For healthcare IT leaders, ensuring teams are engaged and feel connected to mission is becoming increasingly critical. “It’s always been important for me to make sure I can translate for my teams how the work they do supports our patients and clinicians, and contributes to the strategic success of the organization,” said Maureen Hetu, AVP of IS Operations at Penn Medicine.
The most effective way to do that, she said during a recent interview, is to go right to the source by inviting clinicians to tell their stories and help IS teams realize “the tremendous positive impact they have.” During the interview, Hetu talked about how her team is leveraging storytelling to improve satisfaction, why relationship-building and collaboration are more important than ever, and how her guiding philosophy has evolved through the years. She also discussed the benefits of being with an academic medical center, what attracted her to Penn Medicine, and the qualities she finds most valuable in future leaders.
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- A key difference in going from faith-based organizations to an academic medical system? “The patient conditions are so much more complex,” which means leaders are “constantly challenged to be agile and support these clinicians.”
- Drawing from past experiences, especially heavy lifts like EHR implementations, is critical in understanding the burden clinicians are carrying, and understanding how to support them.
- Connecting IS to the organization’s benefit is extremely beneficial, Hetu said. “My teams are most effective when they understand how the work they’re doing connects back to the goals, objectives, and success of the organization.”
- Although face-to-face meetings are extremely valuable, virtual meetings provide an opportunity to include people in conversation who may not have been able to attend otherwise. “It becomes more convenient.”
- One of the most important qualities in leaders? The ability to “listen and use critical decision-making to maintain relationships with your staff.”
Q&A with Maureen Hetu, AVP, IS Operations, Penn Medicine, Part 2 [Click here to view Part 1]
Gamble: This was your first experience working with an academic medical center; I can imagine that was a learning time for you.
Hetu: It continues to be a learning time. Not a day goes by that I don’t learn something new, which is great. I’ve been in healthcare IT for probably close to 40 years, and other than a few years with Tenet, I’ve spent the majority of time in faith-based healthcare. The approach is a little bit different. The challenges are different. In faith-based healthcare, there is a constant financial challenge. Because of the communities you’re serving and the various payer mixes, you don’t have the opportunity to do some of the really innovative things that you can accomplish when the organization is better positioned financially.
One thing that became very apparent to me as I walked into Penn Medicine is the difference in the level of innovation and the pace of change. You combine the highly skilled, very bright clinicians who provide care in an academic medical center, where the patient’s conditions are so much more complex, with the constant influx of new talent from the school of medicine, and you are constantly challenged to be agile and to support these clinicians in their quest for innovation. They’re always looking to provide better, more efficient and more effective care.
Gamble: Right. As you said, the learning never stops. When you first arrived at Penn Medicine, what was your approach in getting to know the people and the organization?
Hetu: I was fortunate. At that time, I reported to a gentleman who had been with Penn medicine for many, many years, and he was instrumental in arranging the right introductory meetings. When you’re responsible for entity services, you meet with executives throughout all of those individual business units. It starts internally with IS leadership and the key people within functions that are part of IS, and you branch out to those entities. And so, having an opportunity to meet with the clinical leaders, the operational leaders at all of the hospitals, and the leader of Penn Medicine At Home — all of those constituents — took quite a bit of time.
“More than just a name”
I probably did those meetings throughout the course of six months; some of them were virtual, many were in person. You’re traveling around getting to see individual facilities and meet the staff onsite, which was a very important experience to have when I first came here. In addition to meeting all of the IS leaders, you’re meeting your teams and their teams, and making sure you’re more than just a name and a box and an org chart to the staff that are doing all the important work and have a chance to meet them.
I was probably here for about eight or nine months when the pandemic hit and we moved to virtual. And so, I always counted myself very fortunate that I had the opportunity to build face-to-face relationships with people throughout the entities before we moved to remote.
Bringing the “body of experience to every encounter”
Gamble: Looking at your previous experiences having gone through major initiatives like EHR implementations, I imagine you’ve been able to draw from those lessons learned.
Hetu: Absolutely. In the early days of EHR and CPOE implementations, you recognize the importance of the clinician and the burden they’re carrying and being able to rely on that expertise to understand where they’re coming from, what they’re looking for, and how to support them. All of that comes from that breadth of experience.
