“It’s all about change management.”
We’ve all heard the phrase — or at least, something to that affect — before, but what we don’t always hear is how. How can leaders provide their teams with the assurance they need when the future seems uncertain?
According to Kristin Myers, Senior VP of IT at Mount Sinai Health System, it starts with a healthy dose of transparency. The leader’s role, she believes, is to “articulate the vision” by providing a roadmap of where the organization is going, and explaining how they fit into the plan. The key is to help individuals and teams understand that “they’re part of the change,” she said in a recent interview.
Myers comes from experience, having helped guide Mount Sinai through a massive merger with Continuum Health Partners back in 2013. During our discussion, she talked about what the experience taught her, and the organization’s goal to move to a single platform. Myers also discusses the keys to gaining operational buy-in, the qualities she values most in team members, how innovation is being used as a recruiting tool, and how the industry can start to achieve parity in leadership roles.
- Focus on digital health
- Customer relationship management – “It’s something we have to do from a competitive standpoint.”
- Forming governance around application strategy
- From best-of-breed to enterprise platform
- Leading through change – “You need to make sure you can articulate a future vision.”
- Lessons learned from the vendor & consulting worlds
- Most value quality: “People who are passionate about what they’re doing.”
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You need to make sure you can articulate a future vision for the combined teams, show them a roadmap of where you’re going, and explain what’s in it for them.
Developing that trust and authenticity with the team is extremely important, because when you’re telling them what the message is and what the future will look like, some people aren’t going to like it, but they’ll appreciate the transparency.
Working in a healthcare system can be really challenging. I think vendors and consultants sometimes lose sight of that and don’t understand the time constraints on leaders.
We all have a tendency to focus on the day-to-day and the tactics, but the ability to pull yourself up and connect the dots across the organization is what makes IT special and unique to the health system.
Gamble: I’m sure digital health plays a large part in what you’re doing. It’s something that can be such an umbrella term, but would you say you’re really focused on from a digital standpoint?
Myers: As an organization, we’re very much focused on digital health. In fact, we have a dedicated consumer digital innovations team with a chief product officer, Dave Kerwar. He and I work with marketing and operations very closely in an agile way. The focus has been on delivering telehealth, online scheduling, and even piloting different technologies like a chat function for our patients.
One of the other strategies we’re focused on is customer relationship management. We feel that having a 360-degree profile on our patients and understanding every interaction they’ve had with the health system is key to the overall access strategy. It’s extremely important when you look at where we’re going.
Gamble: We’re hearing a lot of that in our discussions. A lot of the times there’s an individual who’s charged with consumer engagement or digital engagement, but for Mount Sinai to have a team really shows that commitment to improving the way consumers are able to engage.
Myers: Yes. It’s becoming something we ultimately have to do from a competitive standpoint, especially in New York City.
Gamble: Now, in terms of your career, you’ve been with Mount Sinai since 2006, correct?
Myers: Actually since 2004, so about 15 years.
Gamble: And you’ve held a few different roles with the organization during that time?
Myers: Yes, and I believe my career really has progressed over the years with greater responsibility. In my current role, being able to oversee the clinical applications portfolio and the IT PMO as well as Epic has been tremendous. Looking at the application strategy and forming governance around which applications we want to pursue and which ones we want to ultimately retire and decommission, and having a formalized program around that, has been one of the areas I’ve been focused on for the last 18 months.
Gamble: Did your role change pretty significantly when the merger became official?
Myers: It did. As you can imagine, overseeing applications at two hospitals is very different from overseeing applications at seven hospitals, and also going from a best-of-breed approach to a platform strategy, which is where we’re headed. There’s been a tremendous amount of work in terms of moving Epic out into the hospitals and ambulatory care arenas so that we can decommission many of the product sets we had out there.
Gamble: I can imagine it was difficult to lead through a period of such dramatic change. Can you talk about that experience and how you were able to help provide leadership when there’s uncertainty?
Myers: I know I keep coming back to it, but it really is about change management and understanding who has been impacted and why. One of the lessons we learned was you really need to think about best practices, regardless of where they come from, and take them. It can’t be, ‘Well, this is how we did it at Mount Sinai,’ or, ‘this is how we did it at this hospital’ — you need to think about where you want to be from a future model standpoint. What are the best practices, and how can we apply them? That’s really important.
It’s also about communication. You need to make sure you can articulate a future vision for the combined teams, show them a roadmap of where you’re going, and explain what’s in it for them. In our case, for the people and team members who supported products that were going to be ultimately replaced by Epic, it was understanding their frame of reference and giving them a path forward so that they understood they were part of the change — that the change wasn’t happening to them.
Gamble: That makes sense, because in these types of situations there’s a lot of fear of the unknown. I would think the more you communicate the plans and the strategies, the better off both sides will be.
Myers: Absolutely. It comes down to your leadership style. Developing that trust and authenticity with the teams is extremely important, because when you’re telling them what the message is and what the future will look like, some people aren’t going to like it, but I think they’ll appreciate the transparency.
Gamble: Right. When you think about your own leadership style, I’m sure the experience you’ve had on the vendor side or in consulting has helped shape that strategy.
Myers: Definitely. One thing I learned from both of those environments was how to work with business and operations partners to develop strategies so that they were joint strategies. In my experience, I’ve seen IT departments sometimes develop their strategies in a silo without appropriate input from business stakeholders. When that happens, you’re not really getting operational buy-in, and you’re limiting any success and adoption of these strategies. So again, it can be time-consuming to make sure there’s alignment, but ultimately you get a better result for the business when people are engaged and are really part of the process.
Gamble: Right. I imagine the experience has given you insights into the vendor world and where they’re coming from, which is probably very helpful.
Myers: Very helpful. Being a vendor is tough. It’s not an easy job, and in some ways it’s similar to consulting. But working in a provider healthcare system can be really challenging. I think vendors and consultants sometimes lose sight of that and don’t understand the time constraints on leaders and other team members of provider organizations.
Gamble: Right. In many ways there’s a shared goal, but it’s also trying to understand the challenges those on different sides have.
Myers: Absolutely. I agree.
Gamble: Now, in terms of your leadership style, what are the key attributes you look for in team members?
Myers: I look for people who are really passionate about what they’re doing and want to be in healthcare IT. I think that’s very important, especially with the work we’re doing with the clinical community. I also really value critical thinking and the ability to look at a problem or a situation and be able to analyze it in a logical way. This may seem obvious, but the ability to communicate and write a position paper or a strategy document is very important. Sometimes that’s glossed over because it’s assumed everyone can do that, but that’s not always the case. The ability to write a position paper on a specific topic is very important, as well as being able to look at the big picture. We all have a tendency to focus on the day-to-day and the tactics, but the ability to pull yourself up and connect the dots across the organization is what, I think, makes IT special and unique to the health system. We’re able to do that — that’s how we provide value ultimately to our business partners.