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CIO Unplugged 8/17/11

August 17, 2011 Ed Marx 79 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.


One thing that differentiates top performers from peers is neither skill nor experience — it’s talent. One key talent is compassion. Top performers connect their skills with compassion. They link their hearts to their brains. Connection is the difference maker.

As a leader, how do I help make that connection for my team? How do I create an environment where we can cultivate compassion? How do I help them view their job as more than a paycheck, but as a contribution to a patient’s life?

A motivational speech might spike emotions for a day or two, but I need something with a longer half-life. I need an approach that transcends mental understanding, a connection so strong that synapses will rewire and link the brain to the heart and infect the soul. Forever.

The single most effective method I have leveraged is what I term Connections. I have employed Connections for eight years, at two different organizations. The remarkable happens when you remove the physical barriers between clinicians and those who support them.

A programmer’s heart changes when he sees the impact of his code on a patient. When a service desk agent sees the face of the physician she’d helped navigate through the electronic health record, her heart expands. Sympathy awakens in the data center engineer when he learns from a nurse that patient outcomes improve because of the technology delivered with zero downtime. And an administrative assistant understands the urgency of communication when she personally witnesses the life and death stress.

Our brains tap into our hearts. Compassion-infused work follows.


  • The clinicians who are shadowed learn more about technology. They learn that we care and that they have this incredible support structure surrounding them. This aspect is almost as beneficial as the Connections themselves.
  • Relationships develop and then are cultivated, creating a family-oriented culture.
  • Respect from operational leaders increases because they see that you care enough to take such action.
  • While not scientifically validated, there appears to be an overall correlation between organizational outcomes and Connections.
  • As Connections form, employee engagement rises, creating and nurturing new talents.

Employee Transformation Testimonies

  • “I must admit, I hated this idea but did it because I had to. I have worked here for 20 years and for the first time I realized we have patients. Of course I knew what we did as a hospital but really, this was incredibly impacting and I will never be the same.” (Programmer)
  • “I am not the same today as yesterday.” (Network Engineer)
  • “I volunteered to observe in the OB unit. With clinician and patient consent, I witnessed the birth of twin babies. I never realized all the behind the scenes coordination required and it opened my eyes to a whole new world.” (Admin Assistant)
  • “I never saw myself as part of the patient care process until now.” (Field Support)
  • “My life is changed. I always wanted to be care giver but didn’t like blood so chose a different path in technology. Now I tell people I am both.” (Application Analyst)
  • “I run marathons. I was more exhausted shadowing a nurse today. I never knew.” (Project Manager)
  • “In one day I witnessed the joy of healing and the pain of death. I now see how critical IT is and why we need to be the best that we can be to support the front lines.” (Business Analyst)
  • “I am a nurse and did not see why I had to take part in Connections. After today, it was like I was hit by a ton of bricks! Wake up call! Thank you, thank you, thank you.” (Application Analyst)
  • “The experience is another reminder that the bigger picture of our health system, being a body of entities, departments and individuals, come together for the patients to have one more beat of life.” (Data Center Operator)
  • “The experience was one that I am very thankful to have participated in and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year.” (Application Manager)
  • “Patient care was the core focus of every area. It was really great to see the patients and what we really work for. Connections reminds us of what is truly important and why we do what we do (Security Analyst)
  • “There is a lot of new technology on the floor and it’s cool to see how all the parts fit together to make the whole. People working with people and technology involved to make health care better.” (Business Analyst)
  • “This is my second Connections, and every time I get a much more vivid idea of how my contributions and duties make a difference and reaffirms the promise to our community and the people we serve.” (Data Center Operator)
  • “Clinicians are the reason we all have jobs, and I thank them for all of their hard work.” (Business Applications Manager)
  • “It was very educational for me to see what the nurses and physicians do and how they use technology in their environment. It’s always a good thing for people working in technology to understand the business they support. Glad I had the opportunity. (Data Center Manager)
  • “I have worked at 4 different health care organizations in 3 different states and this is the first time I have seen a program like this. I am proud to work here.” (Application Analyst)
  • “Given what I saw I can’t begin to imagine how stressful their work must be. We need to do everything we possibly can to make it less so.” (Vice President)

I love a great speech and giving out raises and bonuses. But evidence suggests these have fleeting influence on performance and certainly do not develop compassion. In fact, some studies indicate the enthusiasm over a raise lasts two weeks.

I speculate this is because money only engages the brain. Conversely, transforming a person’s way of thinking and view of themselves results in long-term effects and a new person. Even the hardest of hearts and the most gifted intellectual will begin to view things differently. Once they’ve Connected.

***Leave a comment and I will send you a simple 10-step process for successfully setting up your own Connections program at your organization.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "79 comments" on this Article:

  1. Kudos Ed, good stuff.

    Reminds me of the physician who wrote a book after he contracted a chronic illness and had to participate in his health system’s processes. Afterward he enlisted staff to put themselves in the position of the patient to witness firsthand what they encountered, endured and feared going through the system. Amazing changes took place to improve and innovate. Amazing what can happen when one applies the Golden Rule. With the burnden on everyone’s shoulders to do more with less, faster, better, etc.. these are good lessons. Thanks.

  2. Inspiring thoughts as usual – a great way to start the day. Our team does observations as part of new hire orientation, but sounds like you have taken that a step or two further. Would love to learn more. Please send more about your program.

