Healthcare information technology leaders are change agents, but each has their own way of prodding others to change along with them.

During a roundtable session at Health Data Management’s Most Powerful Women in HIT conference, Leigh Williams, business systems administrator at UVA Health System, said she recognized a decade ago that she was comfortable with disruption.

“Embrace that you are good at disruption and help others who aren’t so comfortable with change,” she advised colleagues.

Helping others adjust means really listening to them, Williams added. “Are we going too fast or are people comfortable with the pace of change? We have to be ready to adjust.”

When changes come, it helps if IT leaders really know the individuals working for them and understand how to approach each one to help them see the positives, said Cara Babachicos, corporate director and CIO of community hospitals and post-acute care at Partners Healthcare.

Babachicos’ mantra is to get ahead of change rather than have the change define what you will do. Implementing an information system or bringing technology into a new environment is not the hard part of a new corporate strategy; the difficulty comes in getting people to not only use it, but want to use it.

Tony Carrini/HDM

For instance, Partners gave laptops to home health providers visiting patients, but the providers found the processes of talking to patients and treating them along with using the laptop cumbersome at best. So they wrote their documentation on paper and typed it into the laptop when they got back to the office.

Veteran CIO Sue Schade has seen a lot of change in the recent past with a relatively short stint at the University of Michigan Health System and now interim CIO at University Hospitals.

The interim role is new to Schade. To ensure she understood the situation at the organization, she scheduled meetings with key executives, asked what was working, what was not and how she in an interim role could help effect change—and then she listened.

When listening, take the pulse of your people, especially their non-verbal expressions, Schade said. “Make sure you draw out their concerns and that they feel you are listening to them.”

Added Williams at UVA: “Make it safe for them; watch your own body language. Let them know they can speak honestly without retribution.”

Williams further drove home the need for IT leaders to be great listeners. On every new project, there are good people who bring value to the organization but are resistant to change, she said. “People fear they will lose what they are good at so you have to help them get into a comfort zone.”

If there is an administrator that is not on board, have group sessions and work with those in that unit to make sure they feel they have role in the change, Williams added. “If people feel you are there to help them and not hurt them, you will succeed.”

Two IT projects had failed when Williams came to UVA and was told to get them fixed, she recalled. When there is a lot of baggage in an organization from failed initiatives, it is best to ask for honest answers of what they did not do right and emphasize that there now is a new environment. Clear the air and start anew, she counseled.

“If people have their baggage and you double down on what you’re doing, that just doubles your baggage.”

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