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Healthcare Leadership & Collaboration: Thoughts from Donna Katen-Bahensky

February 3, 2016

healthcare-hiring.jpgToday’s blog features a short interview with Donna Katen-Bahensky. Donna retired as the President and CEO of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in 2014. Before that, she held the same position at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and executive leadership positions at Virginia Commonwealth Health System, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

She served on the Board of Trustees for the American Hospital Association, is an adjunct faculty member of the U. of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, and is the CEO of DKB Consulting advising emerging health care technology companies and also mentoring young professionals. She was recently named a faculty member of the Institute for Healthcare Excellence (IHE). She was named as one of the 24 Leading Women to Know in Health Care by Becker's Hospital Review – August, 2014.

As you can imagine, Donna’s healthcare expertise is vast, and she has a particular interest in leadership selection and development, as a critical component of organizational success. We had the pleasure of working with her on several initiatives during her time at U of Wisconsin Health. We asked for her thoughts on a few issues:

Why is there such a focus on improving collaboration – at all levels of the organization?

The future of health care, and success in this new environment, depends on the ability to provide consistent quality at a lower cost. It is impossible to make this happen across the continuum and in different settings without enhanced collaboration and tremendous teamwork. Really compassionate care does not stop with an individual caregiver. It must include the entire team. The leaders of these organizations must understand and nurture this collaborative and team-based culture.

To thrive in the new environment, all professionals must be working at their highest skill level and experience. If everyone is functioning in a silo it is not possible to work in this fashion. Everyone has expertise and literally it "takes a village" to move from defining and documenting health care needs to delivering care in a way that makes a difference. With an increased workforce shortage everyone must give their best in their particular area of expertise. Taking on the risk of caring for a population requires the team working together towards the single vision and outcome.

Most of your career has been spent in academic medical centers. When it comes to adapting to all of the changes, faced by health systems, what are the unique challenges faced by AMCs?

In recent years, there has been much published about the demise of academic medical centers. Despite these warnings, most academic medical centers have been relatively successful, have grown their business and have made strong margins. Now the rules of the game have changed.

AMCs, with their tripartite mission, must demonstrate the highest quality and need to reduce their costs to compete in the market. Taking on greater risk makes this an imperative and not just a desired goal. Academic medical centers are often the highest cost in their market, have multiple support functions that are independent of each other and their decision making is often extremely time-consuming. Cross-subsidization of the missions will be more difficult and in many cases will need to be minimized to meet the required margins.

Academic medical centers need to constantly pursue lowering costs and to increase operational efficiencies. They must be willing to provide services in alternative and less expensive settings and must face the fact they cannot continue to be "all things to all people" in the name of education and research. Partnerships will be required to bring down costs, to provide services that cannot be provided as well in the academic center and to provide quality educational models in different environments.

Throughout my career, I have emphasized a strategy of investing in people and innovation to build clinical strengths where there is also a history of research expertise or the other way around. It is harder to be ignored, or "tiered" in the marketplace when you provide some of the best services and conduct the research that complements it, and can demonstrate the highest quality and the lowest cost.

What has been your experience with regard to the role of Emotional Intelligence in healthcare professional performance and success?

It is now recognized that in any field, and in life in general, emotional intelligence can make the individual and the organization that encourages it more successful. In health care, I would say that it is imperative. Emotionally intelligent individuals are more self-aware, empathetic, focused better at managing emotions, and more able to deal with uncertainty. All of these make caregivers better communicators, more able to elicit the needs of their patients and families and able to be trusted by other members of the team. They are often the most exceptional staff and are always willing to be accountable and function like owners.

They must, however, be nurtured by the organization's leaders and their behavior needs to be encouraged. They are able to fix a lot that is wrong in the organization, but toxic individuals and environment can get even the best of these strong individuals. In an article by Daniel Goleman entitled "Why Leaders Need a Triple Focus" he writes that "For leaders to get results they need all three kinds of focus. A leader tuned out of his internal world will be rudderless; one blind to the world of others will be clueless; those indifferent to the larger systems within which they operate will be blindsided."

In your “retirement”, you’ve been working with healthcare technology companies. How do you see technology changing healthcare and what do you think will predict which companies are most likely to succeed and have an impact?

Since my recent retirement, I have found myself in the fascinating world of healthcare start-ups and venture capital. I am far from being an expert but believe start-ups need to be responsive to healthcare customers and determine what problem they are trying to solve with their product.

We all know problems that continue to persist in healthcare/hospitals. They are often the problems that stand in the way of a great patient experience or do not allow the caregiver to do the job they were trained to do. If a product can take care of these problems and the company CEO, Board, Advisers, Marketing and Sales professionals are able to easily articulate what the product can do to solve the problem, it is more likely to succeed. In addition the team will remain focused on what they do best, the market they intend to serve and will not let themselves get off track. Being a leader in a start-up takes all the energy and focus that cannot be spent on work that is not relevant and productive.

Start-ups can focus on: population health; patient experience; reduced costs; revenue cycle improvement; keeping people healthy and managing the care of individuals with chronic conditions. Successful start-ups will be user-friendly and more able to bring the patient and family into the picture. Successful start-ups will pay attention to the C-suite and those making decisions but will do so while also talking to physicians and staff at all levels to define the problem and ensure the product is solving this problem. In the future healthcare start-ups will be encouraged to partner with other emerging companies and technologies to complement each other, add more value and grow markets.

What has your experience been using leadership level behavioral assessments? What value do they bring?

Hiring and developing leaders is more important than ever, and the skills necessary for success have changed. We used Select’s leadership assessments to help build the leadership team for a new hospital. The process allowed us to define what we needed in each of these roles and to objectively evaluate and compare candidates. The information also provided us valuable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of each new leadership team member, thereby allowing us to set reasonable performance expectations and to start supporting the new team members so they would succeed, individually and collectively.

We also used these tools for development. The results helped us to identify changes to how our senior team functioned so that we could be more collaborative. We went through the same process with a group of physician leaders. They loved the objective data and found their reports to be a great starting point of a discussion on how they could be more effective physician leaders, supporting the culture they want to create.

Healthcare Hiring Essentials

Bryan Warren Bryan Warren is the President of J3 Personica, a consulting, assessment, training, and coaching firm, and a guest blogger for PSI. Bryan is an expert in progressive talent strategies, with a particular focus on leader and physician selection and development.