Steve Plochocki knew that now was the time to strike.
It was February 2009, and the federal government had just passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The stimulus bill allotted $60 billion to assist health care businesses in improving technology.
Plochocki is the CEO of Quality Systems Inc., which provides software and electronic medical records to doctors and hospitals. With billions in stimulus money about to be injected into the health care industry, the market was about to grow like never before. And Plochocki had to position his company to take advantage of the new business, and do it before the stimulus bill became active this past January.
“The stimulus bill was great news for us, but we needed to create an operating model that we would be able to deliver on, and have products certified, in time for January 2011,” Plochocki says. “It was something I was going to be doing over time anyway, but the beauty of the stimulus bill was that it shifted everything into overdrive and forced us to get those pieces in place very quickly. I used it as a catalyst to get where we needed to get to anyway, but get there faster.”
The solution for Plochocki was to reorganize the company into four separate operating sections, each with its own leader and each responsible for developing new products that could help Quality Systems and its 1,560 nationwide employees capitalize on the five-year stimulus window, which lasts through the end of 2015.
“We needed to create that type of organizational structure, our president became our COO, we put marketing and sales plans in place, we expanded our sales organization by about 40 percent, and we formed implementation and training teams. We were able to put all of the support and mechanisms in place for what we believe is going to be a very strong five year run for us.”
To better serve the company’s various markets, Plochocki and his leadership team divided Quality Systems into an ambulatory unit, which focuses on developing technology for small facilities, clinics and physicians; a practice solutions division, which focuses on revenue cycle management, billing and collections; the inpatient solutions unit, which focuses on hospitals; and a dental unit.
“All these units had been operating in a fashion of togetherness, but none of them were getting the right type of attention,” Plochocki says. “This setup enables us to create a leadership head at the helm of each one, with their own sales, their own marketing, their own development capabilities, their own initiatives for certification and their own financial analysis support teams.”
But before he could move forward with the new organizational setup, Plochocki needed to show his people the field they would be playing on. He needed his managers to understand the stimulus bill, the bill’s goals and where the industry could be at the end of the stimulus window.
“We put the plans together in a collaborative process,” he says. “Through that effort, we were able to realize the importance of having that division element in our organization. Once we understood with greater clarity exactly how the stimulus was going to work, what the government’s desires were and where they wanted to see the software medical records sector in five years, we brought our leadership team together and laid everything out on the board.”
Plochocki and his leadership team had a series of strategy sessions to help everyone in the company gain a better picture of how the stimulus bill would alter the health care technology market, and the ways in which the company needed to change in order to answer the needs of the new market.
“You lay out the market, you lay out the circumstantial opportunities, you take a look at what you have and where you want to be,” he says. “It was a typical planning process where we had all the different functionalities of the company represented.”
Plochocki also wanted to foster ongoing collaboration among the business units. Each unit was to have its own specialization, but in the interest of improving customer prospects for all units, Plochocki wanted everyone in touch with each other, regardless of their area of specialization.
“Every one of these product lines can be provided as a group to the customer,” he says. “So each one of these business units has a core team of their own specialists, and then we have a hundred salespeople who sell all the products.
“An example would be, if I am a specialist selling hospital software to a hospital, and they have an interest in revenue cycle management, then I can bring in the revenue cycle management specialist to work with me on creating a packaged opportunity for them. And there is money in it for both of us. I put incentives in place to make sure that if they can build or expand an order, they go do that.”
Build a winning team
To implement a system with business units that are independent yet collaborative, you need people who can realize the vision of what you are trying to create.
Plochocki, who played quarterback in high school, says it’s not much different from sports: The team with the best players is usually the team that wins.
“Finding the right people for your organization is always going to be a very key feature,” he says. “Everybody in our organization knows that when I go to fill leadership positions, one of the most important things to me is chemistry. To me, chemistry means having people who are good listeners, who have a general bent toward collegiality, they are more homed in on encouraging processes rather than discouraging processes, and they have an overall positive attitude. If you can bring the right group of people together with the right skill sets affixed to those personality traits, you’ll find that you can move processes along rather quickly.”
It’s all about learning the people that you’re working with, and learning what motivates them to do the best possible work, and using that knowledge to play to everyone’s individual strength.
“When I was playing in high school, the coach told me, ‘As the quarterback, you have to try to use everybody around you to win the game,’” Plochocki says. “You have to use the players around you to win the game. My coach wasn’t going to judge me on my statistics. He was going to judge me on wins and losses. It’s the same way running a business, which is why you have to get to know the people around you and try to bring out the very best in them.”
