by Rob Davis

A conversation with Point B’s Rob Davis

What was your customer’s challenge, and how was it affecting people in their organization?

The cyber security division of a leading healthcare nonprofit sought relief and solutions for a struggling segment of the structure. Our customer lacked the expertise, time and bandwidth to examine the full extent of the situation, so she engaged Point B to step in for a two to three-month engagement. Our goal: stabilize an Information Security team that lacked both hands-on, day-to-day leadership and fully-engaged sponsorship in order to tackle key technology projects. I was there to triage a struggling department, but ultimately stayed for nearly three years as Interim Director of Identity and Access Management, serving three different senior leaders in the organization during that time.

The biggest challenges started little – small inconsistencies that reverberated and shook the team and their work. Having a highly-manual identity and access management (IAM) function resulted in increased error rates, long wait times, inconsistent onboarding experiences, inappropriately retained access, stressed and frustrated staff and poor customer satisfaction scores. The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) I served knew automation was needed, and it had even previously been attempted a few years earlier. However, without good system integration and testing, buy-in was low and the deployment failed, so the system was shortly discarded in the interest of keeping the department moving.

Despite the work being extremely important – as part of the IAM team, you are the gatekeeper for all logical access in an organization, including systems that hold personally identifiable information (PII) and personal health information (PHI) – team morale was low. The group felt marginalized because they did not have attendant leadership, nor advocacy by leadership for the important work they were doing.

The CISO brought me in, knowing she needed help with the IAM team. Even though the potential for issues never stops in an IT shop it did not take long to understand her needs and pain points.

Is human-centered change common in the healthcare industry, and what does it mean for the future?

Information Security within the nonprofit healthcare industry is a fascinating place to be. For the nonprofit healthcare industry, empathy and compassion are main values – empathy for patients, family and staff guides their work. And yet there is a balance, as security of information and access is so vital. Healthcare organizations are constantly under pressure to secure networks under threat of malicious attack. Allowing staff access to do their jobs, but no more access than that, is the balance between organizational security and business enablement. It is an interesting tension.

In the same vein, a good manager is someone who can coax the best work out of a person by balancing high enough expectations with having a little understanding for the person as a human. I invested in relationships and sought to understand people and what motivates them, challenges they faced, and what they needed to be successful.

In all the years I have served as a people manager, knowing my people on a human level is what I strive for. The more two people understand each other as human beings, the more likely it is that they will have success holding each other accountable for bringing their best every day. Human-centered change is absolutely demanded in order to live the values of empathy and compassion.

Did Point B discover any challenges/issues related to human-centered change that the customer had been unaware of – or underestimated? Any “aha” moments of discovery?

Interestingly, what I discovered early on for this team was that they operated by feel and by fire rather than by facts and by data. We were lacking basic metrics that would allow our team to truly understand how we were performing and to hold each other accountable for our customer service quality.

I quickly pivoted towards creating a dashboard of metrics to offer the team transparency. Because I had already laid the groundwork by investing in the people of my team and showing them a consistent, strong baseline of respect, they could more easily embrace the honest evaluations these metrics represented. We were able to bring matters into discussion in a nonconfrontational manner.

The big “aha” moment for the customer was in the first two or three months of the engagement when she quickly realized things had gone quiet. Before, she had been getting escalations and problems constantly. Those suddenly were not there because we were in a better place. Things were finally under some control. and many of her major pain points were alleviated.

How did your ability to empathize and understand shape your approach to solving this challenge?

I was dedicated to making sure staff had time with me at least once per week. It was not easy to conduct 1:1s every week given the size of my team, but I needed to stay true to that commitment. I was even counseled by higher leadership that “the juice was not worth the squeeze” when there were so many other things vying for space in my schedule.

Consistent behavior demonstrated my commitment to them as individuals. We were not without conflict, but having a degree of predictability for our engagement and knowing I was committed to them demonstrated baseline respect.

How did your ability to empathize and understand lead to results?

With that respect firmly established and improved morale over time, I could put into place metrics to measure success, as well as a methodology to examine failures by flagging when something did not go quite right.

This buoyed the team. We were methodically cleaning up and improving the number of standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place (we implemented or refreshed over 150 SOPs), so that the delivery of service became more and more consistent, customer satisfaction ratings went up (seven straight quarters of improvement in ratings, two of which included a world-class rating), and we were feeling the appreciation from the rest of the organization.

Ticket volumes were even reduced by 15-20% year over year during my engagement. Because of established SOPs, each customer was more likely to get the same result, which reduced the number of tickets by doing the work right the first time.

What might this customer have missed if they had underestimated the human dimension of their challenge—and the solution?

Because prior leadership had not taken the time to understand this part of their team and the humans working in it, the team lacked clear direction. They suffered from deficiency of SOPs and felt marginalized and misunderstood, resulting in low customer satisfaction scores. Had they not installed a leader willing to take an interest in the human side of the business, the team would have continued to flounder, and the work would have gotten even more challenging as demand grew.

Originally, I was engaged to deliver a calculated solution. In reality, more was needed for long-lasting, healthy change. If my time was limited to two to three months (the original plan), I would have been able to package up a set of metrics, socialize them, and hand them off. The maturation of those metrics – and the accountability of the team to meet them – would not have been achievable in that time frame. The human dimension could have easily been lost.

If you could leave readers with just one urgent message about the value/power of human-centered change, what would it be?

Your commitment and effort will make a difference in people’s lives, not just the business.