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6/13/2011
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Guerra On Healthcare: Consistency Key to Success

Developing or maintaining a successful health IT shop requires vision, flexibility, and courage.

So often, the key to accomplishing complex things lies in the consistent application of simple principles. Among those complex things could certainly be considered launching and growing a successful healthcare IT advisory consultancy or leading a hospital IT shop on its quixotic quest for Meaningful Use. In all cases, success will only follow one natural progression, much like water finding its path downhill.

Why are some healthcare IT advisory consultancies more successful than others? What are the simple principles that separate the wheat from the chaff? A recent KLAS report breaking down that vendor landscape got me thinking about the recipe.

First, someone who will lead the enterprise must have a vision for what the company will do, how it will go about its business, and the standards of quality it will aim for. Once the standards of quality are defined, the leader must develop the policies that, through consistent application, give them life. Then, the leader must passionately and continually communicate (yes, indoctrinate) those values into everyone who will represent the organization. Finally, like a good farmer, the leader must watch over his field, always on the lookout for weeds that need pulling.

Once a touch of flexibility has been added so the company can respond to feedback from both new and lost customers, along with changing market conditions, it's time to set the burner to low (think patience) and let this stew slowly heat to a nice simmer.

There are no shortcuts to this process--a focus on quality is the key to success, and consistent quality is largely incompatible with rapid growth. If you doubt this rather intuitive principle, listen to the recent podcast I did with KLAS analysts Lorin Bird and Mike Smith about their aforementioned report.

KLAS reports are a great view of the market and how players are perceived by real customers in the field. Those reports, I believe, influence the sales of software and services because industry buyers, like you, put stock in the data. The data, of course, comes from you, meaning one weak engagement could cause a change in KLAS ranking, along with a change in future sales trajectory. As such, the concept of "consistency" becomes all important.

Another principle needed for success that comes through in the report is that leadership does matter. As such, changes in leadership matter. While the leader defines the goals and standards that, in turn, define the company, changes in leadership may bring about diminished adherence to those standards, if they are kept in place at all.

Leadership must be present, active, and passionate, letting employees know they are on a quest to service customers through quality work, and they will never be expected to compromise deeply held principles for short-term financial gain.

Reading reports like the one above and interviewing hospital CIOs every week, it becomes clear what factors are needed for success. The only question is: Will you follow them? Will you insist on working for someone who accepts and embraces them? Mind you, these are not abstract concepts to today's hospital CIO because, for many, the attainment of Meaningful Use demands a pace inconsistent with the quality controls necessary for the safe implementation of advanced clinical information systems. Will you apply the brakes when needed?

The thorniest Meaningful Use-associated problems you're grappling with today--around recalcitrant physicians, unrealistic implementation timetables, daunting CMS quality measures--have a right answer, a correct way of tackling them. Often, it's just a matter of turning the problem over and over in your mind until the fog disperses to reveal it.

After that, it's time to act, and that's when we must look inward for that most crucial characteristic of leadership--courage. Success comes down to consistently doing the right things, as you've defined them. Healthcare IT advisory firms that have done this will continue to--slowly but inexorably--grow. Do the right things in your shop, regardless of outside influences or political consequences, select partners that apply the same standard to their conduct, and you'll never be found wanting by the myriad tests that lay ahead.

Anthony Guerra is the founder and editor of healthsystemCIO.com, a site dedicated to serving the strategic information needs of healthcare CIOs. He can be reached at aguerra@healthsystemCIO.com.

The Healthcare IT Leadership Forum is a day-long venue where senior IT leaders in healthcare come together to discuss how they're using technology to improve clinical care. It happens in New York City on July 12. Find out more.

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