Bill Spooner: You're only as strong as the people you work with

While Bill Spooner, former CIO at San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare, currently lives in what some would consider paradise, he has other plans for his retirement.

"I'll be living in Eastern Tennessee," Spooner said. "Rolling countryside."

Spooner, who in part 1 of an exclusive interview with FierceHealthIT at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives CIO Forum in Orlando, Fla., last month talked about the state of patient matching in healthcare, said he plans to continue that work in a consulting capacity going forward.

"I've been talking with a number of organizations and am just trying to figure out the best fit at this point," Spooner (pictured right) said.

In part 2 of his interview, Spooner shares his advice for new CIOs in the industry, as well as lessons learned.

FierceHealthIT: What advice do you have for up-and-coming CIOs?

Spooner: My experience has been that the successful initiatives are those with user champions. It's a balancing act. I like to nudge the user community/clinicians with an idea that I know about or have heard about, that I've heard about. At the same time, they're the ones who have to adopt it. So many times, I can see a project with what I would consider a less capable system more successful because passionate users wanted it. The willingness to partner with the user community is big time. I just can't imagine that changing.

Also, don't let your ego get in the way. And listen.

FierceHealthIT: How often do you think those things aren't done? How much would you say hinders the progress of a great project?

Spooner: I think ego gets in the way, there's no question about that. But there are also a ton of highly capable CIOs. I'm more impressed every time I come to a conference like this, with all of the thoughtful leadership. I think there are a lot of unsung heroes. That's part of your challenge; you have to remain that way, too.

I had some really, really nice compliments paid to me as I was leaving Sharp by people who didn't have to make them. I thought at the time, because I'm a little bit cynical, "I haven't heard that for the last 15 years, where have you been?" It's nice to know that you're appreciated and I think a lot of the successful CIOs try to stay calm, stay mellow, be a little bit understated and get their work done.

FierceHealthIT: What is the best lesson you've learned in your career as a CIO?

Spooner: You're only as strong as your people. I haven't said thank you enough. I've been really, really fortunate to have a good team. You just can't overlook the people.

We've had, over the past decade, a really strong culture change process within our organization that really stemmed from top to bottom involving greater employee engagement. We've created employee action teams where the employees take the results of their opinion surveys and suggest and promote corrective actions and changes resulting from the big hitters. I think the employees really feel engaged from that. It's pretty wonderful when your employees like being there and they still get a bunch done.

Editor's Note: This interview has been condensed for clarity and content.

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