When it comes to change management, there are numerous theories on how to execute it. Many of those, however, fall flat for one main reason: the disconnect that inevitably exists between the those implementing the change and those being asked to absorb it. It’s a gap that can only be bridged, according to Jason Joseph, Chief Digital and Information Officer, Corewell Health, through shared accountability.
In order to make that happen, “You have to be willing, you have to have the right cultural foundation, and you have to have people engaged.” In a recent interview with Kate Gamble, Managing Editor at healthsystemCIO, Joseph spoke about how he is working to build that culture at Corewell, which was born out of the merger of Spectrum Health and Beaumont Health.
He also discussed why he believes technology is only a small part of the equation when it comes to initiatives like ERP, Corewell’s decision to rebrand IT and IS as ‘digital services,’ his concerns about the long-term impact of remote work models, and the advice he would offer to his younger self.
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- When change management isn’t successful, it’s usually because there’s a “big disconnect between the team that’s implementing the change and the team on the ground.”
- If you want to improve the culture, you need to look at your own behaviors: how do I show up? What types of traits and attributes do I need to be a good leader? “If you’re doing that, it becomes the culture.”
- With IT talent at a premium, it’s important to “make sure our team members are being heard, that they feel valued, that they feel engaged, and that they don’t feel like we’ve put more on their shoulders than they can handle.
- Although remote work has helped recruit and retain staff, it can have negative long-term effects. “If we don’t find the right balance, that sense of community within our organization can start to erode a little bit.”
- “We have to make the environment one that attracts the right type of talent. And that’s everything from who we hire, how we hire them, the culture that they come into, and how they’re embraced by their team.”
Q&A with Jason Joseph, Corewell Health, Part 2 [Click here to view Part 1]
Gamble: That accountability piece makes a difference in people understanding that this isn’t being done to you.
Joseph: It makes all the difference, quite frankly. We’ve seen that the road is littered with change programs that just don’t go well. If you unpack them, much of the time there’s just a big disconnect between the team that thinks they’re implementing the change and the team on the ground. There is no way to bridge that gap without shared accountability.
In order to take share of the accountability, you have to be willing, you have to have the right cultural foundation, and you have to have people who are engaged. All those things go with it. And that’s where it becomes very exciting, because these are the types of programs that really can change your culture in a good way. It’s what actually makes integration happen. It’s why teams that go through really tough things become really, really solid — because they went through hell together, if you will. And you have to come out the other side with that perspective on it, but you can’t go through it and just expect people to be there from day one. You have to cultivate that and bring people along with the reasoning and everything else.
Gamble: It sounds like parenthood in some ways.
Joseph: There are probably parallels to so many areas in life. These are very basic human concepts.
Gamble: You mentioned culture a couple of times. Obviously, it’s so important to have a good, healthy culture. I’m sure that can be challenging during a merger or any big change, to try to keep that in place or establish it.
Joseph: I would say it’s still a challenge. It’s not something that happens quickly. We just changed our name and became one identity a few months ago. It’s still fresh in people’s minds. Depending on your role, this is either a big deal or not a big deal or you love the name, or you’re wanted the old name. All those emotions are going to happen. It’s going to take probably a year or two before people can really get used to this and look at this logo and say, that’s neat. But it will happen; these things take time to sink in.
Building a foundation
But that cultural foundation is so important. There’s regional culture, and there’s national culture, and we have to live within those things. There are certain dynamics that are part of our organization that we have to deal with. But really, our cultural work is getting almost to personal behaviors and saying, how do I show up, and what traits and attributes do I need to be a good team member or a good leader? Because if I’m doing that, and you’re doing that, it becomes our culture, right. This isn’t something other people do. And that, I think, is the big ‘a ha’ for our culture work; it’s not a series of statements that we all agree to and nod along. Yes, we have values and statements, but it’s really about are we taking accountability for our work, are we blaming somebody else when things go bad, and are we looking for the positives? Are we curious about why a person is doing or saying something? We need to be curious and ask questions before we jump to judgement.
Culture and strategy
To your point about parenting, these are simple things, but when you think about corporate culture, they often get lost in all of the other dynamics of things you’re trying to do and the work you’re trying to do. To me, culture is about how you work. Strategy is about the work you do, and the culture is about how do we work together. Are we gracious with help? Am I asking good questions? Those are huge differences in how you approach problems. And just by having some of those behaviors exhibited in the right forms, all of a sudden you feel different. You feel different about your teammates and your team members, and your outlook changes.
Instead of saying this is terrible, I can’t do it, you start to say, I think we can get this done. There’s energy there. It just changes the outlook for people. I think that’s needed in our culture in general. But in a corporate culture, when you’re going about integration, it’s critically important. Because if you don’t have those foundational things and you’re trying to put this much change on top of it, you’re just going to have people sitting down, folding their arms, and saying, ‘I’m not going to do it. That’s not for me.’
