help educate me and shape a vision, over time, of where we need to be going. It’s a combination of all three of those groups: my stakeholders, my IT staff and my vendors.
I have some ideas around where we need to be going, but there’s so much more to come, and I know that I need to get smarter and learn a lot more, and so I’m looking for that counsel.
Gamble: I think that’s true of CIOs who have been in this position for a long time, because there’s not a static blueprint for how to do that.
Sturman: I don’t think I’d want one. That would be boring.
Gamble: It does sound boring. Have you reached out to CIOs for advice, or do you done in my career, I have great network of resources, both here at Memorial and participate in networking groups?
Sturman: I do. I think it’s extraordinarily important. Based on my history and what I’ve externally — which is really important — and I tap into them fairly regularly.
Some of my closest friends are CIOs and other executives from across the country that I speak with on a regular basis. I’m active in CHIME and HIMSS, and we’re a member of Premier, which has a terrific group of CIOs and other executives with whom we can share information and talk. I go to other conferences as well; I believe that constantly talking to others and hearing what they’re doing is going to be a key part of our success.
Gamble: Definitely. Well, there’s always more we could talk about, but I think that about wraps it up for now. I’d certainly like to catch up with you in the future and see how things are progressing.
Sturman: Thank you, Kate. I would love that.
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