Tips on how to be an effective healthcare IT leader in 2023 and beyond


I’ve been thinking as 2022 approaches, realizing that as healthcare IT leaders prepare for the new year, there will be many obstacles in our future path. Although nearly three years have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic, leading healthcare IT organizations have never been more challenged.

What has worked for many years in terms of leading technology teams is often no longer sufficient in today’s new healthcare environment. The skills, traits, and experience that made leaders successful in the past continue to change direction and evolve as the effects of mass resignation and remote work affect the workforce.

I’d like to share, from my experience, a few strategies that IT leaders might benefit from focusing on as we head into 2023 and beyond to maximize retention and productivity.

Assuming you have a healthy organizational culture, having your finger on the pulse of your environment and prioritizing your efforts to keep moving forward is of utmost importance. Also, it will be important to recognize the difference between “forced” culture and “inspired” culture.

Coercive cultures are never sustainable. Between hiring new people to replace those lost in the “big resignation” traffic and establishing a remote or hybrid work environment, the challenge is not trivial.

In today’s world, I find the need to focus on being innovative in this area. Although it was sometimes difficult to navigate the past when staff were in the office every day, people can still observe and embrace the culture.

A few thoughts to offer for your own reflection: How do you instill your culture (shared beliefs, values, and attitudes) in new hires? How do you maintain this with staff who may not come into the office often? A key aspect of building or shaping culture is that it must be defined and articulated as much as possible.

More than ever before, this needs to be included in your onboarding process and annual review. Organizational or cultural “fit” will be more important than ever before. Mistakes made in this area will be costly in terms of time and money. Hiring managers will need to check this carefully in the hiring process.

Realize that much of this cultural challenge will fall on the middle managers who interface regularly with frontline staff. We will have to prepare them to establish points of connection with the team and the culture of the organization. This will require time and effort from the organization’s leaders to set the course and pace, while recognizing and rewarding behaviors that help create the desired environment. As Peter Drucker once said “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Once you find a way to keep your culture front and center, it’s imperative that you focus more than ever on employee engagement. Strong organizations know that measuring employee engagement is critical to a high-performing workforce, and the results speak for themselves.

So how do you keep staff actively engaged when they may not be in the office often or work from a remote location? Old-fashioned walk-around management no longer works in some aspects of healthcare IT.

Since we have settled into a new normal when it comes to these traits, it will again be important for us to be innovative and focused as a leader. How do you create that line of sight so your teams recognize the important work they’re doing? How do you ensure they stay engaged with so many distractions that occur in remote work environments?

I think it will be important to get a baseline assessment of staff engagement and then work on programs to maintain or encourage greater engagement. In this new era, leaders will need to emphasize and prioritize finding ways to encourage engagement and reward engagement.

Assuming you can maintain your strong culture and keep your team engaged, you still need to focus on employee retention. All that work can be for naught if your key employees can be outsourced, either by local competitors or distant technology companies. Employee retention has never been easy in healthcare IT, and the challenges are now heightened.

I tend to think of these tensions in terms of “push and pull.” What are the things that your employees find “helpful” – things that reduce their motivation and productivity? What are the things that make them frustrated and get a call from a recruiter? Identify these things and eradicate them as soon as possible.

What things do your employees see as “pullers” – things that make them want to stay with your organization? Identify them and encourage them to be introduced even more widely. Listen to the people on your teams. Find ways to survey employees in your organization who are involved in the pulse of the organization.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but you can find common themes that will really get your workforce to see your company as a “destination” organization. The payoff is that it now not only becomes easier to retain key employees, but it also becomes easier to hire as needed.

I mentioned the need to invest in middle management. These are the managers and directors who sit between your executives and your frontline managers. I want to really emphasize how important this group is when it comes to all the things that are critical to creating a high performing, sustainable IT organization.

After all, these are emerging leaders who can seamlessly execute projects while operationally keeping core systems running 24/7. These middle managers are the glue for the organization. It is useful to remember that when people leave an organization, they often leave because of their manager.

In today’s world of fighting for the best and brightest employees, don’t give them a reason to leave. Pay employees at market rate, keep them motivated and engaged, and make sure their managers understand the critical role they play.

As the winds push hard against healthcare IT leaders heading into 2023, there are plenty of opportunities to chart a steady course and arrive at your desired destination.

  • Understand that you will have an advanced remote workforce. Work to create the right balance for your team.

  • Set and manage the team around expectations for remote work.

  • Create scorecards to measure and reward productive behavior.

  • Look for opportunities to internally promote your strong staff to management and ultimately leadership positions.

Also, identify and reward employees who positively feed your culture. They will become your cultural “beacons”, making it easier for you to spread the word and demonstrate the right behavior.

Also, make sure your management team is looking for signs of burnout. It’s important to reduce ambiguity more than ever before with a remote workforce. Make sure that, as a leader, you are thoughtful, articulate and accountable.

These tactics will help keep your culture alive and well. Your team will recognize efforts and thrive, so you can focus on the next wave of leadership opportunities and challenges.

John P. Donohue is vice president of information services at Penn Medicine.

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