How to Win Friends and Influence IT People

By Ben Resner, VP of Special Projects, Hospital IQ
Twitter: @HospitalIQ

To ensure the success of data integrations between vendor and client’s in-house IT department, it’s important to remember the human-to-human element. There’s one resource in particular that has existed for decades, and is as relevant today as it was then – Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, published in 1936 and revered by modern day icons like Warren Buffett, who attributes much of his success to the fundamental lessons in the book. For healthcare IT teams, blending technical and interpersonal skills is key, and Carnegie laid out a framework that teams can use to further streamline IT projects and optimize outcomes for the end-user.

Here are some guidelines, based on Carnegie’s principles, that vendors and in-house IT teams can follow to optimize collaboration and outcomes:

1. Publicly thank individuals for their effort. This is essentially the professional electronic equivalent of the traditional, hand-written ‘thank you’ note someone sends after receiving a gift or being a guest at someone’s house. In the context of health IT, when a new data feed is set up or a broken feed is restored, this should be treated like a gift. If someone invested their time and effort to do this for you, it should be acknowledged accordingly. It’s easy to send a reminder email when a request is still open. But it’s even easier to forget to send acknowledgement once the request is completed.

For extra credit, be specific. Don’t just say “thank you for the data,” but rather, “thank you for including outpatients in the appointment data feed,” for example. For even more extra credit, praise people in front of their boss, and praise the boss in front of the boss’s boss.

Ultimately this advice goes beyond reflexively crafting emails in response to task completion. It’s about including IT in the success of the project and making sure they can take ownership of the positive outcome. Ideally, when clinicians log into a product to configure staffing in response to changes in inpatient census forecasts, or search for available surgical block time, they should be aware that their own IT department played a critical role in setting this up.

2. Share flaws in private. Before email, phones served as the primary channel of communication, and these are often the ideal tool to share shortcomings. If 15 people are cc’d on an email thread about a new extraction, only share mistakes with people who genuinely have the power to fix them. If a group response is required to demonstrate action, simply reply with “handling this in another thread”. The more people that are included on a thread with bad news, the more likely the recipient will feel they are being shamed, causing them to become defensive.

Similarly, escalation should be done privately. If a client IT staff member is unresponsive, escalate to his or her manager one on one. Public escalation rarely produces good results.

3. Understand that your requests are much more important to you than to them. While it is technically the job of IT to fulfill requests, in practice vendors critically depend on getting data from the client. But the reciprocal is not true – client IT departments are not critically dependent on giving data to vendors. Therefore, vendors need to be more interested in how a client’s IT department works, rather than forcing IT to cater to the way vendors operate. For startup vendors especially, they simply aren’t large enough to push their way to completion. And even for vendors who are, it’s still arguably a poor strategy for driving quality work and results.

Ultimately, IT departments have tremendous power to block and derail integration projects. By far, the most common pushback typically takes the form of one or more of these:

  • “I’m worried how extracting all this data will impact performance.”
  • “Have we gotten the necessary sign-off from legal?”
  • “We can’t start X until Y is completed.”

The reason these tropes are so hard to counter is because they can often be very true. But it’s challenging to separate goldbricking from actual barriers. If the latter, teams can work together to develop an acceptable solution, but the former can prevent teams from reaching the finish line. Dale Carnegie’s advice can’t prevent this, but it can minimize the impact these barriers have on teams working towards a common goal.

As technology increasingly serves as the backbone of health systems’ functionality, maintaining the human element is equally as important. When vendors and in-house IT departments cooperate to set expectations, communicate clearly, and adopt the interpersonal skills laid out by Carnegie, they’re laying the foundation to ensure outcomes are optimized at an individual and organizational level.