It’s the same with business leaders. Having been in a broad range of positions over the course of my career, I’ve dealt with everything from revenue cycle and HIM to clinicians, and I’ve worked with executive teams as well. You bring that body of experience to every encounter that you have, whether it’s talking with clinicians about an innovative tool they’re looking to deploy, working with the business leaders on the ERP implementation, or helping determine how the organization is going to prioritize or what projects are getting staffed at any given time. It’s balancing the onslaught of demand for new projects, new technology, or new systems, with the supply of resources.
Penn’s “tremendous governance structure”
There’s only a finite supply of talent and dollars. And so, we’re looking for opportunities to be able to make sure we’ve got the right processes in place. We’ve got a tremendous governance structure within Penn Medicine that existed well before I came on board. That struck me as being very unique to my experience — that broad level of involvement in various levels of governance structures. That helps inform the decisions that we’re making around projects and make sure we understand what’s most important to the organization.
Evolving leadership philosophy
Gamble: Having been through a lot of different experiences, has your own philosophy evolved in terms of what it takes to build high performing teams?
Hetu: Absolutely. If you think about it, early in your career, you move from supervisory to management functions and ultimately to leadership. And as you move through each of those phases, you build skills and work to make sure teams are developing in the same way you’re continuing to develop. As I think back over my career, I realized that you move from telling people what to do and how to do things, to helping them understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. I’ve found that my teams are most effective when they understand how the work they’re doing connects back to the goals, the objectives, and the success of the greater organization.
Many of us in IT could work anywhere. We could work in any industry at any place; we choose to work in healthcare because we feel a desire to have an impact and to do something that contributes to the greater good.
Demonstrating IT’s impact
It’s always been important for me to make sure I could translate for my teams, how the work that they do supports our patients, supports our clinicians, and contributes to the strategic success of the organization that we’re serving. It has taken some time to evolve, but I’ve seen the impact of being able to do that and how it inspires teams and helps them stay connected and stay engaged.
The other part I’ve recognized is that you have the greatest impact when you are leading leaders. It’s important not just to focus on skill development in terms of technical skills, but also to help members of our team evolve into leaders in their own teams and become effective so that the impact they have broadens across the organization. That’s been important to me over the course of my career.
“Storytelling is about the real impact”
Gamble: We’re hearing more about the power of storytelling. Do you try to weave that into your approach?
Hetu: I do. Although I will tell you, I still have a lot of progress to make in my own skills at storytelling, but in a lot of cases, it’s relying on that past experience. Storytelling is about the impact on the patients that we’re serving and the way our clinicians are using the systems to provide care. In many cases, I find it even more effective to invite those clinicians into tell their own stories to the team to help our staff realize what a tremendous positive impact they have, whether it’s in the support they’re providing from the service desk, the development of additional functionality in applications, or it’s having an infrastructure that’s dependable, and wireless that’s widespread so that clinicians can be mobile.
These like seem like mundane day-to-day expectations of an IT department, but in a lot of cases, you don’t realize how that translates at the bedside. And so it’s helpful to have clinicians talk about those experiences, both when they’re good and when they’re not so good, so that we recognize that and can stay connected to our clinicians. And as we see digital tools moving out into our patient’s hands, we recognize what that experience is like for our patients.
“The opportunity with remote work”
Gamble: Has it become more difficult to make those connections with teams working remotely?
Hetu: It is. I think it’s always preferable to be face to face. But one of the advantages is that when you’re supporting virtual teams, you have an opportunity to draw people into the conversation who may not have been able to make it there physically. Sometimes it’s a little bit more convenient for somebody to participate, because they may be able to pop into a video conference for 15 minutes, whereas in a different environment, they’d have to travel to a location, which takes significantly more time. I think that opens up some more opportunities for us.
Gamble: That’s an interesting point. The last topic I wanted to cover is around growing leaders. When you think about the next generation of leaders, what qualities do you believe are most important?
Hetu: That’s a great question. One of the qualities I look for is the ability to develop and maintain relationships — that encompasses a lot of skills. First, you need to establish credibility with the people you’re working with. You need to communicate effectively. You need to be able to listen and use critical decision making in order to maintain relationships with your staff, with your peers and with your customers.
Although there are a lot of things to look for in a leader, to me, it’s someone who can engage with their teams and inspire their teams to do the really hard work that we do every day. It boils down a lot to the ability to establish and maintain those relationships. That’s a key tell that tell helps me recognize leaders.
In many cases, you can pick out informal leaders by their ability to do that. They end up being very adept at establishing those relationships and building a certain amount of influence even where they don’t have authority. That’s something I look for in my leadership team.