Q&A with John Henderson: Develop and Deliver

By Zach Donisch, Director of Membership, AEHIA

John Henderson, MBA, CIO of Children’s Hospital of Orange County and AEHIA board member, shares his journey to the role of chief information officer with Zach Donisch, director of membership for AEHIS, AEHIA and AEHIT.

John, tell me about yourself.

John Henderson

John Henderson

My background starts a little over 20 years ago. I started out working for First Data right out of undergrad, for a year and a half. I moved into healthcare after that. I started at Texas Children’s in financial operations, I had a degree in finance with a minor in MIS [management information systems]. Finance was important for me – it gave me a perspective I still carry to this day. It was something I could do, but not something I was passionate about. When I had a chance to work on the technology side, I took that opportunity and never looked back. I helped transition the hospital to an ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] system during the Y2K era, and when everyone was in a rush to update their systems – we could remain calm.

I was at Texas Children’s for 22 years before I left to take the CIO role here at CHOC [Children’s Hospital of Orange County]. We had tremendous growth at Texas Children’s; when I started we were at 3,000 employees, and grew into a 15,000-employee organization. As part of that growth, I spent time on the business applications side building our systems from the ground up. I was the technical director for the clinical side of the house as we moved into the EHR [Electronic Health Record] implementation. That provided me another aspect of the IT realm. I also had the opportunity to run the infrastructure. I was well rounded by the time I left Texas Children’s, and I’m thankful they gave me the opportunity to gain those skills.

Coming from the perspective of business applications and finance, how did you adapt to the clinical side of applications management?

I’m going to give you a two-part answer. My financial operations experience really set a framework for the mindset I carry to this day. What I mean by that is, it forced me to consider the end user experience and how we use technology to try to perform in our role. That was critical as I moved into IT for my career. When I started in IT, there was no appreciation for why the technology we were using was important and why it was being used. It was still more of an IT driven, ‘I’m going to dictate what you need and why you need it, because I know better’ approach. Coming from financial operations, that old perspective didn’t work for me, because I came from that operations background. It changed how I approached my customer base, because I needed to understand why you wanted what you wanted, and then I would be able to help you get the tools you needed. So, I took that same approach when I moved to the clinical side.

There was some skepticism, because I was coming from the business side of the house, but I was given an opportunity because I had built some great relationships within the organization, and a lot of the folks on the clinical side had to engage with me on our budgeting software and solutions. I was a familiar face and they had experience with me, so they gave me more “runway.” I didn’t pretend to know what I didn’t know and would always ask for clarification. Rounding really helped, too – working with the nurses and staff in the clinical areas to appreciate what they were doing day in and day out as part of the care process and experience first-hand how our technology was being used. I think those things went a long way with the transition into that role.

The other part is short and sweet – deliver results. If you can’t deliver on the organization’s expectations, you’re not going to last.

You’ve given two big pieces of advice to emerging leaders – build your relationships and get experience across the organization. What else should they be doing?

Cultivating and building relationships is important, but results is really the big deal. You can have the best intentions and the best relationships but they won’t last if you don’t deliver. You have to focus on achieving the results and goals for that customer and for that organization.

Another piece is about the people. You must take the time to know your people and know their capabilities. If you don’t understand that, you won’t get what you need to help deliver those results the organization is looking for. You might have some great talent, but if they don’t see you as a person and see you only as a title, you can’t get more value from them. They won’t give you more value because you don’t engage with them in a manner that shows they are an individual. This last one is key to any manager’s role.

In the hiring process, what do you prioritize? What are your “green” flags?

When I’m looking to bring on talent, I’m looking for authenticity. Are the candidates genuine in how they interact and engage? Obviously, I want them to have great technical expertise in whatever area they’re coming into, but that authenticity is important because that translates into how they treat their team and if they’ll create a successful team. You’ll always hear me talk about driving for results, and while that’s not something you can always judge from the interview process, if you can get a sense of that authenticity and understand they’ve delivered in the past, you’re on the right track.

Conversely, when people can’t do the job, you can’t keep them. It’s not a scenario that you take lightly, but if they really can’t perform in their role, the longer you keep them the more damage it does to the team and to the morale. Typically, as leaders, we’re the last ones to see that. The folks that work with them day in and day out, they see it faster than we do. The longer it goes unresolved, it can really create challenges and problems with the team.

You mentioned you were using books to help develop your staff – what should we be reading?

I call it our summer book club! My first recommendation is “Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box”, it’s not a new book – probably been around since 2008. Its focus is on the individual and understanding what keeps him or her “in a box,” in regards to how you communicate and operate with others in a group. If you’re open to the book and its concepts. It helps you understand how you may perceive yourself to be a great communicator and a great team player that’s always getting things done, but no one else sees you in that way. I’ve probably read that book six or seven times since I was introduced to it. It’s not rocket science, but it does help put things in perspective.

The second book is called “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.” It helps you figure out what the most important aspect of creating a good, cohesive team and how to communicate with them in the right ways. The third book is “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.” It focuses on people, process and strategy, and that in my mind is the core of what I want my team thinking about. I’m using these three books, and building on one another, so if you want to follow along, read all three in the order above. This progression helps you learn how to engage and deal with people, how to tie those communication skills into the processes you use to run your shop, and then finally how to bring the broad strategy into your process and communication.


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