That’s not helpful. The people who see the challenges are the most important to get their voices elevated so that you can think about well they know something, but it has to be done with the right perspective. You’ve got to get those voices in with the right perspective, trying to help and not trying to sabotage.
That’s where you go with these things. I think leadership is all about making sure the strategy and the culture come together to get that change made; if either one of those is off, it’s going to be a problem.
Gamble: Along those lines, how have you fared with the workforce shortage? How has it affected your organization?
Joseph: We’re marinating like everybody else. It goes in fits and starts. I think early in the pandemic certainly we saw some people that were whisked away for some crazy job offers. Remote work is a double-edged sword. If you can leverage remote work, you can expand your talent pool geographically quite a bit, but it also levels the playing field for people who might have been a little bit more geographically isolated to go elsewhere and to find those opportunities.
For those of us in healthcare, we can’t afford to give people 50 percent increases and Silicon Valley type pay. Most of the people who wanted to do that have probably already looked at those opportunities.
Staying connected in a virtual world
Everyone wants to be paid fairly and competitively. That’s just a basic need. But most people are in healthcare because they want to make a difference. It’s a little bit harder when you’re virtual to have that connection. And so, we work a little bit extra hard to make sure that people are connected to each other.
We held a virtual conference for all of our digital services employees with 1500 people coming together for 2 half-day sessions with some keynote speakers and virtual get-togethers. We did that by geographic location because we’re kind of spread out across the state. We’ve also had some in-person get-togethers just to really connect with people. The feedback on that was something like 90 percent positive; people have realized that the human connection is what makes the difference in whether they enjoy their job. Especially when you’re embarking on something as big and as focused as the level of integration that we’re going after. People are going to get stressed out. There’s a lot of work to do. And so, everybody is kind of leaning into this. As we do that, we need to make sure that our team members are being heard, that they’re feeling highly valued, that they’re engaged, and that they’re not feeling like we’ve put more on their shoulders than they can handle.
“We’ve got to fix this”
We’re not going to lie to people and say, ‘this is going to be a cakewalk. You’re going to show up at 9 in your pajamas and leave at 3:30 every day.’ It’s going to be an intense amount of work; but at the same time, we value that work-life balance. We value the culture we’re creating. We’re going to work hard but we’re also going to value your time and your balance in life. We’re never going to expect you to work 60 hours a week for a long stretch. Yes, we all go through those go-lives where it’s pulling a long couple of weeks. But there are times in any project where somebody is really burning a lot of midnight oil, and we work hard to make sure we protect those people and say, ‘okay, we’ve got to fix this problem.’
As leaders, we need to pay attention to those things, be engaged with teams, and look for ways to get people back. As much as people love remote working, there’s also a side of it where people need to be prompted to engage in society, come out, put on your work clothes, go see your colleagues for an afternoon, and have a meal. Those are, I think, the underrated things that make a big difference in whether people like enjoy their work experiences.
I’m a little concerned for the long-term; if we don’t find the right balance, that sense of community within our organization can start to erode a little bit. If I’m in a job that I can do with a bunch of people on the screen all day, I don’t have as much of a connection to them. We want to make sure they can still feel as connected as possible.
Gamble: It’s interesting. I recently heard someone say that the real ‘new normal’ is what’s happening now, as things start to shake out a bit more.
Joseph: Absolutely. We really put an emphasis also on cultivating our talent. We’ve put in place an apprenticeship program where we’re not only finding some of those underserved areas and demographics that we want to have in our workforce; we’re also combining work experience and training programs together. We had a hugely successful hire rate at the end of it. We have a great base of talent that’s very well trained and helps us focus on our diversity goals as well, which is really important as we think about our workforce dynamics. We want to make sure we have a healthy, vibrant, diverse workforce; having that culture will attract people.
Diversity as output, inclusion as input
We talk about diversity as an output, inclusion as the input. We have to create an environment that attracts the right type of talent. And that’s everything from who we hire, how we hire them, the culture that they come into, how they’re embraced by their team, and some of those other dynamics that happen — that’s really important in how we look at the entire talent picture.
It’s going to be an interesting dynamic over the next couple of years. It went from, ‘oh my gosh, everyone is going to get laid off,’ to ‘oh my gosh, we can’t find enough people to hire.’ I think that over the next year or so, we’re hopefully going to find some equilibrium where our team members can feel fully engaged and we can also get to a point where the talent market isn’t so challenging.
Gamble: There’s one more thing I want to ask you. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Joseph: I think it would be to find your focus. My younger self looked at all the different ambitions I could take on and wanted to take on more. I always wanted to do more and what I’ve learned is that you’re better off doing a few things well than doing many things mediocre.
Young people today often think that the path to success is to take on more and more, and sometimes that will happen naturally, but it’s more important to really focus, get the discipline, learn, and maybe try something different, but not always to expand because that dilution really is challenging for people.
I would say focus. Find that balance and remember that at the end of the day, the most successful you can be is by cultivating really an amazing team and focusing on that and things will fall into place much more easily.