Piedmont’s Supply Chain team shares milestones, mindsets that motivate success in their swim lanes

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Atlanta-based Piedmont Healthcare’s Joe Colonna, Vice President, Supply Chain, shared with Healthcare Purchasing News Senior Editor Rick Dana Barlow his team’s attitudes and motivations behind what, how and why they do what they do with valuable insights on what helps them succeed.


HPN: What’s the secret formula that makes a leader in supply chain management? How does your department implement that secret formula?

COLONNA: I would say creativity and flexibility. You should not give up on a vision or a strategy just because environments change but you should be willing to change with the environment. In most cases, a good or even great strategy for any supply chain will revolve around successfully supporting the mission and vision of the larger organization. The core goal of that strategy is unlikely to change however how and when to deliver on it may be effected by other activities that influence the whole of the organization. That may require you to be flexible on things like time lines or priorities. As a leader, it will also require you to help your team to manage the change without losing sight of the goals.

The next big trend in healthcare supply chain management will be… [fill in the blank]. Why?

Highly accountable organizations. I believe that the reason we have seen a trend to bring leadership into healthcare organizations from outside is due in no small part to senior leadership concerns that they are not getting full value from their Supply Chain teams. The only way to change that is to demonstrate transparency and accountability in Supply Chain by being able to show incremental and measurable benefits that are validated and appreciated throughout the organization.

Some in the “C-suite” have criticized supply chain managers for being too technical and not strategic enough to “join their club.” Do you agree? Why?

Yes and no – you knew I would say that. While it is important to measure value in things like savings and measures related to productivity, if that is all you are talking about, I think you may be labeled as too technical. However, if you are taking your skills, experiences and relationships to that table as collaborate in helping to solve problems, I think you can change the “C-suite’s” opinion of your value to the team.

How can consulting firms, distributors and GPOs contribute to the performance of your internal supply chain management expertise without overshadowing the department or usurping control?

I think the biggest challenge for all of the above is, in some cases, to be okay with staying in your swim lane, get really good at your core activities and make sure those activities are keeping up with the changing needs of the customer. Stop trying to bend your model to be everything to everyone but instead be great at what you do and accept that some customers will not be a good fit.

How do you delineate between what your team does vs. what your GPO or distributor contributes/does so that there’s no duplication/overlap/redundancy?

Good Question. I think it goes back to the concept of swim lanes, but it is a challenge because they are all messing around in each other’s pools. I would say that in most cases business partners are more comfortable in traditional roles and ways of doing business. In the case of our GPO and other business partners, I think we challenged them to engage with our team in a different way. While some business partners really struggle, I think others, including our GPO, distributor, technology [company] and some of our manufacturers struggled to break out of their models. To their credit they make the effort and have really tried to enable our model.

What specific project did your department complete where you felt they exceeded your expectations?

We had a pretty rough go-live on our ERP system for one of our new organizations. While all the issues were not purely Supply Chain-centric, we learned a great deal from the event, including that we needed to compromise on how we wanted to do the work both pre- and post-go-live, and the next ones went much better.

In your opinion, what is your department’s toughest administrative challenge? How might you solve it?

I believe we are a high-functioning healthcare provider supply chain and I believe that we have some of the best team members in the country. The only way to get to the next level and positon our team members for success is to embrace those elements of supply chain that have made non-healthcare supply chains successful: The effective use of data, fully utilize technology, standardized work and being highly accountable to our customers and each other.

What is your department’s toughest operational challenge? How might you solve it?

Our organization has seen tremendous growth in the past 36 months, adding multiple new hospitals and non-acute care partners. We are trying to balance the integration of new customers with operational and cost management goals for the entire organization.

Some might argue that what you’ve done over the years is really just routine value analysis. How would you counter/respond?

I would say that some of the same elements are certainly there. I think the difference has been in what we bring to the work, the rigor in our processes and the way we manage and track results after the fact. Three, six, 12 months later we are doing look backs to see if we are still achieving the goals and being transparent about what is working and what is not working. We learn from what is not working and improve on the next project. We also hold ourselves to a very high bar when it comes to teasing out the real value. For instance, we do not take credit for cost avoidance, only new and incremental savings.

