CES Partners, Ltd. Executive Search Consultants

Recruiting the New Healthcare CIO

In the last decade the role of the healthcare Chief Information Officer has changed dramatically. Long gone is the monastic technocrat holed up behind the closed doors of the "computer room", sequestered from the mainstream of day-to-day hospital operations. As 21st -century healthcare organizations become increasingly dependent on managing a dazzling—and sometimes bewildering--array of cutting-edge technologies, the new information executive has emerged as a business strategist, a visionary focused on aligning the latest IT Innovations with the corporate culture to achieve long-term, system-wide goals.

Today, savvy CIO's can comfortably share seats in the C-suite, having successfully made the transition from techies to corporate politicians. Although many post-Y2K CIO's may not always report directly to their CEO's, smart information executives have learned to establish their credibility as team players --targeting their sights on the business solutions that technology can set into motion, rather than regarding the technology itself as the sole answer to all problems. By mastering this essential shift in strategy, today's top CIO's have positioned themselves as enterprise leaders--business people who assume the organization's objectives as their own.

This doesn't mean, however, that the current Information Management situation is all roses and champagne—in fact, far from it. Many healthcare CIO's, hired away from engineering, computer science, or other typically isolationist arenas, may be unschooled in the management or financial talents required to succeed in the executive arena. They may lack the communication skills needed to motivate team members or translate "techno-speak" into plain English for the CEO and CFO. And the C-suite, on its part, might still view the senior IT staff as mere technicians incapable of "taking care of business" and so exclude CIO's from any top-level decision making, leaving them frustrated and unsure about their role within the organization. Also, the IT staff may be buried in an avalanche of HIPAA requirements or fighting for time to integrate specialized applications like PACS systems. What's worse, CIO turnover is on the rise, fueled by mergers, stress, budgetary cuts, senior executive turnovers, and outsourcing of IT functions.

For all of these reasons, it goes without saying that recruiting the right CIO candidate with the right mix of skills is of pivotal importance to any healthcare system. So just what are the essential qualifications for an ideal Chief Information Officer?

A Diverse Mindset

An excellent CIO has the ability to straddle two worlds at once, technology and the issues of healthcare clinicians, ensuring that the management of information continually stays focused on fulfilling organization-wide goals. They keep their eyes on the big picture.

A Head for Business

Successful CIO's understand the corporate culture they work in and are clear about their organizations' larger strategic goals. For today's CIO's, IM exists as an integral corporate function with transformational bottom-line value and a driver of business strategy.

Political Smarts

Great CIO's establish themselves early on as key leaders and team players, just as vital to their organizations' success as any other member of the executive team. By creating successful relationships in the C-suite—and especially by earning the trust and confidence of the CEO—astute CIO's clearly demonstrate how IM and IT can align with the organization's goals and direction to ensure a productive and competitive difference.

Open Communication

Savvy CIO's master the art of effective, clear communication. They are careful not to use "techno-speak" when relaying information to the executive team. They learn to express themselves in the CEO's and CNO's language: the bottom line of dollars and cents and improved patient care. Smart CIO's are good listeners also, with their ears to the ground for input from the front-line ranks. In this way, a CIO can build a network of support throughout the entire system, keep lines of communication open, and be better informed to resolve problems. At the same time, their leadership style is always decisive, assertive, and persuasive.

People Skills

The best CIO's act as team builders with the ability to lead diverse staff members in cross-functional projects within the organization and to elicit the best input from each member of the team. And they have the knack of hiring the right people for the right job.

Technical Know-How

Excellent CIO's know their business, from distributed client/server computing to electronic patient record keeping. Not only do they stay abreast of the latest technological innovations, but they're adept at leveraging this technology to make hospital business work. They have the instincts, competence, and experience to solve problems when disaster strikes.

Financial Savvy

Top CIO's effectively demonstrate to senior management how IT can make business more productive, cost-effective, and profitable.

A Catalyst of Change

Sharp CIO's see themselves as stewards of their organizations' information assets and understand that they can facilitate positive change through technology. With hospital business becoming more and more information-driven, today's CIO's encourage flexibility--especially in the C-suite--as technology leap-frogs ahead and demands new directions.

A Good Educator

Cutting-edge applications are worthless if no one knows how to use them, so successful CIO's take the time to educate the IT staff as well act as mentors to up-and-coming future candidates.

In short, the CIO position has evolved far beyond the simple management of software. Today's IT leader is part techie, part businessperson, part politician, part consultant, and part coach. Because the CIO can facilitate such dramatic changes through technology, he or she wields the rare power to transform the nature of healthcare. This is why it is so vital for healthcare systems to recruit an information chief who will not only succeed, but who will stay the course and become a driving force for the fulfillment of the organization's goals. In an arena where life-and-death decisions depend so fundamentally on a staggeringly complex information infrastructure, the choice of the right CIO can ultimately spell out the future success or failure of any healthcare system.

To find the ideal CIO candidate, your best tool is a professional executive recruiter. A highly-trained recruiter will:

  • Take the time to assess and understand an organization's IT management needs, including culture, budgets, IT infrastructure, and IM organizational processes
  • Identify problems or changes related to filling the CIO position
  • Evaluate and understand the skills required of the ideal candidate
  • Find and identify the best candidates for the position
  • Bridge the gap between the executive team and candidate communications
  • Conduct exhaustive reference checks
  • Mediate compensation negotiations
  • Ensure a smooth transition for the new CIO

By searching outside the hospital's own walls, a recruiter can avoid costly hiring mistakes by identifying the right candidate from a significant pool of executives in healthcare and non-healthcare industries. Given the critical importance of the CIO position, a recruiter's non-biased objectivity can be just what a healthcare system needs as information technology takes leaping bounds into the 21st century.


More White Papers

Previous: Executive Search 101

CES Partners, Ltd. is a premier retained executive search firm that specializes in serving healthcare provider organizations with tailored, personalized, senior level consulting services. With a national reach throughout the United States, CES Partners serves health systems, hospitals, group medical practices, associations and senior living communities. CES Partners’ main office is located at 1314 Kensington Road, #5195, Oak Brook, IL 60522-5195.