At the Houston CHIME Lead Forum, Liz Johnson Calls on CIOs To Be “Chief Acceleration Officers”

Dec. 8, 2015
It’s time for healthcare CIOs to leave their comfort zones and to help lead their organizations into healthcare’s future, Tenet Healthcare CIO Liz Johnson told her audience at the CHIME LEAD Forum in Houston on Monday

It’s time for healthcare CIOs to leave their comfort zones, and indeed, become “Chief Acceleration Officers,” helping to lead their organizations into healthcare’s future: that was the message that Liz Johnson the chief information officer for acute care hospitals and applied clinical informatics at the Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, told those assembled at the CHIME LEAD Forum on Monday morning, Dec. 7.

Johnson, who leads healthcare IT at 65 Tenet hospitals nationwide, delivered a passionate address to healthcare IT leaders assembled at the Omni Houston Westside, calling on her fellow CIOs and other IT leaders to reject the status quo. She quoted famous memoirist Augusten Burroughs, who has said, “I hate news and information and anything that threatens to puncture the bubble of oblivion in which I live,” using it to ask her audience, “How many of you are comfortable inside your bubble?” The reality, she said, is that, “If you’re not keeping up with the world that we live in, if you’re not keeping up with what’s going on, you’re in trouble. Because when you sit down with fellow leaders in your organization, you need to know about current events in the world. It never fails that if we sit down with our national board, they’ll know when the latest cybersecurity problem occurred, or what’s going on with vendors, who’s been sued.” The world is changing quickly, she emphasized, and said that it is no longer acceptable for CIOs in particular not to know what’s going on in the wider world, particularly as hospital and health system board members are going to expect their CIOs to be aware of current events.

Liz Johnson

What’s more, Johnson told audience members, “Also, you really have to be an innovator. You have to be able to look at things in a different way. Many of us came through roles where we came up through the industry, coming from a data center or doing application development, or wherever you came from, but the strategies required now are different and often require us to do different things.”

Further, Johnson said, not everything will work out; that is simply the nature of taking operational risks. “For example,” she said, “take PHRs”—personal health records—“we tried. But it just didn’t work. And that was one of the things we had in our vision. We were going to do a PHR for our patients, our employees, and it just didn’t work, it just didn’t take. On the other hand, things like remote ICU, e-visits, patient portals, interactive patient care systems, wireless healthcare asset management, those are things you should have in place now.”

The real keys in all this, Johnson told her audience, are four elements: values, mission, vision, and strategy. “First,” she said, you need to know why you’re around. I call that my elevator speech. When I’m on the elevator with the CEO and he asks me a precise question, I know I have two floors in which to give a quick, crisp answer. You need to know the identity of your organization, your reason for being, and what you have to do to get there.”

It’s also important, while handling the inevitable day-to-day crises—she noted that she had managed a crisis while driving to the hotel Monday morning—to still be moving forward strategically all the time. “So, she said, “focus on the future while paying attention to the present crises.”

When it comes to vision, Johnson said, “The hardest thing about creating a vision is getting to a place before you’re there, knowing what that place will look like. You can say, we’re going to provide safe, efficient care. So the visionary aspect is, what could we look like and be like? Hatch a vision that is connected with the organization’ values and mission for the present and the future. I remember [President] John F. Kennedy saying, let’s go to the moon. And I was like, wow. And then it happened, and I was like, really, wow. That’s a vision.”

A vision statement, Johnson told her audience, requires three elements. The successful vision statement communicates the resultant outcome or future position of the organization. It is inspirational, and invokes followership. And, it is simple and concise. She cited two vision statements that she described as “great.” One was from Nike, the famous athletic shoe and athletic clothing manufacturer. Nike’s was, “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete.” And the other was from Amazon: “To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” Amazon’s vision statement, she noted, has been backed up by a solid record of innovation, particularly on the part of the Amazon Prime service, which she described as “one of the greatest ideas ever. I do all my Christmas shopping through them,” as a result of the company’s creating a innovative shopping service.

Johnson became passionate when she told her audience, “Strive to be the CAO—the Chief Accelerator Officer! Make things happen and make them happen fast!” she urged attendees. She concluded her presentation with the following pieces of advice: “Try to forget about boundary lines and rules, when thinking through technical solutions; build your backyard without any fences. Hire the kids who invented amazing apps when they were 12 years old, and let them figure stuff out. Be an “intern for a day” with an HIT leader, CIO, informaticist from another organization, or informaticist in another industry. Be a “BFF” with a data scientist. Lead the social medial revolution. And, “Become an “interprofessional” to augment and support the contributions of others.

Leadership is a team support, she told her audience. In that regard, she said, “I’m always excited to find that our knowledge, and our ability to lead, can be expanded by others.”

Tuesday and Wednesday, many CHIME LEAD Forum attendees will return to participate in the Health IT Summit in Houston, also at the Omni Houston Westside.