Magazine article Policy & Practice

Reaching out to New CEOs

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Reaching out to New CEOs

Article excerpt

"It's like drinking from a fire hose." That comment from a new chief executive officer (CEO) pretty much summarizes the feelings of CEOs who are new to their jobs. Since January, more than a dozen governors--most of them newly inaugurated--have brought in new leaders for their human service departments. I have been reaching out to these leaders on behalf of APHSA to introduce the organization and the services it offers, and to find ways for APHSA to help them meet the many challenges they face.

Those challenges are remarkably similar. New leaders drop into an organization with its deep-rooted culture, practices, and policies, and accustomed to the management style of the predecessor. Often there has been the stasis created by a period of interim leadership.

Right from the start, new leaders are running on parallel tracks. They must develop and implement their governor's agenda and new organizational goals. At the same time, they must also maintain ongoing operations while introducing and managing change.

Coupled with assuming responsibility for the existing crises facing every human service department and the daily demands of a legislative session, the job quickly feels overwhelming. Just getting through each long day is an accomplishment. The learning curve is steep.

My conversations with new CEOs tell me that each is developing a personal strategic plan: Establish, articulate, and communicate the vision. Understand and manage the burning issues. Learn about the current policies and practices of the organization. Evaluate the staff and build a supportive senior management team. Develop relationships with the governor's office, other departments, the legislature, community partners, advocates, and the media. Ascertain what new tools are needed to accomplish the mission. And manage the personal stress of juggling all those balls in the air at once.

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Perhaps the two most commonly stated challenges involve information technology (IT) and data. Most states are saddled with legacy computer systems. New CEOs quickly see the limitations on their improvement plans imposed by those antiquated systems. Some inherited troubled rollouts of their state-based Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges and face legislative skepticism about future IT projects. Others have not. But as they all look at the promise of greater integration of services and transformational change in their organizations, having a modernization plan for IT is essential.

The other common challenge is the use of data for greater accountability. …

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