As featured in The View From the Bridge blog at www.StarBridgeAdvisors.com.
Last September I wrote a blog post about advancing your healthcare IT career that focused on three ingredients for success: understanding the business, understanding technology and understanding yourself. Life certainly changed dramatically since I wrote those words last September. Still, those three areas have relevance, regardless of the impact of a pandemic. I’ve given some thought recently to how changes such as social distancing and sheltering in place impact healthcare IT leaders. I’ve asked myself, “how can a healthcare IT leader thrive in the time of COVID-19, and beyond”?
As a leadership coach, I’m convinced that an understanding of one’s strengths and skills as well as a commitment to one’s values are keys to success. Self-awareness drives choices and performance outcomes. When someone is not self-aware, that individual reacts rather than responds, and is unable to clearly see the available choices. A pandemic only enhances the value of self-reflection for a healthcare IT leader. Social distancing requires new skills to stay focused, for engaging your team, and for building and maintaining relationships. Add to that the fact that the future will certainly require a re-assessment of technology strategies, funding, technology delivery and the workplace itself. Hence, aligning with new business requirements is a key to success for the healthcare IT leader.
Last year I recommended some steps for the IT leader to take in order to increase self-awareness and enhance performance. Here are some of the ideas I shared back then, with some added context. These may be even more relevant to your current situation as you confront new challenges, often in some form of isolation.
- Know your strengths and challenges. Take an assessment to uncover this information and get to know yourself as a leader. Taking a look in the mirror may reveal some previously unexplored focus areas. You may have more uninterrupted time to think these days; use that time wisely.
- Solicit honest feedback from trusted colleagues. This may be a good time to look at opportunities to expand your network or re-evaluate how each person in your life supports you in your leadership journey.
- Find a mentor, or a coach, or an accountability partner, or all three – each one serves a different purpose and can help you clearly see how you show up as a leader, as well as supporting you as you make changes.
- Invest in yourself. This includes taking the time to re-charge when necessary. Your health and well-being are crucial to promoting focus and good decision making. The car doesn’t run on an empty tank.
The vast majority of my work is performed at home. Still, I’ve needed to make different choices over the last several weeks in order to keep focused and productive. I’ve had to be more conscious of the time spent working vs. not working, and pay special attention to structuring my time. I carve out a good amount of time to exercise or do something relaxing and enjoyable. I get outside whenever possible. This is a stressful time, regardless of your circumstances, and doing those things that take you away from some of your worries enhances your ability to focus when you are “at work”. Remember that the members of your IT team need to adjust to these new circumstances as well. They may need you to be a role model.
ENGAGING YOUR TEAM/BUILDING AND MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS
It is a lot easier to engage people when you are with them; when you can shake hands, smile, share lunch, or just ask about something that interests them. So, what can you do to engage your team during this period of separation, and in the likely event that the return to normal will be very different? Many are already referring to this as the ‘new normal’. Your team likely will not all be returning to the office. Use this time to connect with your team in different ways. If you are on a Zoom meeting, show up like the leader you are, as you would have shown up in person. Your team needs to see you present in the moment, focused and engaged. Be conscious of how you look, at least above the waist!
Recognize that some members of the team may be facing financial or isolation challenges; that some may have no other human interaction other than the Zoom meetings they attend. The team that you lead needs you, and the best way to engage them is to give them your time and attention.
Now may be the perfect time to invest in team building. That may seem counterintuitive while the team is separated and many are working remotely. Nevertheless, think about using the time to have the individual leaders on your team take an assessment. The results of such assessments often reveal valuable information you can use going forward as you make workforce decisions. These decisions may include changes to the workplace or work locations. Think about how you will work together as a team going forward. For example, you may learn who prefers working remotely vs. who performs better when working alongside others. Take the time now to do this, and you will be well prepared for making decisions related to what the future workplace looks like.
ALIGNING WITH NEW BUSINESS REQUIREMENTS
Your success is not only about understanding how a technology works, it’s also about understanding how the technology will work in the context of the business need. Many organizations scrambled to deliver or scale technology to meet the sudden spike in remote workers. Certainly COVID-19 treatment protocols created the need for new application development, new or enhanced device support and sanitation processes, swift implementation of telemedicine technologies and other projects that may have been planned for the future, but were instead needed immediately. No one could have predicted this and the impact on healthcare IT.
You already have an understanding of the business and your role in supporting the business through technology delivery. If you have invested in your IT team, and you have successfully engaged a skilled IT team, you moved quickly to meet the urgent requirements over the last several weeks. If you’ve invested in your relationships with your colleagues, you’ve understood their needs and they understood the challenges you faced. Now, it’s time to think about the post COVID-19 future. What projects come off the list and what projects get added? What are the priorities for the clinical and non-clinical areas? What can your team realistically accomplish, by when, and how much will it cost?
I often say that results are driven by the strength of relationships. Surely that’s true here. Successful healthcare IT leaders have a deep knowledge of business requirements, continually evaluate new technologies, and have strong relationships with their colleagues. Strong project governance structures support shared responsibility for developing, funding and implementing the technology strategy. I had the good fortune of working with a healthcare leadership team who engaged fully in an effective project portfolio governance process. It’s needed now more than ever. Now is a good time to assess your portfolio governance process as you prepare to lead beyond COVID-19.
YOUR CALL TO ACTION
- Move forward with confidence as a leader by understanding yourself, your strengths and your values
- Engage and recognize your team now, especially during this time of social distancing
- Don’t forget your network and colleagues – check in with them and keep those relationships going
- Prepare for the future, leverage your relationships, the skills and strengths of your team
- Take a close look at your project governance process and how it will look as you re-design the technology strategy in collaboration with your business partners
Your health and well-being are crucial to promoting focus, good decision making and engaging others. Just as you invest in technology projects to achieve a value proposition, working with a coach is an investment in your future value and in the future value of your leadership team.