Climbing Higher: An Innovative Approach to Growth


by Ron Kibbe


By the spring of 2011, the Customer Support Services team at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (OSUWMC) already had several noteworthy accomplishments under its belt: in 2005, it became the first academic medical center to earn the HDI Support Center Certification, and the first organization to certify its entire support center; and in 2010 and 2011, the team was a finalist for the HDI Team Excellence Awards. But Ben Walters, director of Customer Support Services, was looking for ways to achieve greater results and breathe new life into his areas of responsibility. He wanted to shake things up.

So Ben asked two of his managers to swap roles: Todd Neffenger, manager of the help desk and computer operations teams, and me, Ron Kibbe, assistant director of IT. Ben wanted to do something to bring the two teams closer together and help them see things in a new way. Both of us had been in our roles for a number of years and settled into successful routines. The swap was as much about our teams and how they were responding to our styles as it was about us. Todd’s style is a bit more conversational and free-flowing, while mine is more structured and data-driven. Although both styles were getting positive results, Ben believed that both the teams and the organization—as well as me and Todd—would benefit from this change.

The Swap in Theory

When Ben first floated the idea past us, in early February 2011, we were stunned. If you’re going about your job and achieving success, the last thing you expect is for someone to come up to you and say, “Hey, I’d like you to think about swapping roles with someone else.”

My reaction was one of total disbelief. I thought I was doing well. In fact, in addition to my IT role, I was serving as a cultural transformation facilitator for the university and had been selected to become a physician trainer for our electronic medical record (EMR) system. What more could I do?

My stomach was in knots; I couldn’t sleep, and I was becoming more irritable by the day. Finally, I just let it go. I thought, Maybe this will pass if I just don’t do anything.

In early June, just before we began application training for the new EMR, Ben brought the idea up again, with a bit more force. I could tell this wasn’t an idea that was going to go away. Again, I struggled with feelings of despair. What was I going to do? At that point, I’d been at OSU for fourteen years, longer than any of my previous jobs. I love OSU, but more than that, I had a family and a mortgage. I couldn’t just walk away, and yet that thought went through my mind more than once.

Finally, I worked up the nerve to go and speak to a trusted friend in a leadership role in our department. This individual could potentially influence the decision if asked, but that wasn’t my intention. I simply wanted to talk with someone, to share my fears. My confidant listened, asked questions, provided additional insight that I had not initially considered, and explained that sometimes organizations make these types of decisions and implement change to develop individuals that show potential.

I knew I either had to accept the job swap or start looking for a new opportunity. And then, on October 12, 2011, the day finally came when we had to present the idea to the help desk and field services teams. Here’s how the organization presented the idea:

Our support center is already a mature organization and has maintained an over 95-percent customer satisfaction rating over the past year. Each one of these seasoned managers can bring their styles and ideas to their new teams. It is our goal and intention that this swap will facilitate an even higher level of effectiveness within these teams, which will result in a higher level of efficiency and a higher level of customer satisfaction among our customer communities.

Reactions were mixed: disbelief, intrigue, frustration, and even joy. Questions and comments came pouring in from both teams, as well as the rest of the IT department, concerning the swap.

The Swap in Action

Change is inevitable, and all you can control is your response to it. If you make the effort to embrace change, no matter what form it takes, you can exert some degree of control or influence over the outcome. So, that’s what Todd and I decided to do. We accepted our new reality and started planning for the future.

Once I was finally comfortable with this new direction, my action plan seemed to just fall into place. One of the things that made this swap so easy was that Todd and I reported to the same director. Other than leading new groups of people, nothing changed. We reported to the same individual, we were employed by the same organization, and our benefits and salaries remained the same. The risk to the organization was minimal. We were both available to support each other, and we always had the option of swapping back.

The first thing I did to prepare for my new role was outline some steps that I felt might help launch this new chapter in my career as an IT support professional. The steps I identified included:

  • Meeting with my manager to better understand his expectations of me in this new role
  • Meeting with Todd, a former field services team manager, to learn more about the role and areas of responsibility that went with it
  • Setting up formal and informal meetings with the field services supervisor and team leads
  • Meeting with individual team members in an effort to get to know them
  • Reviewing the data from our ticketing system and the HDI Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) Service
  • Touring our clinical spaces and becoming familiar with the spaces where our field services staff worked

I also turned to my bookshelf. Over the years, I’ve become an avid reader of leadership books. Some of the titles I turned to when staring this new role included:

Lencioni’s book reminded me that staff members need three basic things from their leaders. They need to:

  • Know that there’s a relationship, that they’re not simply a number
  • Know that what they’re doing truly matters and that they’re making a difference
  • Be able to measure for themselves whether or not they’ve had a successful day

Using these concepts, I set out to truly understand each member of my team. I wanted to know what they enjoyed working on so I could begin matching up personal interests with business needs. I then created a graph illustrating how staff were to be evaluated, so that everyone had the same general understanding.

The Benefits of the Swap

As a result of the job swap, OSUWMC has seen considerable change, at the organizational and team levels, but also at a personal level, for myself and Todd.

Organizational

  • The two teams have a closer relationship with each other. 
  • Todd and I are now better positioned to serve as each other’s backup.
  • We’re striving to include both support teams earlier in the project planning process so that we might offer some additional insight and guidance and provide better support once the new product or service is rolled out.
  • We’ve identified a need to replace two of our existing vehicles and have placed budgetary requests for two new vehicles in the new fiscal year.

Team

  • We reviewed the senior field services technician role and assigned them to mentor a group of field services technicians. This had been a part of the existing position description, but we weren’t leveraging their expertise.
  • We’re using data to help us divide our work into zones. Technicians are assigned to zones, which allows us to respond faster to requests and issues in a given area and build rapport with some of the staff working in a particular zone.
  • We created a new work space close in proximity to where the majority of our customers are located, thus reducing the amount of time spent traveling back and forth between the main IT offices and the clinical spaces.
  • We addressed higher than normal ASA and call volumes by focusing on answering the phones and working with other support teams to spread additional duties around.

Personal

  • We’re making a concerted effort to better recognize our staff and encourage them to recognize each other.
  • We see our colleagues in a new light. Walking in someone else’s shoes for a while really does make a difference.

When you get comfortable, things become routine. Magic can only happen when you step outside your comfort zone. So, should you consider doing this? Job swapping has a number of benefits, some of which I’ve already mentioned:

  • It strengthens the team.
  • It encourages better collaboration and understanding between teams.
  • It provides additional development opportunities for team leaders.
  • It creates a support structure that ensures success.
  • It encourages fresh ideas and thinking.
  • It validates the team’s experiences and direction.
  • It facilitates succession and contingency planning.

When Todd and I were asked if we wanted to swap back, the answer was a resounding “No!” This swap has given us opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have had, and we’ve seen improvements in many areas. The future is indeed bright for the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

 

Ron Kibbe is an innovative support center professional with a demonstrated track record of achieving results in the healthcare, education, and research environments. Ron is an active member of HDI, having served as a HDI local chapter officer and as a former member of the HDI Healthcare Providers Forum and HDI Member Advisory Board.

Tag(s): workforce enablement, professional development, case study

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