Full transcript of remarks given by AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE, during the AHIMA20 General Session on Thursday, Oct. 15.
Thank your Ginna for your warm introduction. You have been a wonderful chair, partner and friend on our continued journey of organizational and personal reinvention.
Good morning everyone. I admit it feels strange to deliver remarks for AHIMA20 virtually, versus being with you as a live audience.
Yet, I am also excited by the fact that this setting creates opportunities to have people join us who may not have been able to do so. AHIMA20 is not what we had originally envisioned—nor is the year 2020.
This year of profound uncertainty and loss has taken an emotional toll on each of us. The first few months of the pandemic, all I could see was the loss – both on a personal and professional level. And, the losses were real. People were/are dying. People in my own family. The fear that I felt was real. And, so too, was the anger.
At AHIMA, we had made several difficult decisions in 2019 to set ourselves up for success in 2020. We were poised to have this amazing year. And, then along came COVID. I was angry, sad, and scared. This wasn’t the year; I had envisioned for me or for AHIMA.
However, I came to realize that I was only focused on a part of the story. I needed to understand the whole story. I needed to refuel and recharge, letting go of the anger, sadness, and fear that I felt.
The same is true for us as a collective. We need to understand the whole story, and the choices we still have, if we are to successfully navigate to our next normal. We need to understand our story of an enduring purpose, and the power of activating hope and community.
Executive coach and author Andy Bailey offers a four-part approach for navigating through turbulence: Defense, Stabilize, Reset and Offense. As AHIMA’s CEO and personally, I have anchored on this model as we have had to rethink our plans and find the energy to dig deeper. It has helped me to continue the work of transforming our great organization and see that while COVID disrupted some of our 2020 plans, others have been accelerated such as increasing our digital footprint and the creation of new strategic partnership opportunities. It has helped me to see that there is still a path forward – one of growth and one of hope.
As Bailey notes – we have two choices before us as we navigate the turbulence to our work: 1) sit back and wait for our world to return to a pre-pandemic state, which is not likely to happen or 2) Create and act on a new playbook that moves us forward to something better and stronger.
We have made our choice and believe with renewed conviction in the continued value of our organization. Even so, the path to growth comes with discomfort and we are bone weary. Our success on this journey requires us to pause, reflect and refuel at what I think of as three recharging stations on the road of reinvention:
- Rallying behind a unifying purpose
- Activating hope to help each other move past fear and doubt
- And embracing the value of a community that is inclusive, innovative and professional.
Let’s talk about Recharging stop 1: rallying behind unity of purpose.
Many years ago, our forward-thinking leaders crafted AHIMA’s primary purpose: we exist to ensure excellence in the management of health information for the benefit of patients and providers.
- We have been called to a high purpose. I truly believe that we, as individuals and a collective, have been called to lead with an outward focus on the needs of others as we continue to grow and evolve our own personal knowledge, skills, insights, and spheres of influence.
- We are called to be individuals who excel at solving problems and removing barriers for each other, for patients, and for providers.
- We have been called to look beyond the current moment and to see and embrace the possibilities of the future that we must help shape.
- Yes, 2020 has thrown us some curveballs. Yet, our challenge and our opportunity is to rally behind our enduring purpose and do whatever is necessary to ENSURE excellence in the management of health information for the benefit of patients and providers – even in the midst of a global pandemic.
- We will get to the other side of COVID. We will do so because throughout our 92 years of history, we have always found a way to be resilient and to remain focused on what is truly important.
- We have always had the courage to set aside individual differences and to do what is best to fulfill our purpose.
- And, why will we do this…because it’s part of our calling to make sure that health information remains human information. And, it’s our responsibility to eliminate the barriers to our success.
And by eliminating barriers to success, I mean letting go of outdated thinking and approaches and the former status quo – they hinder us from being able to pivot toward a more relevant and sustainable future. The time has come once again for us to renew our commitment to our higher purpose.
When we focus on our higher purpose, we rise above our fears, doubts, and differences and lean into our individual and organizational potential.
When we focus on our higher purpose, we help drive the value of health data and ensure that health information, with all its complexity and nuances, stays human and relevant.
When we focus on our higher purpose, we have greater appreciation for the boldness of our mission and the hope of our vision, and the unity we have in our higher calling.
When we focus on our higher purpose, we change the conversation from the uncertainty of the moment to the possibilities of the future.
I believe our work to ensure excellence in the management of health information in support of patients and providers has never been more important. The time is now for us to rally behind our unity of purpose and to make it clear that for 92 years we have been the stewards of health information…and that we have no intentions of taking our eye off our mission, our responsibility, our purpose to make a strong and powerful societal impact.
That’s not to say the road of reinvention isn’t a long and challenging one. It does require that we sometimes shift our perspectives, take meaningful risks, and look for new ways of doing business. But we can refuel and recommit along the way as we embrace a unity of purpose larger than ourselves…then continue our journey to empower people to impact health.
Our second recharging stop: is activating hope. In the early days of the pandemic, when every phone call brought news of another loss or a more dire situation, I made a personal and professional decision: I would lead from a place of hope. I made the conscious decision to reject the often-used platitude that hope was not a strategy. I determined that hope would be an active force in my life and at AHIMA, motivated by a fervent belief in a brighter future.
In my view, we cannot successfully navigate toward our next new normal unless we activate hope and move past our fears and our doubts. Our hope helps us rise above some of the losses we have sustained and the uncertainties that still lie before us.
Our own organizational history teaches us about the value of hope and the importance of perseverance to propel this organization forward. During World War II, our founder Grace Whiting Myers stated:
“It has been a hard year for everyone, and I believe particularly so for those connected with any kind of hospital work.”
