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One on One with SLVR Medical Center CIO Spencer Hamons, Part III

May 15, 2008
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For Spencer Hamons, taking techies out of their comfort zones is all part of being a good leader.   iTunes Podcast (will launch iTunes)orDownload mp3 File
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.

Part I

Part II

So you need to be backed up and supported by your CEO?

SH: You need to be backed up and supported. But if the CIO has not either had time or has not developed relationships with the other executives, that’s not going to happen. And again, it’s talking about that relationship, promoting people to the level of incompetence, taking that network administrator who likes to sit behind the desk and putting them in a leadership role like that, you're never going to have confidence from the executive team unless the CIO really is doing that.

AG: You talked about two things. You talked challenging people because you need to get them out of their comfort zone. But you also mentioned the fact that you don’t want to have people doing things they're not good at. For example, pulling someone out from behind a computer who is just going to embarrass the IT team by his or her lack of communication skills. Where do you draw the line? How do you do both?

SH: Again, this is where that leadership piece comes in. I have a person on my staff who absolutely is scared to death to speak in front of a group of people. And I will take him with me to meetings, and we’ll basically script it. I will go to the meeting with him, and I will sit right there, and he knows that at any time he can give me a signal and I will bail him out. But I’m not going to bail him out within the first 30 seconds of a meeting. He is going to need to get himself into a bit of a bind, and I’m going to give him a bit of an opportunity to try to get out of it, and then I’ll bail him out. We’ll get past the difficult part, and then I will try to turn that conversation back over to him. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. Sometimes it’s embarrassing when things don’t necessarily go exactly like you would want them to go. But it also depends on the audience. I have a few physicians that sit in on some of these meetings, and I’ll go to them first and say, ‘Okay, here’s the deal. I’m going to have this tech at the meeting, and I’m going to try to get him to run it. I know that you're a hard ass when it comes to asking questions. I’m going to ask you to hold off.’ They're usually pretty cool about it.

AG: Could you get to a point where you admit that it’s just not going to work with some individuals, that they’re just not great communicators?

SH: Yes. I would probably do that, but only to a certain extent. I’m never going to give somebody carte blanche to say, ‘I don’t do meetings.’ There may be situations where this particular tech doesn’t do well in a meeting of 15 people, but he does fine in a meeting of three. Maybe he doesn’t do well if there is an executive at the table, but he does okay if it’s a table of supervisors. There is going to be something that he is successful at. So I would continue to cultivate that.

AG: I would imagine that a lot of CIOs feel they don’t have time to do what you're talking about. Do you think it’s true that many CIOs feel they’re just too busy to focus on staff development?

SH: I think that’s true. I also think that there is a lot of micromanagement that goes on, not just in the CIO world, but in all of management. Like I said, a lot of the concepts of leadership have been lost in the last few years as we focused on other management philosophies. One of the very basic things that they teach in any of the military leadership schools — and I think that this is a hugely important thing for people to really understand — is that you cannot delegate responsibility. You only can delegate authority, because how can you expect somebody to truly be responsible for the outcome of anything if you have not given them the authority to determine the outcome.