It has been one very impactful, challenging and rewarding year since I joined the team here at Signature. Joining in the midst of an EMR migration — and at the height of Covid-19 — presented situations that were very unique, new and complex. This was a new ball game for everyone involved and one for which we didn’t have a playbook. As we now have our first chances to take a quick pause, I’ve discovered that there were some significant lessons that I had taken away, and some that I didn’t even realize.
As I began to collect my thoughts, process what had taken place, and determine the lessons, the very first take away was that I should have spent more time doing just this: reflecting. We all get caught up in the normal day to day. Putting out fires, executing business strategies, and pushing the envelope is ingrained in our makeup, but when you add the complexities of Covid presented, it felt like there was absolutely no time to slow down. The lesson is that there was time; I just needed to make it. There were lessons, much like tools just laying around that I could have put into my arsenal and potentially used earlier.
Operationally, while we were moving forward the projects that were within our control and addressing the unpredictable challenges that came along with Covid, these forces quickly reminded me that there is a very delicate but important balance between being agile while also having structure. Without structure, we would have had chaotic and unsuccessful implementations. Without being agile and moving quickly, we would not have been able to tackle the ever-changing Covid complexities as effectively as we did.
Many of us probably had to lean more toward being agile over the last year. But as leaders, if we lose sight of maintaining a relative balance, we’re going to find ourselves in preventable circumstances. Being on the fringe of teetering a few times this year, I’ve grown to value and respect that balance even more.
The most important piece that repeatedly comes to mind, though, was the human element. What was now being asked of the team had increased, and the pressure was even higher. At the same time, leaders absolutely had to consider what team members may be dealing with outside of work, and the impact that could have.
Every aspect of life had become intense. It was critical to take all of these components into account and to remember that we can affect each other or our teams positively in times like this by providing a slight distraction from the norm. The way to do this? Think outside of the box; do something totally different in the other direction. Send a bagpiper into the command center during a go-live on St. Patrick’s Day (if you’re wondering, yes we absolutely did that!). It can show your teams that doing something extreme can have a huge impact. I didn’t recognize the value of that platform and opportunity until now, and I can say, it is powerful.
Nicholas R. Szymanski is CIO at Signature Healthcare, a southeastern Massachusetts-based health system that includes a 245-bed teaching hospital, a multi-specialty physician group with 18 locations, and the Brockton Hospital School of Nursing. Before coming to Signature in April of 2020, he served as CIO at Richmond University Medical Center.