Culture change, slow and steady

You start in a new leadership position and you want to make changes.  Should be easy, right? After all, you’re the boss. You call the shots.Culture change

Not so.

You inherit a history and a culture, ways of working and thinking and behaving. You inherit a leadership team and a staff. You inherit a department that works within a broader organization and its culture. Still, you are the leader; you can make some changes, but it will take more time.

When I started at UMHS, there had been a 6 month gap with an internal interim CIO. She had kept things going but was happy to handoff to me.

From the start, people saw in me a new leadership style. I would hear things like “you are 180 degrees from the former CIO”. I would hear my predecessor’s name all the time when I questioned why we did things the way we did or when I set a new expectation for my team, or when I emphasized accountability and when I was hands on with a problem. Even a year later, I’d hear, “we’re still getting used to you”.  I had my two year anniversary on November 1st. They are getting me now.

Change starts with values and principles – in my first written message to all staff on my 10th day, I outlined mine:

Teamwork – I expect people to respect one another and work together in a collaborative manner on common goals.

Transparency – I practice and encourage open, proactive communication.

Customer service – while we don’t touch patients directly, we are all part of the extended care team; clinicians and caregivers rely on the systems we provide and support to care for patients in a safe manner. Excellent customer service in all our interactions is critical.

Accountability – we each need to take ownership and deliver on our commitments.

Innovation – we work for a leading organization in health care, as IT professionals we must continually look for ways to innovate.

Continuous improvement – there are always opportunities to improve how we work.

Results focus – while process is important, we shouldn’t get bogged down in process and need to ensure we are focused on the end results.

Mom and apple pie, right? I connected these values to what I knew had been worked on in the past – there had been workgroups on accountability, teamwork and process improvement.

In that first message, I  also shared a little about me personally. Your staff wants to know you as a person.

I soon knew I had to make some major organizational changes – but you never want to move too quickly. It’s important to respect and learn from the past, while looking to the future. I rolled out my re-organization after 11 months.

My message when I did:

In order to effectively support the UMHS strategic plan with a robust, integrated and enabling IT platform, we need to meet several key objectives:

  • create the greatest value with the resources we have
  • eliminate and avoid duplication of work
  • more effectively coordinate our work
  • create capacity to support emerging business needs and priorities
  • ensure that the ongoing work associated with Epic for upgrades, optimization, production support, and infrastructure is well integrated within the department 

This meant:

  • We consolidated the application teams to integrate the teams supporting Epic,the teams supporting the legacy systems being replaced by Epic, and the teams supporting the existing systems that will remain after the Epic roll out.
  • We consolidated the administration and finance functions for more effective and efficient internal operations.
  • We plan to consolidate application development for more standard methods of work, and improved cross training. This will position us to do advanced development and innovation around the edges of Epic’s core applications. This also will let us work more closely with the application development that is happening outside our department and enable us to support innovations through IT solutions.
  • We created a new division called Information and Data Management to support expanded use of data throughout the enterprise, basically our reporting and analytics work.

Not everyone in leadership was happy with the changes. But the changes were guided by objectives that couldn’t be argued with.  As we continue to evolve a year later, the executive directors work as a team to make further organizational changes in support of these core objectives.

So what concrete changes have I introduced?

  • All Staff Meetings – I re-established the semi-annual all staff meetings. They had not occurred for about 8 years and people were asking for them. A meeting of 600+ people with an agenda that everyone can relate to is challenging. But we’ve had 4 now and continue to improve.
  • CIO Message – I send a monthly CIO message to all staff. Topics vary. It’s not meant to be the newsy, informational announcements that can come at any time. When I started this blog in June, I encouraged my staff to subscribe but it is not a substitute for the monthly CIO message. That monthly message has now become part of our new internal IT newsletter. I can’t slack off; my communication team has me on a production schedule.
  • CIO Mailbox – I set up a CIO email address and encouraged staff to speak up — “Make Your Voice Heard”. Of course they can write directly to me but I don’t want their great suggestions and input to get lost in my usual email. I respond to each one and forward it to an executive director for follow-up.
  • CIO Breakfast – I host a monthly CIO breakfast. This is an open forum for up to 20 people. We do intros – name, position, team, and years of service. Then we open it up to whatever they want to ask or discuss. In lean speak, it’s a “gemba walk” in a way. I hear issues from the front lines.
  • Employee Engagement Survey – UMHS does an annual employee engagement survey. There was one about 6 months after my arrival. I encouraged participation; I wouldn’t know the problems unless I hear from the staff. 90% of the staff participated – phenomenal! After analyzing our results, we formed 4 workgroups – teamwork, employee development, recognition and appreciation, and service excellence.

So two years later, are things different? I think so. Have we been able to accomplish a lot of great work for our customers? Absolutely. There is a greater sense of teamwork, transparency, accountability, and more focus on improving how we work. Is there more opportunity to improve, of course!!! Am I impatient and want to move faster, yes! My leadership team hears me say “are we having fun yet” and “I love my job” — they know it’s my way of coping with what still needs work.

2 thoughts on “Culture change, slow and steady

  1. M Hepner on said:

    Great post. I’ve had similar experiences taking over leadership of existing teams. And not only does a new leader inherit the leadership and staff, all members of that team have pretty strong feelings toward the previous leader, and whether those feelings are good or bad, you (and your changes) will inevitably be viewed as “better” or “worse”.

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