  3. I worked with the hospital’s chief pharmacist one day, and I was appalled at many things, not the least of which was simple legibility! All clinicians should have to interpret handwritten orders – that would make the CPOE process go a lot more smoothly!

  4. Ed,

    As usual – insightful and valuable and actionable. I would like a copy of your 10 step connection process.


  5. Ed,

    Excellent post. We have supported this sort of clinical observation for our CPOE, Clin Doc and even HELP desk teams for a number of years. However, a more formal program would be much more effective with longer term benefits. I’d appreciate a copy of your 10 steps, please. Thanks very much.

  6. I would like a copy of your 10 Steps as well. Our organization has a similar program at the corporate level and is looking for ways to “clone” it in our divisions. Thanks!

  7. I’ve been working to get my staff out on the front lines for years. This Connections program may be just what we need. Thanks and I look forward to the 10 steps!

  8. Solid stuff as ever, Ed. If more organizations followed this approach we’d have a lot less people moaning about their jobs, and higher performance across the board.

    Keep the musings coming!

  9. Our organization has implemented something similar and it really does make a difference. Pls forward a copy of the process.

    “There’s an old saying: To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart. That’s the nature of the Law of Connection. Always touch a person’s heart before you ask for a hand.” John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

  10. Excellent Ed! You inspire me to continue to believe in what we are doing. I need your ten steps to pump up my team’s compassion! Thank you

  11. Thanks, Ed. I’d like a coipy of the ten steps, too.

    This is proof that we, as a community, can do infinitely more on our own than most governmental bueaucratic decrees backed by train loads of borrowed tax money.

    As an ITer, I learned by accident that even an occassional stroll through the waiting areas of our children’s hospital can be an eye opener and a heart squeezing reminder of why we do our work.

  12. great article, Ed. I have an IT background but enjoy working in the clinical areas assisting nurses and physicians. It makes my job much more maningful. Please share your 10 step process.

  13. Last time I did something like this, I realized how hard it is for a person who is left-handed to use a jotter pen on a tablet PC as their arm covered the whole screen as they worked. So simple, but eye opening. I would appreciate a copy of the 10 steps. Thanks!

  14. I would love to share this with the IT staff who bring us in but don’t want to include any clinicians in the evaluation of the product. If they could require this of their network staff before we go into a production pilot I think we would have wildly greater success! Pls send me your 10 steps.

  15. As usual, you have challenged us – merging this program with the one you are doing with Radio Shack is a great reminder of why we do what we do. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  16. Thank you Ed! I look forward to new posts and this one certainly hit home! Please share your 10 step process for connections. Thanks again!

  17. Ed, I’ve seen the power of this in practice, but never as a full “program.” I’d appreciate receiving the 10 steps so I can implement this at the new hospital where I have just started leading the IT department. Is the Connections program at your facility used by other supporting services departments also?

    We had horrible issues about 10 years ago with a scanned images system and finally convinced the vendor to send out 3 of their software engineers to spend time with our physicians, HIM, etc, and those engineers had a similarly enlightening experience. They immediately went back and made several much-needed improvements to the system. They admitted that before the visit they really had no idea how people actually used their system.

  18. So true! The people on our team who have come from the business side tend to have more compassion than the technical analysts.

    I look forward to reading your 10 steps to Connect.

  19. Perhaps a connection going in the reverse direction would also help the clinician show some compassion for IT folks. We receive phone calls demanding changes to order entry screens, reports, labels, etc every day and they want it done right away. Their request is often a high priority in their mind. Perhaps if they saw the number of requests we get and the work involved in making the changes and moving into production the clinician would be a little more understanding of IT process. We are not all geeks with only one thing to work on every day. We multi-task like nurses, just have different responsibilities.

  20. Ed, I always look forward to your posts. This post, like the others, was tremendously insightful. As a new employee at my medical software company, I pushed to have my own “shadowing” experience at a local hospital and it made a tremendous impact on the way that I approached my new job. I would love for my co-workers to have the same experience and am very interested in your 10-step process. Please share!

  21. Have not been a big fan of your articles in the past. I have to admit this is a GREAT one.

    Thanks for your contribution.

  22. Good insight, motivation alway difficult to maintain
    Please send me the ten step process that you’ve been successful with

  23. Ed –

    Very thoughtful remarks as always –

    I’d like to get a copy of the 10-step process to set up the Connections program.


  24. Ed,

    Great concept and as many here agree this should be part of every workplace, especially for those of us in HIT. We have a tendency to be most physically disconnected while we the most electronically connected through interfaces, websites, software, etc.

    As another post here from Molly states, it would be beneficial to have this go the other direction as well so those on the front lines can see what it takes to make the tech work behind the scenes.

    Thanks for being willing to share these secrets with the rest of us!

  25. I really see the value in your approach and try to do similar things in my work. I would really like to see your plan.

    Thanks James Webb

  26. Ed-
    I never got the copy of your “10 Steps”

    ***Leave a comment and I will send you a simple 10-step process for successfully setting up your own Connections program at your organization

    Not sure why. Can you please resend? THanks

  27. really good. Compassion and also empathy which is developed leads to the outcome, which so many have documented.
    Great !

  28. Excellent column. I experienced this myself after asking hospital staff for permission to shadow cancer patients. As I explained to them, I needed to get some level of understanding of what they go through so that I.T. could ‘really’ help them.

    Would love to get a copy of your 10 steps.

  29. Outstanding…..I put a mental tick on this post at the time, but missed your offer to share your 10 steps. If you’re still offering, I’m ready.

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