The button you push with a highly motivated employee is not the same as with an employee who might have the talent or skills to be great, but lacks the confidence.
“You fuel the energy of the first one and build the confidence – and your confidence in them – with the second one,” Plochocki says.
But in order to grow your people as professionals, you also need to have their trust. You build trust through all of the principles of good management, like honesty and integrity. But you also build it through engagement.
As Plochocki and his leadership team were going through the process of restructuring the company, they also made it a point to find opportunities to engage employees in shaping the company’s future. If employees feel like they’ve had a hand in building the new version of your company, they’re much more likely to buy in and remain on board for the long haul.
“It usually takes a few meetings for them to realize that you are genuine about it,” he says. “But after a while, if you stay consistent in your messages, the ground troops will start to feel a bit more empowered, and they’ll feel like management really does want to know what they have to say.”
One of the Plochocki’s first projects upon taking the CEO job was to set up a president’s advisory council, which serves as a vehicle for employees throughout the company to offer input and suggestions to upper management.
“One of the very first things we did was change our logo,” he says. “We were going to change our logo and get a new lobby sign. As part of our new organization, we were going to give our company a whole new look and feel. So instead of going out and hiring some marketing or consulting company, I opened up the opportunity to the organization. I said, ‘You folks have built this company, you know this company better than anyone. I want your suggestions and recommendations as to what our logo should look like, the way our company name should be displayed, and when we decide a winner, there will be a cash prize affixed to it.’”
Plochocki says the response to the logo initiative was substantial, and he accomplished exactly what he had set out to do. Employees throughout the organization were involved with management on a project.
“We had so many entries,” he says. “People became so engaged in trying set the new company look and logo, we had more things coming in than we could even deal with. I had to expand the committee to review everything, and the logo we have today was designed by a software developer in the company. You develop another flavor for your organization when you behave that way.”
Moving forward, Plochocki says Quality Systems is well-positioned. The company began the stimulus window in January with all of its products certified to comply with the stimulus bill, with all four sectors in growth mode, 2010 revenue of $292 million (up from $245 million the year before), and a well-stocked pipeline for new business.
“We have a fixed time to benefit from this opportunity, which means we have to get things going on the front end of it,” he says. “Necessity is the mother of invention, but in this case I’d say necessity is the mother of urgency.”
From there, the challenge for Plochocki and his team is to maintain that sense of urgency over the five-year stimulus window and beyond. It can be easy to spend months preparing for a big shift in your business, and once you’ve lined everything up, to ease your foot off the accelerator, thinking you’ve got it all under control.
However, Plochocki says you need to remain vigilant and keep hammering away on the principles that made your plan a success in the first place.
“We just got the pieces in place at the tail end of 2010,” he says. “We got our products certified in October, and now we’re on to the execution phase. If you are a buyer of software, you know who is certified. So now we’re into pure blocking and tackling execution mode. All the preparation we did to get ready for this game took place over the prior 18 months, but we still have to keep focused on the task at hand.”
How to reach: Quality Systems Inc., www.qsii.com or (949) 255-2600
The Plochocki file
Education: Bachelor’s degree, journalism, Wayne State University; MBA, Central Michigan University
First job: I grew up on the lower East side of Detroit where a lot of different ethnic groups lived, and my first job was as a paperboy. I delivered the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, along with the Polish, Russian and Italian papers. Whenever I’d deliver a Free Press or Detroit News, I’d ask them if they’d want an ethnic paper. So I kind of took a paper route and turned it into a diversified paper route, which is not unlike what I’ve done here.
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
Early in my career, I had built up the best sales territories in the company I was working at. Then my boss approached me and asked me if I wanted to change territories. I was comfortable where I was, so I asked him why I’d want to do that. He told me that if I want to grow and explore everything that I can do, I need to step out of my comfort zone.
You should welcome opportunities to step out of your comfort zone. It will give you the greatest growth potential that you can imagine.
What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?
You have to have a genuine regard and liking for people. That was one of the questions I had at a panel once. A guy asked me if CEOs don’t like people. I told him that it’s not that CEOs don’t like people, it’s that a large percent don’t want to have to do with people. The harder thing to do is to continue to reach out. Maybe it’s the salesman in me, but if I have a difficult person, instead of getting rid of the situation, I try to make the person come around. I try to find out what I am missing, or what the person doesn’t understand.