As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Atkin, CEO of Greenway Health.
Richard Atkin currently serves as chief executive officer at Greenway Health, a leading health information technology and services provider. Richard brings extensive executive experience, as well as a background in developing talent, team building, organizational alignment, and a focus on process-driven management. Previously, Richard served as CEO of Sunquest Information Systems Inc., a market leading provider of hospital laboratory information systems. Sunquest was a founding member and Richard served on the boards of CommonWell Health Alliance and the Digital Pathology Association.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am an engineer by education and training. Throughout my career I have always worked in highly regulated technology industries, initially in the defense industry and then transitioning to healthcare.
Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to advance through functional areas such as R&D, sales and operations management, to becoming a business unit leader and then CEO. Today, I’m proud to work with Greenway’s seasoned executive team to improve how healthcare is administered, while also ensuring Greenway continues to provide the clinical, financial and administrative software solutions that physicians rely on to serve their patients.
Prior to my current role at Greenway, I served as an operating principal at Vista Equity Partners and as president of the Vista Consulting Group, where I worked with software company leadership teams to chart their companies’ strategies and growth and add value for their customers. Given my engineering and science background, it’s no surprise I enjoy solving complex problems, finding new solutions and simplifying the complex. Applying those approaches to business and the healthcare technology market is my passion.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
There are several experiences that have culminated in how I think and lead during periods of uncertainty or difficulty. One of those relates to a time early in my engineering career when I was working on a very challenging problem that occurred infrequently and at random, but that had a significant impact when it did occur. I had taken a course on systematic problem solving which taught me that identifying the root cause of a problem is essential to solving it, but that gathering all of the relevant data is equally important to solving it. In most situations — and it was certainly true in this case — there can be significantly more data available for when a problem doesn’t occur, than when it does. Focusing on when things go right — and contrasting it with when it doesn’t — can be a faster approach to increasing success than focusing solely on when something doesn’t work.
So, as a mantra, I tend to focus on what is known by identifying what is going well and what is controllable, and seek to accentuate the positive outcomes. And that’s exactly what we’ve done at Greenway during this public health crisis. Uncertainty is uncomfortable for all of us. Acknowledge, investigate, act, accentuate the positive, repeat.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
It’s important to remember that challenging times and situations affect people very differently. Therefore, its crucial to recognize the stressful impact of uncertainty on teams, customers and their families, to provide clarity, and then lean in but communicate with calmness and empathy. That’s how myself and the executive leadership team view our role and the cultural imperatives we have instilled at Greenway. We are more than just a technology provider –- we take pride in building strong, lasting relationships both externally and internally, and truly listening to the concerns and needs of employees and customers.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
During times of uncertainty, I live and lead by these five principles: Communicate often. Be authentic. Be honest. Be visible. Be humble.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Delivering difficult news is never easy. For me, it’s important to own it. To honestly frame it. To be accountable for it. And to provide context for others to be able to understand it, making sure to show the process by which the topic or issue will be addressed or actioned. Followed by providing reassurance of your personal commitment to the outcome. Be open to dialogue in tough times and provide the opportunity to discuss the news further with teams and customers. This is especially important today as we navigate the unchartered waters of a global pandemic combined with social and economic uncertainty.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Uncertainty increases the further you look out, so be pragmatic, shorten the horizon and increase the frequency for gathering data and reviewing key metrics to increase responsiveness and agility. Specifically, what was previously measured and reviewed quarterly may need to be measured and reviewed monthly, monthly to weekly, weekly to daily, etc.
For example, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many ambulatory care providers faced the prospect of reduced patient visits with negative financial impacts. Some practices reduced staff to “essential” employees only in order to manage costs, others experienced challenges maintaining financial security due to these variances in patient volumes or from billing staff absences resulting from personal or family illness. As the champion and trusted adviser for our customers, we knew we needed to act fast to help alleviate any additional financial interruptions and pressures. A cross functional team of leaders began meeting daily — instead of monthly, or weekly — to brainstorm and discuss options and solutions for our customers most urgent needs. Following this agile approach we were able to quickly develop and launch a new revenue cycle solution, Greenway Revenue Services Express, to ensure practice cash flows were maintained. This rapid deployment revenue cycle management solution is unique in that it can be operational in as little as two weeks, providing immediate relief with improved timely revenue collections for practices.
By focusing on our customers’ urgent needs, shortening the planning horizon, and increasing our frequency for gathering insights and info, we were able to provide our customers with the technology they desperately needed to continue to deliver quality care to their communities, while also expanding access to care to those who need it most.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
My number one principle is to make values-based decisions. An organizations values provide the solid and consistent foundation for a successful company.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
As a healthcare information technology company, we are currently experiencing the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, communities, employees, families and customers. These are not just difficult times, they are unprecedented. But understanding and adapting to the needs of customers and employees is the best recipe for long term success. Many of our customers are physician-owned small businesses serving those in greatest need. They are expert healthcare professionals, but they are also small business owners and often don’t have C-suite senior staff you would expect to find in larger organizations.
At Greenway, the first action we took when the coronavirus was declared a pandemic was to ensure our staff were safe and available to serve and support our customers in their time of great need. We quickly moved to work from home. Next, we gave our customers more time to focus on their patients by pausing all in-person and prospective selling. We followed this by conducting a thorough review of all expenditures, reforecasting the business and taking the urgent actions needed to maintain financial stability. Then we set out to improve the frequency and accessibility to information available to our customers, such as economic, healthcare policy changes, availability of loans, grants and other incentives, etc. From there, we reviewed our product portfolio and service offerings to determine how it could be rapidly modified to better support their urgent needs -– such as developing and launching GRS Express as cited above.
Then looking further ahead, we identified what had fundamentally changed in the market and for our customers, and engaged industry leading partners to help create innovative new solutions to address our customers’ emerging needs in the ‘new-normal’ that is forming beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, and deliver medium and longer-term growth for Greenway.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
I shared much of this earlier, but I’d say;
- When things are uncertain, acknowledge the uncertainty, determine the facts and identify what is known. Improved outcomes are achieved by focusing on improving the input. This has been our core priority at Greenway during the pandemic, and as a result, we’ve been able to develop and launch new solutions that not only better assist our healthcare providers, but ultimately result in improved health outcomes for their patients.
- Lead with humility, empathy and respect. Encourage and support teamwork. Recognize the importance and role of balance and family. And remember to never stop learning and growing as a leader. Growth is change. When I transitioned from the defense industry to healthcare, I learned the satisfying and motivating impact of doing important, meaningful and rewarding work. Follow your passion!
- Be visible and communicate often with a focus on the journey and the “why” — i.e., sharing why and how the future will be better than the past and the present. Take the time to explain that while there may be bumps, potholes, twists and turns along the road, the journey and the destination remain the same. When I was offered the opportunity to move to the U.S. from the UK, there were many unknowns, but in the end, I decided it was the role I really wanted. I took the risk and focused on the journey, the opportunity and the future.
- Encourage participation, discussion, ideas and brainstorming. Creative and systematic problem solving are also key. At Greenway, we not only seek to understand the customer perspective as we brainstorm new concepts and ideas, but we always remember to also respect the competition.
- Take responsibility and be accountable. Action is better than inaction — make values-based decisions and provide clarity for employees, customers and shareholders. When I communicate with my team, I remind them that change can be scary, but growth itself is change and change is opportunity. Be a lifetime learner and be the change!
How can our readers further follow your work?
For industry news, company updates and timely COVID-19 resources, I’d encourage readers to follow us on Twitter at @greenway and on LinkedIn. Readers can also follow me personally on LinkedIn. Look forward to connecting!