What are your top three priorities for the remainder of 2018 and for 2019?

Develop the right model to serve this new and much larger organization. Is just a bigger version of the existing Supply Chain model the right answer?

We have recently added a part-time physician to our team in the role of Medical Director for Supply Chain. I want to work with him to develop that role and change how we look at the PPI space.

Develop new Business Partner models that move from “transactional” to “strategic.”

How does the CEO view your department? Does he or she see it as a strategic function or a support service? What resources can the department count on and will they come every year – and not just in response to clinician complaints?

Our CEO, and in fact, our entire senior leadership team have always been very supportive of Supply Chain and encourage the team to work beyond the traditional Supply Chain functions. I think executives at corporate offices and at the hospitals and non-acute care centers know that they can trust Supply Chain to keep the customer top of mind, while also meeting the strategic goals of the organization. I think the reason is that we do what we say we are going to do and we keep leaders informed on what the team is doing.

If you could change one C-suite and clinical (physician/nursing) perception of your department, what would it be and why?

I honestly think the perception with the “C-Suite” is probably the right one. I would say that clinicians that participate in Supply Chain projects probably have the right perception as well. For other clinical team members, I think it is probably that stereotype of Supply Chain only wants to save money.

How difficult was/is it for Supply Chain to achieve street cred among the clinical and C-suite circles?

I think that our commitment to communication, inclusion and transparency in our processes helped us, very early on, to develop trust and that lead to allowing us to try progressive ideas that I think lead to “cred” on several fronts.

Any formidable opposition in terms of attitude or otherwise? If so, how did you handle them?

I would say that most of the times we have run up against “formidable” opposition, it comes from a good place. What I mean is that usually concerns [are] voiced for good reasons and often double checks our assumptions and makes us accountable to the organization in a good way.

How can supply chain managers collaborate with other departments and professionals and convince them that their decisions are based on the financial health of the organization and not in denying them quality products or dictating patient care as the clinicians might tell the CEOs?

I think the real trick to make sure you are involving a representative group of end user in the process, educating them on the financial benefits, listening to their quality and safety concerns and finding a good balance of the two. The right product at the right price. I also think that it is important to be transparent in your communications with the team and once a decision is made, do what you say you are going to do. Act with integrity and treat business partners fairly.

Are physicians in your organization employed by the organization, which may be arguably “easier” to manage than if you were herding cats with privileges? How would you advise more open-mined Supply Chain pros to deal with physicians in a similar way that are not on the payroll?

We have a mix with the only group that is highly employed is Cardiology. I think employment may get more participation or get them to the table but we have also been successful with non-employed physicians. We are committed to physician leadership when it comes to our projects. We certainly bring ideas, data and expertise in contracting and negotiating to the table. We press the groups to achieve savings, but ultimately we are facilitators of the process, taking their lead and guidance. So when we go to business community, we do so with a high degree of confidence that we have the support we need to do what we say we are going to do.

I would suggest that building trust with the physician community is about inclusion but it is also about treating the business community with respect. The physician community has a bond with the companies and products they need to provide excellent care. They also understand that the hospital is running a business. I think the physicians respond better when the messaging is about finding the right balance in all of these relationships. Leading with demonizing the business community, to me, can put you in a hole at the start.

What are some practical, common sense ways that supply chain managers can keep patient satisfaction in mind as they’re performing their duties?

Listen to your customers. If they are happy, it is very likely patients are happy.

Keep your customers informed about what is going on with their products and services. They understand things like backorders. They just don’t want to be surprised by them.

Be careful of customer fatigue. For example, be aware what other “asks” may be occurring with the same customer. Are you trying to make a conversion happen at the same time that a new EMR change is happening?

What advice do you have for professionals outside of healthcare wanting to enter into the field of healthcare supply chain management (whether college students or from other industries)?

We need you, but be patient with us. Challenge us but understand the differences. With that understanding bring your new ideas and make us better.

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