Rarely is the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” considered a good thing — and even rarer is it cited as the reason for staying with an organization. But in Michael Restuccia’s case, it makes perfect sense.
When he was offered an opportunity to lead an IS project at Penn Medicine back in 2006, he was intrigued. It was a chance to flex his leadership muscles in an industry in with he was familiar while gaining experience that could benefit his consulting firm.
“I thought I’d be here for six months then leave,” said Restuccia.
Fate, however, had other plans. Soon after his arrival, the incumbent CIO resigned, and the interim role became available. And although Restuccia had every intention to return to MedMatica Consulting Associates, which he had founded in 2001, something had shifted during his time with the prestigious academic medical center.
“I started to see all the great things that were taking place at this organization,” he noted. “They are curing diseases. They are healing people. There’s a great leadership team to work with. Everyone is passionate and compassionate — you start to get addicted to it.”
However, even if every individual is bought in — and is ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ — it takes more than that to make sure an organization has what it takes to succeed in an increasingly competitive industry. In Penn Medicine’s case, that wasn’t going to happen as long as the organization relied almost solely on outside help to run the IS shop.
And so, one of Restuccia’s key priorities was to in-source as much of IS as possible. The other was to oversee the implementation of Epic across ambulatory facilities. Together, the two initiatives made for a big lift, but it was one he felt comfortable taking on, given his experience.
A phased approach
Transforming an organization’s IS model is a complex undertaking; and in Penn Medicine’s case, leadership believed a phased approach was the best strategy. The first involved bringing application and integration support onboard, as well as project management, which took about 18 months. The second phase focused on infrastructure support, including networks and desktops. Finally, the service desk and clinical engineering were in-sourced a few years after the initial steps.
Leveraging this type of tactic, according to Restuccia, aligns with the organization’s culture. And so, rather than doing a big bang, Penn Medicine identified “logical break points” to guide the progress along. “Our philosophy is to do things that matter and are important at a reasonable pace, but not let that pace become too large a risk,” he stated. “Looking at it over time is, in my mind, a core competency.”
Also part of the philosophy is to ensure that projects are fully backed — especially something like an EHR implementation, which Restuccia likens to “Climbing a steep mountain with a 60-pound backpack. You’re fighting gravity, and you have to take it step by step.” There are always going to be challenges, but when an implementation has “grassroots support,” it makes all the difference.
Change management done right
In this situation, however, there was also a strong belief that creating an integrated record would result in better continuity of care, and consequently, improved care. That’s where change management comes into play, according to Restuccia. Any time individuals or teams are being asked to alter their behavior, or adjust to a new system or workflow, there’s going to be a level of frustration.
The leader’s role is to acknowledge that frustration, and to communicate why the change is being made, and perhaps more importantly, the positive impact it will have. One way is by explaining that once a solid platform is in place, users will have more capabilities from an analytics or artificial intelligence perspective. As a result, they’ll “start to see the value and recognize that all those efforts upfront are worthwhile,” he said.
Building “the best team”
Of course, not every individual has the ability — or willingness — to see past the hurdles and envision a different outcome. And so, Penn Medicine has been extremely deliberate about the types of people who are brought on board, adhering to a few key principles.
- Rely on connections. According to Restuccia, a large percentage of those brought on board have “no more than two degrees of separation” from the hiring manager; meaning either he or she knows the person directly, or trusts someone who does. “That helps qualify the type of person and it eliminates the ambiguity around just looking at a resume,” he said.
- No drama. The top attributes Restuccia looks for in team members are energy, attitude, and aptitude. The idea is to have individuals who “come to work every day and give 110 percent, and do it with a smile” he noted. “Our credo is no drama; we’re all about team.”
- Keep investing. Once hired, individuals receive ongoing training and are encouraged to take advantage of Penn’s tuition reimbursement program.
This formula has enabled Restuccia to build “the best team possible,” as evidenced by the fact that his people are “highly sought after by others in the industry,” he noted. “We’ve recruited, we’ve retained and we’ve invested, and we found the right chemistry to get people to work together.”
And, it seems, the right motivation. As the corporate IS division has grown exponentially — going from 51 people in 2006 to more than 1,000 today — leadership’s ability to connect IT initiatives to the organization’s overall mission has become increasingly vital.
“They want to make a difference. That’s what he constantly hears,” said Restuccia, who credits regular surveys and frequent team meetings with helping to maintain the pulse of his team. “They could be fixing a desktop, writing code, or managing a project — whatever it is, they know they’re making a difference, and making the world a little bit better.”