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The importance of knowing and owning your business | Lessons for Leaders

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Jenny Redman-Schell of Aspirus Medical Group discusses the need to understand all aspects of business, planning ahead, and how women can rise in healthcare leadership.

Jenny Redman-Schell of Aspirus Health shares a mantra with her teammates.

“Know your business, own your business.”

Redman-Schell is senior vice president of ambulatory services at Aspirus and president of Aspirus Medical Group. She oversees about 1,000 doctors and advanced practice clinicians. She talked about the mantra and its meaning in a recent interview with Chief Healthcare Executive®.

“Knowing your business and owning a business, to me, that's fundamental,” Redman-Schell says. “No matter where you are in terms of a leadership position, you have to understand all the segments that go into your business and really be able to lead from that.”

(See part of our conversation in this video. The story continues below.)

Redman-Schell says she started using the phrase in the latter stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, when she recognized it was time to move from responding to emergencies to planning for the future.

She pointed to the need for people to get back to the basics of their business, including understanding how many patients they are seeing and what those patients need.

“We don't want our decisions being made at, as people say, the ivory tower,” Redman-Schell says. “We want to make sure that we're making decisions that are appropriate for our communities and for our regional areas.

‘So really understanding your business is really crucial,” she adds. “And once you understand it, I think that puts you more in a comfort zone, or confidence that you own it, and you're really going to move it forward.”

Redman-Schell noted that the pivot after the worst of the pandemic was difficult.

“When we came out of the pandemic, everybody thought, ‘Great, we're coming out of the pandemic and life will be back to normal.’ Well, that wasn't the case,” she says.

Like many health systems, Aspirus encountered “significant financial headwinds,” including higher inflationary costs, Redman-Schell says.

Aspirus is based in Wisconsin and serves parts of Minnesota and Michigan, covering largely rural areas. The region isn’t seeing much in the way of population growth, and much of its population is older, with growing health needs. Some of the system’s workers left the industry.

Aspirus closely examined the region’s healthcare needs, and what must be done to meet those needs in a cost-effective way with fewer resources, she said. She said that process has helped Aspirus maintain a solid financial position.

‘The right mix’

In order for organizations to succeed, leadership is key, and that means assembling a strong team of leaders, Redman-Schell says.

“I think everything begins and ends with leadership,” she says. “You have to have the right mix of leaders on your team, no matter what team you're talking about.”

She also says a good leadership team includes individuals with different experiences and perspectives.

“You have to have the right mix of individuals and varied strengths,” Redman-Schell says. “You can't have everybody that, you know, thinks and acts like you.”

Leaders should look to find individuals with different strengths to add to the team.

“I think that It's how you continue to grow and really develop as a team,” Redman-Schell says.

It’s not easy for healthcare organizations to recruit and retain talent, and many healthcare leaders say that continues to be one of their top challenges. It’s especially challenging for a rural system like Aspirus, she says.

While workers and leaders need certain core skills for their various roles, Redman-Schell also points to the importance of evaluating a candidate’s potential, as much as their experience.

She says it’s an inexact science. “There's only so much you're gonna be able to pick up in an interview,” she says.

“It's not so much being focused on your area of expertise, but really, the skill sets that are needed to be a good leader,” Redman-Schell explains. At Aspirus, new leaders are often paired with mentors to help them succeed, she says.

Advice for women looking to rise

While women hold plenty of positions in healthcare, men continue to hold most of the top leadership positions.

Redman-Schell entered leadership roles at a young age. For women looking to rise in leadership, she again points to her mantra about “knowing your business.”

She recalls earlier in her career when male colleagues would express skepticism about her understanding of financial information. She learned all the details, and she says it’s important to be able to discuss them with authority. “That’s how I’ve gained credibility,” she says.

Women aspiring to leadership roles should also be willing to take a chance and try new positions, even if it seems daunting, she says.

“I've also been somebody who has been hungry for additional responsibilities or to get out of my comfort zone, and move into leading an area that I've never led before.”

(If you’d like to submit your lessons in leadership in healthcare, great advice you’ve received, or insights you wish you had earlier, submit an idea for our “Lessons for Leaders” series. Contact Ron Southwick, senior editor of Chief Healthcare Executive: [email protected])


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