Failure...Part of Any Technology Experience: How to Lead Through It

Guest Authored by John Ragsdale, CIO @ StratiFi Health and Catalyst Health Network.

This post, the first of a mini-series dubbed myPerspective, is about leading through technology failure.

We are all heavily dependent on technology, especially in the workplace. I work in healthcare, and technology is the epicenter of the transformation of the industry. Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and Practice Management (PM) systems are critical to Physicians, Medical Assistants, and Patients in the day-to-day delivery of healthcare.  When these systems fail to meet user expectations (i.e. system slowness, crashing, errors/bugs, outages, etc.), physician practices and other healthcare organizations immediately become less efficient and productive. Quality of care can suffer. Patient experiences become negative and satisfaction suffers. As a result, Physicians, medical staff, and patients all get VERY frustrated, even angry when technology does not meet expectations. And it's completely justifiable to feel frustrated. But what we do with the energy fueling that frustration...well, let's dig a little deeper into that.

Too often, ‘drama’ ensues. some leaders and staff members move quickly into ‘victim’ mode (note: ‘drama’ and ‘victim’, are described in The Empowerment Dynamic TED methodology). Unfortunately, complaining, blame, and other forms of negative reactionary behavior often rule the day. They solve nothing and actually contribute to the problem. Additionally, when leaders choose to become ‘victims’, staff members see that, often emulating their leader’s ‘victim’ behavior. Before you know it, every one has an active role as part of the problem.

Believe it or not, I have actually experienced people quitting jobs over this kind of thing. Wow! All of this because technology is not meeting expectations. Let's face it, we've all been there, some where, at some point. Technology 'drama' isn't reserved just for the workplace. Oh no. It occurs at home, at church...wherever technology exists. And the ‘victim’ mentality is always lurking in the shadows of technology failure. 

myPerspective...it doesn't have to be that way. First, let's level set on the some facts and expectations. Technology will fail at some point...and then again at another point, and then again, and yet again. Yes, we in the technology industry strive to make technology more and more predictable through redundancy, proactive maintenance and monitoring, but failure is part of the technology experience. The constant and more frequent change and evolution of technology fuel the probability of failure. Take for example the iPhone.  What a marvelous package of technology it represents.  Yet have you ever been to an Apple Store that isn't packed with customers experiencing at least a handful of issues? In fact, its nearly impossible to schedule a same-day Genius Bar appointment.

Given that failure in technology is part of the technology experience, accept it as a part of life. When something goes wrong, pause in an effort to avoid the 'drama'. We must CHOOSE our response wisely by taking a creative, problem-solving approach...especially those of us who lead. As highlighted in The Empowerment Dynamic, leaders choose to become 'creators' when technology fails. Below are a few suggestions on how to do this (feel free to be a 'creator' and add your ideas to the comments):

  • BE PREPARED...Develop, test, and practice creative solutions, work-arounds, and communication plans with your teams and departments in preparation and expectation of future technology failures.  Then, when failure occurs, the organization is prepared and knows what to do…as opposed to the opposite which creates a lot of ‘drama’.
  • MAINTAIN PERSPECTIVE...When failure occurs, and it will, rise above the situation and be a leader.  Know that people are watching. Whether you are a leader by role or by choice, positive behavior is the best choice for you and every one involved. That doesn't mean we don't acknowledge the issues. We do acknowledge them and prepare our minds and hearts for solutions. 
  • COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE...Ensure timely and appropriate communication among all stakeholders (end users, leadership, technology team, consultants, etc.) explaining the situation, status, timelines, ETA, and resolution. Provide visible support and encouragement (verbal, written, physical, etc.) before, during and after the situation to the technical resources working to solve the problem(s). Remember that they are your most valuable resource in solving the problem. Make sure technical terms are not a barrier to communicating. Translate such terms into terms understandable by non-technical people.
  • ENSURE ACCOUNTABILITY...Appropriately hold your technology resources accountable for system performance/management.  Make sure the technology team consistently learns from failures and implements systems, tools, processes, etc. to prevent similar issues in the future.

It's tough, but I believe we can all do it. Choose to avoid ‘drama’ and being a 'victim'. Instead choose to be a 'creator'! Thanks for reading. Please share your ideas for being a 'creator' and problem solver in the comments. Also check back in two weeks as we tackle another leadership topic in the next installment of myPerspective.

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