San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center (SLVRMC) — located in South Central Colorado — is an 85-bed facility, operating a level III trauma center, with valley-wide ambulance service. The organization is the largest medical facility in the valley, and works closely with two large clinics; one dedicated to specialists and the other to family practice and outreach. Recently, HCI I had a chance to talk with CIO Spencer Hamons about what it takes to be an effective IT leader.
AG: It sounds like when you have a staff of 18-20 you can’t afford to have someone that just wants their head down behind the computer, no matter how good they are.
SH: Right. There is always going to be that exception, and there are always going to be those folks who don’t want to go out and do that, because that’s not something that interests them. But you need to make it clear that it’s important — and that’s the thing about being a leader. Too many people in leadership positions expect to come in every day, manage their budget, watch their salaries, watch their overtime, look at project plans to make to sure they're meeting their goals, but that doesn’t fit the definition of what a leader truly is. A leader is someone who leads people. And you have to take people out of their comfortable situations and sometimes put them into uncomfortable situations to do it. I think in healthcare we have forgotten that. We try to come in every day and manage our budgets, manage our bottom line, manage our projects, and we don’t manage our people.
AG: Our conversation has drifted towards staff — and I’m very okay with that — is that something that is on your mind, or is that something you think may be an overlooked part of the CIO job?
SH: I think that that is something that’s overlooked in most management jobs in healthcare. I just think in healthcare we have gotten past the point of hiring people who understand what leadership truly is. In most management jobs, I firmly believe they come to work every day thinking that they are doing the best job that they can do. And if you look at the different management training methodologies that are very popular in today’s society, a lot of those trainings talk about how do you sell more, how do you manage budgets, how do you manage projects, Leans, 6-Sigmas, all of these data-driven analysis things, but we have forgotten about leading people.
I have a military background and that’s something that’s very personal to me, very strong in the way that I was brought into managing was about managing people. As many faults as people think that the military has, they have great leadership training. And I wish that we, as a culture in healthcare, would look at how we can do that and bring that back into something that is popular.
AG: That’s very, very interesting, because two other individuals that I know (both consultants), and one of them is writing an article for us and they both have military experience. They both have said that being in the military was invaluable in shaping not only who they are, but the way they approach leadership and project management. It seems like with that military experience or training have a unique perspective.
SH: It really does define it. You learn, first off, that taking people out of their comfort zone is not necessarily a bad thing. In the military, you may take what you would consider to be your weakest link and you put them into leadership roles to see how they perform. It will oftentimes amaze you whenever somebody really steps up and they do things that you can't believe. You start to learn about what that individual brings to the table.
In the military, there are a lot of measurements. Everybody has a physical fitness test score. Everyone has an aptitude score. Everybody has their marksmanship scores. I can look at an individual on paper, and I can say this guy is a great soldier on paper, but that doesn’t tell me anything about the person. That is really where the military really teaches us, as a leader, those numbers are important. They're important for the mission of the military to do its job, but when it comes to interactions with people and leading others into doing the right thing, the infantry motto is ‘follow me.’ That is one of the big things that they teach in leadership skills.