HIT Think

9 lessons HIT execs can draw from the Cubs

For Cubs fans, Wednesday evening was a bit surreal. Years of mediocrity and unfulfilled expectations finally melted away. After a century-plus of waiting, the team with the nation’s longest wait for a national championship had finally won the World Series.

Support for the Cubs has been high nationwide. At a focus group at the CHIME16 Forum in Scottsdale this week, presenters wanted to test a polling capability with the 15 members in the session. The test question was, ‘Which team will win Game 7 of the World Series tonight?” The results showed 93 percent support of the Cubs. They were prescient, I guess.

As a lifelong resident of the Chicago area, I wish I could say that I have been a lifetime Cubs fan. Alas, not true. I became disenchanted during the 1960s, during the reign of Leo Durocher as manager. I felt justified during the epic Cub collapse of 1969, and for many years afterward, the Cubs stumbled and bumbled their way along in frustrating failure.

But it’s been fascinating to watch the last five years, as the team was disassembled and reconstituted. And if I can be allowed a bit of professional license, I believe there are many good lessons that healthcare IT professionals can take away from the Cubs experience.

Capturing the right vision, and sticking to it. Key to the Cubs’ resurrection was hiring Theo Epstein and crew to instill their philosophy on how to build a team. There was laser focus on the long-term path, although there were occasional missteps along the way. Similarly, HIT leaders need to carefully research their vision, tweak it over time but stick to its key tenets.

Understanding the importance of infrastructure. One of the first changes brought in by Epstein and company was updating the computer systems that supported the organization. Past record keeping was antiquated, and key to getting the organization on track was modernizing technology and communications. It’s not much different in a healthcare organization.

Saying goodbye to past mistakes. Previous executives of the Cubs had stockpiled expensive free agents as part of past approaches to achieving success. In some cases, saying goodbye to those players meant eating huge losses from expensive contracts of players who no longer fit into the new plan. This is also true for healthcare organizations, which may suddenly feel that a data center approach may need to be replaced by a cloud-based approach, for example.

Wandering through the desert. Let’s face it; those first three years of the Epstein reign were hard. Everyone knew they were going to be bad, and that was OK, because it was part of the vision. Struggling is rarely a pleasant part of fulfilling a vision, but sometimes hard times must come before the good times. In healthcare organizations, maintaining focus during hard times has been, and will continue to be, a fact of life.

Finding and developing key players. In the past, the Cubs had signed high-priced established stars (some of them in the twilight of their careers) in hopes that disconnected pieces could be fashioned into a team. Through drafts and astute trades, the Cubs opted for youth and players with star potential that could be coached and developed. The process was painful (read, losses), but the end results were worth it. HIT leaders need to be in the market for staff with emerging skills and will benefit from teaching and development.

Hiring the right manager. When the Cubs were ready to become good, they hired Joe Maddon, who created a culture in the clubhouse that enabled the team to reach its potential. Managing is not just making on-field decisions during games, but it’s everything that happens in the background that enables success. Maddon excels at managing his players as people, is approachable, and he understands what specific players will and won’t respond to.

Building a culture of success. Over the last two years, futility was replaced by winning. The Cubs no longer expected to lose, but believed they could manufacture success. For any team of professionals in a healthcare setting, this is a key capability to develop—creating the sense that members will work at something to a successful end.

Expecting bumps in the road, and overcoming the inevitable missteps. 2016 was not all moonlight and roses for the Cubs. Before the All-Star game in July, they lost 18 of 24 games. Even in the final game of the World Series, Maddon made a couple pitching changes that had pundits scratching their heads, and those moves appeared to directly lead to the Indians tying the game and extra innings. Missteps are inevitable, but what mattered for the Cubs was forgetting what had just happened in the past and determining what attitudes and actions would result in success in extra innings.

Celebrating success. As I write this, a million or more Cubs fans line the streets of Chicago, celebrating the Cubs World Series victory in a massive parade. Recognition and celebration can overcome tough times for everyone—hopefully; you and your organization won’t need 108 years to achieve your ultimate goal. Celebrate those small victories along the way.

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