Leading from the Middle

Colored Pencils in Circle

By Molly Greek and Vivian Khem.

How often do you say, “This drives me crazy! Someone should fix it.”?

Hey, how about you?

All of us have ideas about how to improve things. We see processes that should get fixed, but we don’t really consider doing something ourselves. The usual reasons:

  • “It’s got to come from the top.”
  • “I’m too busy with my current work.”
  • “I don’t really have the authority.”
  • “If my boss wanted me to take that on, he or she would assign it to me.”

At UC Davis Health, we regularly saw a common problem when looking to adopt a new technology: We weren’t able to just accept a solution that another UC was already using. Instead, each time we started from scratch and asked the vendor and requestor MANY questions to determine if it was secure and supportable in our environment.

Our process involved many people and took weeks or months getting the right information. We weren’t sure if another UC had assessed it (or if had been grandfathered in) or if their assessments would be sufficient for our needs.

After attending the UC IT Leadership Academy last year we were reminded that all of us have to lead innovation and change from wherever we are…in the middle. Very few of us are truly “at the top” with the power to effect change by fiat. Those at the top may not see the opportunity for improvement that we do from our vantage point. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. The real question is “Do you care enough to make a difference?”

So we decided to stop pointing out the problem and instead do something to improve it. We started a small group to look at the evaluations and risk assessments for new technology across several UC Health organizations. We reached out and got willing representatives from IT security at UCOP (Monte Ratzlaff), UCLA Health (Brian Kreitzer & Diane Tyo), UCSD Health (Ken Wottge), and UCSF (Pat Phelan). We were all incentivized to share our vendor and product evaluations to speed up our own evaluations.

We set up a Box site and named it “UC Tech Check,” and started having regular conversations about how to work together. We have now loaded several hundred completed reviews and set up a common organization structure. We asked Scott Silva, analyst at UCD Health, to be the site’s “librarian,” and keep our information organized and consistent.

Our first big win was when Ken Wottge at UCSD realized that UCLA and UCD had already reviewed AWS (Amazon Web Services) and he could see all the information right on the site. “This just saved me months of time performing an independent review, all I have to do is read your reviews and see if I have any other questions, then I’m done!”

The individuals in this story are the co-owners of UC Tech Check and can access our shared information as needed to do their work faster and in some cases better. The innovation came from us working together and building on each other’s ideas. Leading from the middle can be the ripple effect of many more impactful things. You just need to care enough to make a change.

Keys to success

Here are a few techniques to launch a change project, even when you don’t think you have the power:

  • Pick something that is a common problem and has a large improvement opportunity – the juice needs to be worth the squeeze.
  • Let your Supervisor know that you are working on this project and assure them that it won’t negatively impact your responsibilities; they may also have some good ideas to contribute – get yourself some cover.
  • Collaborate with others who are passionate about the initiative – don’t go it alone.
  • Break it down into small wins instead of trying to tackle all at once.

If you’ve picked the right initiative to work on, at first it will be more work but ultimately less work for everyone. You have more influence than you know – any one of us can see a problem and champion a solution. We just need the will to lead and work collaboratively with others. It might not take off right from the beginning, but don’t give up!


Molly GreekMolly Greek is senior manager for IT Enterprise Applications, UCD Health



Vivian KhemVivian Khem is manager for Department Systems, IT Applications Operations, UCD Health


Comment (1)

  1. Diana Antova

    It is great to see my cohort members making a difference!


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