Empowering people to meet goals

Coaching teams to the successful completion of projects has two benefits, says Stephen F. Brown of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet Healthcare Corp.: It gets the job done on schedule, and it fosters a warmer workplace.

“Helping people be successful is a good way to ensure that you enjoy where you work,” says Brown, 45, executive vice-president and CIO at the US$3.3 billion health care provider. Successful people are happy people, he explains, and “happy people make great employees they’re more creative and more fun to be with.”

But Brown isn’t stepping into every quagmire to solve problems for his IT staff, which is based in Dallas. He’s a watchful steward, not a hand-holder. When a team shows signs of getting off track, Brown says, his role as coach is to empower them to create their own success, to make them feel they’re in control of their own destiny.

Recently, a project team was grousing about the end-user steering committee missing a key project deadline for producing policy and procedure documentation for a new application, Brown says. The team members felt that nothing could be done, that the problem was out of their hands and that the project would be unavoidably delayed.

Brown got the team members to focus on how they could transform a perceived failure into a success, renewing their sense of ownership and their commitment to completing the project on schedule.

“You have to assess the creativity and aggressiveness with which they are trying to solve the problem at hand; do they have a winning attitude about it and multiple ideas about how to get there?” he says. “And then make sure they have adequate resources to get the job done.”

Brown authorized the team to draft an initial document for the steering committee to review and edit. He also brought in external consultants to help with the draft. With a working document in place, the steering committee in turn felt empowered to complete the policy and procedures.

“You want to breed a culture where success is expected,” Brown explains. “If you have that organizational mind-set, then people are a little more inclined to be open to your suggestions about what you might want them to do next, because they see that you want to help them and guide them in a positive way vs. guiding them into something against their will.”

In terms of career coaching, that means identifying individual talent and matching it to a specific IT need, Brown says. When a staff member’s talents are unleashed for the benefit of the organization, the potential for success is a given.

For example, a programmer in the cost accounting systems department had demonstrated a facility for problem-solving and working with end users. Recognizing that his personality would be an asset to intradepartmental projects, Brown championed that person’s move to head up a workflow applications initiative.

Alan Cranford, vice-president of operations at Tenet Healthcare, describes Brown’s management style as “comfortable and productive,” adding, “He’s encouraging and supportive of his staff but also gives them autonomy. He sets the vision and expects his staff to execute it.”