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Accelerating Your Data Innovation Journey in Healthcare: Leading the Expedition by Kerri Webster, CDAO, Children’s Hospital Colorado

We have talked about a great many things in this series: the changing business landscape and the need to accelerate our analytics and AI journey, the operating model and entrepreneurial mindset that makes this possible, how to get started, and the platform, frameworks, and technology that will enable the journey. In this piece, we focus on leading the expedition.

I am excited to introduce Kerri Webster to share her experience leading the expedition. I can think of no one better. Kerri is an exceptional nurse, and clinical and analytics leader with a proven track record of success. As the chief analytics officer at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Kerri has led the growth of the analytics community that has been independently benchmarked as best in class—reducing cost, enriching workforce experience, and improving the lives of children and their families. Kerri shares the leadership philosophy and practices that made this possible.

—Ryan Sousa

Children’s Hospital Colorado Analytics Resource Center: Overview

Officially launched in 2017, the Analytics Resource Center (ARC) is the culmination of a two-year multidisciplinary strategic initiative. As a standalone division of the organization, ARC was created to shape the strategy and build the resources that support a data-driven, high-performance enterprise. The division is comprised of over 65 individuals supporting data architecture, analytics business operations (governance, program management, and training), infrastructure, development, and research and data science. Since its inception, ARC has been instrumental in supporting business transformation: improving care, increasing efficiency, making smart data-driven decisions and reducing cost.

Form a Vision

When the journey to stand up Children’s Hospital Colorado Analytics Resource Center began, it felt like being dropped into the ocean's deep abyss without a life jacket. Without years of industry analytics experience, it was scary. Without a deeply technical background, there was just enough to get by. It soon became evident that these ‘lacks’ maybe were just a smokescreen for fear. It was the leadership lessons carried forward from a lifetime of habits and practices that, when applied, were a catalyst for rapid growth, transformational change, high performance and innovation, and workforce enrichment.

The journey started with a vision; having a north star is critical. Where is the division headed? What’s the main objective? What’s the impact on the patient? This is big sky wildest dreams thinking – not projects, not implementations, but aspirations. Approaching the vision with the wide-eyed innocence of a novice can be a benefit. This approach enables the ability to challenge convention and enables great questions: Why? Why Not? How about?

This learning approach means applying original ways of thinking, which can be the seed of a truly inspired approach. It’s about having the courage to question years of habits, fearlessly, doggedly asking about the rationale behind historical decisions. It’s also about honoring the past and bringing forward the best parts.

Another part of a grand vision is making it simple. Simplicity is elegant, it’s relatable and transferable. All the while, knowing simple isn’t always easy and requires hard work and grit. It’s also knowing it’s a journey that won’t happen overnight. On that journey to realize the vision, begin thinking about how to incrementally measure success. Set targets high and find measurable steps along the way to monitor progress.

Data & Analytics Leadership: Delivering Value Quickly

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Act and Adapt

Action is crucial. Don’t wait to do the next right thing. Leverage a fail-fast, fix-forward framework. If you don’t do something—anything—nothing will get done. Having a vision is great, but a vision without action will not achieve great things.

A lot of things were tried in the early days. Some things worked out of the gate. Many things did not. Tactics were relentlessly evaluated, and consequences were acted upon. Sometimes a tactic was scrapped, other times just tweaked. This approach led to rapid evolution of the strategy.

The caution here is that some people are nervous with the seemingly constant change. Change fatigue is real but knowing that change is inevitable and a part of the work, alleviates some of that fatigue. People need time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Additionally, people can get frustrated that work can be seen as a ‘throwaway.’ The challenge is to think of it as learning, as a building block to a better future. This helps lessen the idea that the work was a waste of time, even if it’s not in practice today.

Grow Talent Density

Without a doubt, the key to any successful program is the people on the team. Vision and action are great, but without amazing people to see the vision and perform the action, the work is conflicted, stale and ineffective. The ability to have great people means internal expertise can be relied upon. While it’s great to have a wide variety of knowledge and experience, looking inward adds great value to the organization and the individual. This makes hiring well an imperative.

Relentless attention to ensuring the right people are on the team is a must-have. At the beginning of program development, there were a lot of open positions. People who didn’t align with the vision of technical and cultural fit chose to leave. The selection and hiring of new people on the team was rigorous and exacting. There was no settling. Once the right people were aligned and onboarded, retention became a priority. Programs were designed and developed to support personal and professional growth. Strengths were cultivated and elevated, opportunities were addressed head-on, and pathways were created for people to shine.

Building an Analytics Team for Your Organization

In this complimentary research brief, IIA Expert Network member Emilie Harrington discusses various organizational structures, roles, team or job family design, skills/knowledge/ability (SKAs), and recruiting and retaining analytical talent.

Nurture the Culture

Underpinning all of this is culture. While it may seem cliché, having the best vision, next steps and team members means nothing without a great culture. Meticulously and deliberately cultivating culture ensures that a shadow culture doesn’t develop. This means it matters how deeply the team connects to the organization’s values and norms, and they work that they do. This ensures it’s not just a job—it’s a way of life.

Deliberately cultivating a culture means taking time and effort to define, design, and discuss it. It’s never an afterthought. On our team, this means a deliberate focus. For example, not forgetting a sense of humor: laughing with each other, finding levity in heavy situations, and providing permission to have joy in the mundane.

Time is built into the work to form and develop meaningful connections—with each other and our partners. Diversity is honored and supported. There are deeply meaningful conversations about biases and differences. Reflecting on how biases are brought to work and what it means in relationships is engrained in workflow and conversations.

Resiliency is also a focus. The team is encouraged to practice ruthless self-care. There is a deep understanding that only by ensuring individual needs are met can our full potential be realized. There is an understanding that there is a whole person that comes to work each day, not just someone doing a job. Caring for that whole person brings everything together.

Ultimately, a culture of high performance, high touch, high compassion, and high connection has been developed, nurtured, and grown. The result of this deliberate approach to culture has translated to trusting relationships, getting through the hard times, and finding true joy in the work.

Unify the Community

Bringing this transformation to the organization begins from within the analytics division itself. The analytics leader and team must fundamentally recognize, understand and live into the partnership paradigm. This means changing vernacular: we work with partners and data consumers, not for customers. This means analytics professionals must have the courage to ask questions and challenge assumptions in meetings at all levels of the organization. This means recognizing that everyone is passionate about the outcomes. Once you have demonstrated the shared successes, the lines between roles are blurred, the partnership is engrained, and growth is enabled.

In Closing

How is this transformational? While implementing these lessons may have produced a nationally recognized analytics division, the most transformational outcome is the radical shift in thinking throughout the enterprise that has transpired quickly. The analytics team is no longer viewed as a commodity but as a partner in solving the most complex problems our patients and caregivers face. Across the enterprise, it’s about coming together with shared goals. It’s about making a difference – and we have!

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