Effective Communication for Effective Leadership

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					                                                                                             October 2009

                      Effective Communication for
                      Effective Leadership
                                                                              A Two-Way Street
                      By: Ward Keever, CTG HealthCare Solutions Executive Director of Executive Services
We have the
                      Before I begin with this month’s comments, I would like to take a moment to thank
attitude that if we   my colleagues at CTGHS for the opportunity to provide you with these periodic
work tirelessly to    ramblings of an ex-CIO. Tom Niehaus, Clair Detraz, and the CTGHS clan have
                      given me a very long leash and allow me to ramble on about most anything I
deliver the right     choose.
technology, our       I would also like to thank each of the Insights readers (especially those who
constituents will     occasionally respond with a “well done!” when I hit on a topic of value to you). In
                      the recent past, the Insights titled “The Five Best Decisions the Beatles Made” and
see our value,        “Healthcare Reform: It’s Not Who Pays” received the most comments. They
and senior            probably also demonstrate the length of my leash.
management will       At your leisure, you may want to go to CTGHS.com and peruse back issues for
appreciate our        something that may not have had value to you at the time but is relevant and worth
                      reading today. There are Insights addressing IT governance, customer service,
efforts and the       negotiating principals, managing change, and many other topics.
applications          This month, I want to address the value of good communication. Many of us came
we’ve delivered to    out of technical environments and are not great salespersons or communicators.
                      We have the attitude that if we work tirelessly to deliver the right technology, our
make their work       constituents will see our value, and senior management will appreciate our efforts
more effective. In    and the applications we’ve delivered to make their work more effective. In many
                      cases, however, that’s not enough.
many cases,
however, that’s       And since IT is frequently viewed as a cost center and commodity, you must
                      differentiate yourself and your department beyond the technology and applications.
not enough.           The primary means of doing this is through excellent communications—a skill that
                      may not come naturally for those with roots in technology.
                      CIOs must learn what their constituents want and appreciate, beyond IT support.
                      This can only be achieved by listening carefully, processing information effectively,
                      and acting appropriately. Without good communications, constituents feel that
                      they’re being served not as individuals, but as a faceless group of ‘users.’ This
                      ultimately leads to an unsatisfactory relationship. Poor communications is the
                      biggest obstacle you can face in effectively leading your team and forming lasting
                      relationships with your constituents.
                     Good communication is complex and can involve word choice, ideas, vocal
                     inflection, facial expression, body language, appearance, and a host of other
                     factors. Good communication involves both listening and speaking. A good
                     communicator takes responsibility for both sides of the conversation.
                     The first conversation that you, as a CIO, have with a constituent or staff person is
                     extremely important. It sets the tone for the relationship, and can a have a big
                     impact on their comfort and their perception of your interest in them as a person,
The first
                     rather than just another user or staff member.
conversation that
                     Understand your audience
you, as a CIO,
                     When speaking or writing, take the time to understand your audience and their
have with a          perspective. What is their normal frame of reference? How familiar are they with
constituent or       the world of IT? For instance, jargon and technology abbreviations can be a
                     communication stumbling block, particularly when communicating with members of
staff person is
                     a Board of Directors as a group or individually.
                     I experienced this very situation even though I tried very hard to avoid it. I was
important. It sets   preparing to make a board presentation asking for funding of a major project. I
the tone for the     went through the presentation and Power Point slides several times to ensure all
                     the abbreviations and technical jargon had been eliminated. Following the
relationship, and    presentation, the Chairman complimented me and said he only had one question:
can a have a big     “What is an HIS?” Wow! I had totally missed this very obvious abbreviation
                     because it had become part of our daily lexicon. But for board members, it was still
impact on their      an undefined abbreviation. And I was asking them to fund it.
comfort and their
                     The use of analogies and examples can have a very meaningful place in your
perception of        communication, especially when the topic is a new idea or concept for the listener.
your interest in     In one instance, I was talking with a leading physician in the community and trying
                     to explain the telecommunications network we wanted to create. This network
them as a person,    would provide access to clinical information across the organization and our
rather than just     community-based physicians. I was at it for a few minutes when I realized I had
                     gone too deep ‘into the weeds’ and had probably lost his interest.
another user or
                     I stopped for confirmation, offering that he was probably having trouble grasping
staff member.        what I was trying to say. To his credit he responded, “Not at all. You want to create
                     an electronic central nervous system, so the rest of the body can behave in a
                     coordinated fashion.” That was such a great analogy, we called the new network
                     the ‘CNS’ and I gave credit every opportunity I had to the physician thought leader
                     who came up with it.
                     Putting descriptions and ideas into your listener’s or reader’s normal frame of
                     reference goes a long way to bridging understanding.
                     Be an active listener
                     Listening is the other half of effective communications. It is an acquired skill that
                     takes effort. Listening includes absorbing, processing, and sifting to get the exact
                     meaning intended. The ability to take mental notes that you can recall later takes
                     practice. Salesmen record these conversations in a CRM system (Oops—I meant

                        to say “customer relationship management system”) so they can easily recall past
                        conversations prior to the next sales call.
                        Some CIOs I know use a very simple CRM system: following each meaningful
Ward Keever             conversation, they simply add a comment to a Word document that they have
serves as
                        created for each constituent. Having this information available for recall and
                        including it in the next conversation is an indication of truly caring about the
Executive Director      relationship and it demonstrates that you did, in fact, listen to previous
for CTG HealthCare      conversations. It’s simple and effective.
Solutions’              For me, with my type A personality, I have a tendency to interrupt people when
Executive Services.     they’re talking with me. This is especially true when I think I understand what the
As a former CIO,        person is about to say. This is rude, and my impatience is not a valid excuse. Lots
                        of us do this and we’re not even aware of it until someone calls our attention to it.
he has over 35          Allowing people to express their ideas, frustration, or misunderstandings is
years of experience     important—even if you feel you already know the answer. Too often the conclusion
in the healthcare       you jump to is incorrect. Good listening also creates a bond that says their input is
                        valuable to you.
IT industry, with a
strong background       Don’t forget style
in strategy             And finally, the unintended content and style of our conversation can be very
development and         distracting. Years ago, I had several colleagues who would include the phrase “you
                        know” in their speech without even knowing they did it. I would begin counting the
                        number of times they said “you know,” and listening to the conversation became
strategic and           secondary.
tactical IT systems
                        Today, it seems as if colleges and high schools have a required course on how to
in large health         use the word “like” in every sentence. This is, like, very distracting, and, like, hardly
system settings         of any value. But many of us, like, seem to use this word throughout our
and specific
                        conversations. And it has become, like, totally acceptable for, like, our kids and
                        grandkids, no matter how smart they are, to incorporate this word into, like, every
solutions for           conversation. It’ll be, like, interesting to see if Webster’s dictionary, like, someday
applications within     expands the definition of the word “like.” You know, like, totally dude . . .
the healthcare          It’s not just about substance, it’s also about style. The best leaders are good two-
industry.               way communicators: Thoughtful. Factual. Relevant. Frequent. Inspiring.
                        So how did I do? Is anyone there . . .
For more                Tally Ho!
information,            Ward
Ward Keever