Healthy restart

When Andrew Eckert spoke with the Eclipsys Corp. board of directors during the CEO recruitment phase, he emphasized his dedication to management process. It was apparently a good sell, because Eckert was named president and CEO late last year and immediately stamped his philosophy on the $383 million company.

Two weeks into his new role at the health care information technology company, Eckert called a senior management meeting that would set a foundation from which the company could build toward its new goal.

“This is a very diverse group of people; they had not worked together all that long, many of them,” Eckert says. “Everybody has strong opinions on what to do and what not to do.”

Eckert recognized he had an opportunity to make an impact early on. And he wanted to change the company’s values and focus immediately. From that meeting came a set of tasks that would become the company’s new strategic plan.

Eckert emphasized a new mission statement, along with strategic values, a regular calendar based on the quarterly business cycle and a new set of customer-focused objectives. He had one goal in mind with the changes — to make Eclipsys the world leader for client satisfaction in health care information technology.

“That was a direct offshoot of our senior management meeting where we went through a very interesting process to get consensus on what the big challenges facing the company were,” Eckert says. “They were mostly around client satisfaction. We feel like our products are world-class; we feel delivering the value of that outstanding technology has been a challenge. It’s a very complicated implementation.

“Every company in the industry has challenges getting the change management deployments correct and winning at the customer sites. This was an area we felt we could, by really focusing on it, become different than the balance of the people in the industry.”

Core values
Eckert’s first change was to develop new core values for the company.

“A lot of people could consider these run-of-the-mill, but for us, they were put in order of what we think is important,” Eckert says. “One was client focus — we anticipate understanding the focus on our clients’ needs and make those needs our first priority.

While it may sound simple, this was a change from the old approach, which was much more internally focused.”

Other values include integrity, a commitment to excellence, open communication and teamwork.

“We’re not just trying to get through the day,” Eckert says. “We commit to operational excellence and continuous improvement in all that we do. The culture wasn’t one where sharing and communication was prioritized. We’ve tried to improve that.”

The new task became delivering the values to Eclipsys’ more than 2,000 employees. The process begins at the top and requires nonstop emphasis.

“In any big meeting, I tend to be the first speaker, whether it is a sales meeting or a planning meeting or a company meeting,” Eckert says. “I try to finish my PowerPoint with a few slides on the mission and values of the company.”

While it is rare for him to get together with the whole company, Eckert does meet frequently with the top 50 to 75 managers. And he continually drives those values through them. To reach the rest of the company, he uses technology.

“We’re using a lot of virtual conferencing, Web conferencing and telephones,” Eckert says.

He reinforces values with a companywide Web meeting every quarter after the earnings call to discuss strategic accomplishments and how the company will move forward.

Eckert has even established a blog on the company Web site.

“There’s no perfect way,” Eckert says. “The sales force gets together more frequently than the balance of the company, given their roles. There is no substitute for in-person communication. But given the size and dissemination of this organization, those aren’t frequent enough, so you have to make them worthwhile.”

Eckert says that measuring concepts such as respect and integrity can be difficult, and for now, he is relying on anecdotal information. Later this year, Eclipsys will conduct a companywide survey, which should provide more formal data on the progress of those objectives.

All these values tie back to the company’s mission to deliver client satisfaction.

“We built the company quite a bit on development the last several years, which was the right and necessary thing to do, but now we need to leverage all that investment,” Eckert says. “And the best way the organization as a whole feels to do that is to drive client support.”

Setting the calendar
Eckert’s also had to re-emphasize the importance of the business calendar.

“Our quarterly system is a positive for us in general in this country,” Eckert says. “You have to adapt to it.

“I’m a big believer that businesses run in quarterly cycles, and we have to have a pretty diligent cadence to our business. Things that may seem self-evident — a weekly staff meeting, a quarterly sales meeting, a quarterly planning meeting — these are things that many companies just don’t make a priority. “

Eckert wanted a calendar that clearly illustrated when people would be getting together to achieve various goals. At Eclipsys, the first month of the quarter is designated as the time to find out what happened during the previous quarter.

“You have a sales meeting so you get direct information from the sales force as to the dynamics in the marketplace and competitive actions that affect you,” Eckert says. “And you understand what the business outlook is directly from the sales force and not filtered through several layers. You report on the results to your board of directors, your shareholders and the company from the prior quarter.”

The second month of the quarter is dedicated to planning.

“We update the plans we have,” Eckert says. “We take a look at the company from top to bottom. We start with a financial forecast and work through all the major projects in the company to make sure we’re in alignment.

“We’re a smaller company in this industry, so we really have to have people as aligned as possible to compete effectively. That also allows us to react. If there is an exotic event of some sort — a new product, a governmental decree or something that has changed the market — it allows us to turn the company quickly as opposed to waiting a year until the next major planning meeting.”

The final month of the quarter is all about selling.

“We try to get out and close business,” Eckert says. “I’m a big believer that the senior management should be out with clients quite a bit.”

The system allows Eckert to keep tabs on the business and make sure the company holds true to its new values. But it takes more than regular sales meetings to understand how well Eclipsys is doing.

Every Friday, the company has a virtual meeting run by members of the client support team. They get on the phone and go through the metrics of the week.

“We look at all parts of the company — implementations that are going on, post implementations, performance, how we’re doing with clients, any survey results we might have and then topics of special interest,” Eckert says. “That is a meeting that really helps us bring this client satisfaction objective into real life. My hope is that everybody in the company has their finger to the pulse of what’s going on in the customer base.

“It’s not something that just customer support people do, but rather something that everybody should be thinking about.”

Objectives
The last thing to come out of Eckert’s original senior-management meeting was the creation of key objectives for 2006.

“We set up a list of three objectives and several subparts that are critical to the company’s success this year,” Eckert says. “Through the quarterly planning process, we are driving those objectives down through the organization in an effort to align people as carefully as possible.”

Eckert deliberately limited the number of objectives so the company would have a better chance to deliver on a few strategic ones. Too many objectives could become a muddled mess, leaving employees without focus.

“The vital few objectives versus the worthless many, it’s an important concept,” Eckert says.

The three objectives are to become the recognized leader in health care information technology client satisfaction; to be one culture, one team, one company in 2006; and to drive operational excellence and innovation.

Delivering those objectives may be the job of the frontline employees, but it all starts at the top.

“The first step is to get the management in line,” Eckert says. “That’s the step we’re at right now, getting the management to understand the process and the objectives and drive them, and from there, encouraging them to make this part of their weekly management process and get it out to the people that work for them that I would have a difficult time touching directly.

“What’s key is to get the management in sync and encourage them and hopefully, over time, set up processes that really verify the message is really getting out to employees.”

The last step is to tie employees’ compensation directly back to their success in meeting the company’s goals.

“The key is to set up plans,” Eckert says. “Each quarter, when we do the planning meeting, the first part of every person who stands up and presents their plan is to review how they did last quarter. There is a closed loop corrective action process that forces folks to say, ‘Here’s how I did.’ The key is to make the objectives as quantifiable and metric-driven as possible so you can take a look to see if we’re reaching our goals.”

And he creates the environment that allows that to happen.

“We promote an environment of teamwork in which the sharing of knowledge, ideas and opinions is expected of everyone,” Eckert says. “We demonstrate passion in all that we do for our clients and employees.”

HOW TO REACH: Eclipsys, (561) 322-4321 or www.eclipsys.com

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