Best Hospital IT 2016: CIOs share secrets of managing a happy IT team

From basics like spending time with staff to strong leadership, Healthcare IT News award winners discuss what works best for keeping their tech teams satisfied, productive, innovative and aligned with the bigger mission.
By Mike Miliard
06:55 AM
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Best Hospital IT 2016 CIOs

Pictured, right to left: Bernie Clement, CIO at Thibodaux Regional, Ed Kopetsky, CIO at Lucile Packard Children’s and Keith Neuman, CIO of Roper St. Francis. 

The winners of the 2016 Best Hospital IT Departments are clearly doing something right. At all of the top 20 shops – whether tiny five-person teams at rural providers or sprawling, hundreds-deep health systems support squads – these health IT teams expressed deep satisfaction with the jobs they do.

So how do chief information officers and IT directors keep employees happy?

We asked and they revealed winning strategies for staff satisfaction.

“The number one critical success factor is your leadership team, and your leader,” said Ed Kopetsky, CIO at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and Stanford Children’s Health (#3 Super hospital). That does not mean staff should be subservient to their boss. "I have a partnership model, where my team and I make decisions together. I don't micromanage. The number one goal is people development. I set the tone, but I let others lead."

For Chris Hickie, IT director at Osakaloosa, Iowa-based Mahaska Health Partnership (#2 Small hospital) keeping his six-person staff connected to the value of the work they do is essential. "Healthcare IT is a very stressful and high-stakes environment," he said. Keeping staff engaged – making sure they're "aware of the impact that even small IT issues, whether support related or EHR related, hardware, software, break-fix related" have on clinicians and staff – can create a "sense of urgency."

[Also: Best Hospital IT CIOs talk emerging tech's with the biggest potential]

Communication of course is also key, according to Keith Neuman, CIO at Charleston, South Carolina's Roper St. Francis Healthcare (#5 Large hospital). Constantly changing priorities in a heavily regulated space like healthcare can be a big challenge for IT. "It's frustrating to my folks to be going down one path one day and then have to flip over to a different path the next day." But at the same time, he said, that's just "part of that is just the nature of what we do." Neuman tells his staff: "Your job is hard to make other people's jobs easier. We're here to support the organization."

IT’s role in supporting the broader organization, in fact, means there is no shortage of work to be done. "Managing the size of everyone's plate is crucial,” said Bernie Clement, CIO at Thibodaux Regional Medical Center in Thibodaux, Louisiana (#1 Small hospital). What’s more, in the high-stakes role of health IT it's imperative to balance the desire to take on exciting new project against what the staff can realistically accomplish to avoid burnout. "We ride that line closely,” Clement added. "We can do a lot of great things in IT.”

Striking a proper balance also means keeping IT project and hospital projects aligned with the strategic vision, said Kevin Lane, CIO at Illinois-based Silver Cross Hospital (#2 Medium Hospital). Lane cited management by example as one of his proven tactics. "I like to spend as much time as I can with (staff)," Lane said.

And Sonney Sapra, CIO of Tuality Healthcare in Hillsboro, Oregon (#1 Medium hospital) said the key to staff happiness is "working with each other: Support each other, trust each other, have a really good culture built within the team." His team is able to "rally together when things get tough," he added. Smaller budgets can encourage Sapra’s staff to be innovative. "We really try to engage them on a higher purpose. Short-lived satisfaction comes out of quick wins – the satisfaction only lasts so long. But engaging people to do what they truly love gives them higher purpose and more happiness."

Bill Siwicki and Diana Manos contributed to this story. 


Healthcare IT News Best Hospital IT Departments 2016: 
⇒ Meet the winners
⇒ Post-EHR era: Bunk buzzword or almost here?
⇒Interactive map: Best Hospital IT Departments 
⇒ Gallery: The people behind winning IT shops