"Listen, learn and move on" — Piedmont Healthcare CEO Kevin Brown on leading through change

Amidst the mounting pressures hospitals and health systems face from regulators, quality score-keepers and consumers alike, many healthcare organizations are additionally being tasked to do more with less and produce better outcomes. From a leadership standpoint, one of the most important responsibilities of a CEO is building a strong, diverse team that is ready to tackle challenges and embrace change.

Kevin Brown has been a change leader since becoming president and CEO of Piedmont Healthcare in May 2013, as well as in prior roles. Previously, Mr. Brown served as CEO of Swedish Health Services in Seattle, Wash. Before that, he was chief strategic officer and led the development and oversight of Swedish Health Services' strategic planning office.

Mr. Brown took the time to discuss some of the biggest challenges Piedmont Healthcare is facing today, unique elements of the Atlanta, Ga., market and how he approaches developing a team that is equipped to lead through change.

Question: What is one of the biggest challenges Piedmont Healthcare is currently facing? Kevin Brown

Kevin Brown: I would say one of our biggest challenges has to do with improving access to care. We're in a market place that has a significant shortage of primary care physicians and specialists, and we have difficulty getting people to the right place at the right time for care. As a result, we end up seeing higher volumes in our emergency rooms than there should be, and we have difficulty getting patientsto primary care physicians and internists in the community.

In regards to access, we are trying to make it easy for patients to navigate through the Piedmont system once they come in through one of our hundreds of doors. We're working hard on the consumer experience and looking for technological and operational solutions so it's easier for patients to get from Point A to Point B to Point C.  We have an advanced clinically integrated network of 1,200 physicians that has done a remarkable job integrating the care for our patients. Now, our challenge is to revolutionize the patient experience and eliminate the hassle of the traditional medical service model.   

Q: What is unique about your market? What must you factor more into your strategy than you would if your organization were elsewhere in the country?

KB: One thing that's unique about Georgia is that there's one dominant insurance company. While the health plan has a majority of the market share for the commercial population, the delivery network is still very fragmented. It's unique from the markets I've been in in the past where there is more balance and delivery systems have consolidated. For whatever reason, the merger and acquisition activity that  happened in the 1990s didn't happen in the Atlanta metro area.

Q: What is your strategy for building a team? What does an ideal team or support system look like to you?

KB: Part of my strategy is complete transparency across the senior team, and very clear accountability for both individual and system results. Additionally, there is a high expectation that we will perform well together.

The ideal team, to me, has a very diverse talent base. It exemplifies diversity in its broadest sense: in viewpoints, backgrounds and what members can bring to the table.

Q: How do you deal with naysayers and resistance to change?

KB: Listen, learn and move on. First, listen so you can understand their point of view and make sure there isn't something you're missing in regards to why they might feel that way. Learn about their viewpoint and what made them take a certain position. Make changes and adjustments, and finally, move on.

It's important to realize there will always be individuals with different viewpoints. Instead of just ignoring them, though, I spend a lot of time listening. At the same time, you have to move on at a certain point.

Q: What is the most memorable piece of advice you've ever received?

KB: I've heard a lot of great advice. One thing that's stuck with me is, "It's not about you." Leading is about building and supporting a team of talent around you. Success is really the success of the organization — it's much greater than any one individual.

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