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April 2009 Article
Living through History
by Jim Gibson
Leaving for HIMSS, I find myself thinking about history.
When reading history, major developments seem so dramatic. Yet, when we are living through them, the drama is sometimes lost. No matter how much attention we pay, it is hard to fully appreciate what is unfolding in our economy and political system.
The same is true for healthcare – both the financing and delivery. The rules are being changed as we go about our daily lives trying to carry out business as usual.
Naturally, the focus at HIMSS will be on the Stimulus Bill. It seems everyone is trying to correctly calculate its implications. Some vendors are anxious, worrying about their future; others are optimistic, hoping to make a killing. A few of the many issues being discussed are:
- How will “meaningful use” be interpreted?
- What will be the impact of certification, and what will it do to innovation? Among the vendors, will the “little guys” have a voice?
- Are we laying the groundwork for a single payer system?
- What are the long-term implications of “comparative effectiveness?”
Historic change indeed. This almost makes converting to ICD -10 seem routine.
It is comforting to remember what Dr. Seuss said, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” The question for all is how to accurately interpret, react to, and benefit from this change. It requires the same thing that is needed to adapt to normal market change: the ability to “read” the market and make necessary adjustments.
Some companies have done this well. Consider the many companies that started out as one type of business and successfully morphed into something else entirely. Others, however, have transformed themselves more than once, with questionable results. These firms appear as though they lack a clear vision of what they want to be.
Then there are those companies that do not succeed, for failure to read the market and adapt. As a search consultant, I get to speak with many people about their backgrounds and experiences. When discussing companies that should have made it but did not, I sometimes hear, “We were five years too soon” or “The market wasn’t ready for us.”
Even with more established companies, reading the market is often the basis for merger and acquisition activity. Admittedly, there are many reasons for mergers and acquisitions. One common reason is that the management of a firm senses a market need and makes a “buy vs. build” decision. This may be to fill a gap in a product offering or to change direction altogether.
Whether large or small, a company’s ability to accurately read the market is crucial to long-term survival and success.
So then, what helps a company, which is really just a collection of individuals, develop this “ability?” A few things are needed:
- The right management team – As with most matters of organizational effectiveness, it starts at the top. A CEO should build a diverse team of trusted advisors who are free to respectfully disagree and engage in discussion. The opposite of this is a CEO with a team of “yes-men.”
- A supportive Board of Directors – The CEO and senior management team need to know that the Board is behind them and that they are all pulling in the same direction with the same goal: success.
- A healthy company culture – Just as the senior management team needs to know that objective market intelligence and healthy debate are welcome, so does the rest of the organization. If someone from Product Management or Sales provides market information that causes discomfort, s/he needs to have confidence that the company environment welcomes new information and weighs it honestly on its merits.
- A market intelligence mechanism – This only works if the first three pieces are in place. A process for gaining market intelligence can take many forms, but it ought to be rigorous, taken seriously, and done in the spirit of organizational improvement.
Over the next several weeks and months, more clarity will emerge about the Stimulus Bill, leading to development of and changes to business plans. As management teams and their Boards weigh options, they should do so with feelings of optimism. Change brings opportunity. This is an excellent time for introspection. In addition to assessing product and company positioning, these executives should be asking themselves whether the company culture encourages fresh ideas and healthy debate. If not, they should add that to their plans.
See you at HIMSS!
Jim Gibson founded Gibson Consultants in 2002 after careers in healthcare IT and group health insurance. At Dictaphone Healthcare he was responsible for sales of speech recognition solutions to providers in the northeast. Working with the product management group, he also helped position Dictaphone's automated coding, NLP, and handheld charge capture solutions. As vice president of sales for HSS (now part of Ingenix), Jim was responsible for nationwide direct and third party sales of coding, case mix classification, and prospective payment system (PPS) software to hospitals and payers. Before HSS, Jim sold the DIAMOND payer administration system for Health System Design and clinical guidelines and administrative services for Health Risk Management. Prior to his healthcare IT career, he spent nine years with Prudential Healthcare in sales, sales management, and hospital contracting.
You can reach Jim directly at (203) 431-1536 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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