Sounds a bit like 2020, doesn’t it?
After noting some of the challenges Grace further stated “However, I am proud of all that I have read and heard of your splendid efforts in carrying on, and especially am I proud of those who have gone into actual war service. It is what I have hoped would happen.”
Grace’s sentiments are rooted in hope and recognize the power of our community. We didn’t give up in 1943 and we won’t give up in 2020.
In a 2012 Harvard Business Review article, Deborah Mills-Scofield observes that:
“Hope recognizes the reality that failure happens, success is not assured, the laws of physics don’t change and prudence is needed to discern when to persevere — and when to pivot. Hope doesn’t demarcate a linear path, but it does guide us through twists and turns. Hope views the glass as half full, not half empty. Hope supports realistic optimism, a necessary component of success.”
For AHIMA to successfully navigate the twists and turns of the current environment, we must know when to persevere and when to pivot. In other words, we must have hope – that the work we are doing continues to make a difference, and that we have the ability and the willingness to take advantage of new opportunities. While the reality of our past is gone, we can help define a next new normal where the ability to lead transformation in healthcare is still a possibility, where our understanding of the complexity and nuance of healthcare is still needed.
Hope in the future strengthens our commitment to our purpose even if the ways we work must change. I have faith in our ability to remain relevant and vital in the next new normal for healthcare and beyond.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that our work is critical to public health. Our history has shown us that we are at our best when we are externally focused, leveraging the power of community in support of societal good. When we are externally focused, we show up and we lead with hope that is unencumbered by fear and doubts. Here are a few examples of us at our best this year living out our purpose, mission, and vision:
- In the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death when renewed attention focused on systemic inequities, we released a powerful statement that outlined the connection between health disparities and incomplete and inaccurate health data. We made recommendations as to how health information can help create the changes we want to see, and how AHIMA and its members can contribute to that change.
- This year, the AHIMA Foundation mapped out a new strategic vision and programmatic agenda focused on promoting data-driven changes that tear down barriers to building better health outcomes and achieving health equity for all.
- Recognizing that patient matching issues are creating patient safety issues as well as administrative challenges, we led the creation of the powerful Patient ID Now Coalition of like-minded industry stakeholders advocating for policy action to solve this issue.
- We leveraged the talents of our members around the world to develop a new telehealth course.
We were able to do these things and more because amid adversity, doubt and fear, we chose to be hopeful, to persevere, and to pivot.
Our HOPE is not rooted in our individual potential alone, but the collective power that inspired our founding. This sense of community is in our DNA and is the third recharging stop anchoring our journey and my confidence that we will successfully navigate the current situation.
Community has always been a cornerstone of who we are. Our work as leaders in the Patient ID Now coalition has shown us the possibilities of what can happen when we lean into an expanded community. We focused on our mission, led with hope, and expanded our circle of influence. And, we are leveraging that community to drive policy changes to find a long-term solution to the problem of patient misidentification.
But this is just the beginning. COVID has revealed for many of us that our communities are not as broad and deep as we imagined. We now have an opportunity at AHIMA to go deeper with each other – to promote greater comradery, more opportunities to network, and better information sharing and collaboration. We have a chance to open our community of health information to a larger audience and, with that, drive individual and organizational growth.
To fulfill our enduring purpose and use our talents and creativity to drive the future of health data, we need to be a learning community that uplifts, brings out the best in us as professionals, and is inclusive, open and collaborative.
And we need to let go of how things were done in the past, leaving behind behaviors and attitudes that do not propel us forward.
So today, I am pleased to announce coming to you soon is Access: AHIMA Curated Communities to Enhance Success and Sustainability. This motivating community will help members skill up and branch out, lead institutional and societal change, and challenge ourselves to think in new and thought-provoking ways. We are building the infrastructure for Access and identifying the ambassadors who will help us launch. More information will be coming to you after the conference.
This last recharging stop comes with a clear call to action for each of us: a call to build up our community by inspiring and motivating, involving new voices, and learning aside one another. Community is an entrenched part of our history, it is what brings most of us here today, and it will be the animating force of our hope-filled future.
I do not have a crystal ball or know exactly what the future holds. Like all of you, many uncertainties confront me as a leader and as a person. Here’s what I do know: clarity of direction makes it easier to navigate toward an uncertain future. Our path may twist and turn, it may be different than what we expect or what we knew in the past, however our direction is clear. With hope we will carry the mantle of our forward-thinking founders and embrace the power of community to achieve our primary purpose: ensuring excellence in the management of health information for the benefit of patients and providers.
- I know that there are those out there who say we’ll never be the same. To them I say we don’t want to be, we have too much potential to not lean into it.
- I know that there are those out there who say it’s too hard. To them I say yes, it is hard! Growth and opportunity are never easy.
- I know that there are those out there who say we cannot persevere and pivot. To them I say we can, we must, and we will.
Let me close with a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I have big dreams for AHIMA. I believe in our future.
I know it may be hard for some of you to understand why I care so deeply about this organization and the profession. It’s because I didn’t always believe in myself and my dreams. It took other people to see my potential and to push me until I could see my own potential. I see our potential and the brightness of our future. And, I am committed to the journey of reinvention. I am refueled, recharged, and ready to forge ahead.
Join me today in making a renewed commitment to a bold and hopeful future where we as professionals and leaders unify behind our enduring purpose and take our seat at the table and create new tables to define the next new normal for healthcare and beyond.
Thank you. Stay Safe and Stay Well.