Foundation Insight: Get to Know CPES17 Keynote Tom Atchison – Meet this Dynamic Speaker in Chicago

By Rose Lucas, Specialist, CHIME Foundation

Tom Atchison, EdD,
President & Founder of Atchison Consulting

CPES17 keynote speaker Tom Atchison, Ed.D., has been at the forefront of transformational change for decades. In a Q&A, he shares strategies for success, ongoing challenges and more. Be sure to catch his address at the opening of the second annual CHIME Partner Education Summit. 

How did you get your start in the healthcare industry?
My start in healthcare began in the Illinois Mental Health Department (and) from there to a physical rehabilitation hospital – always working with the psychological and cognitive health of children and adolescents. While pursuing my doctorate at Loyola University of Chicago, I began consulting to a Chicago medical school on continuing medical education. From there I worked at the American Hospital Association as a medical education specialist; from there to the American College of Healthcare Executives. In 1984, I started my consulting company, whose mission is to help healthcare leaders manage change. 

What is your approach to transformation change in this industry?
All change starts with the individual within the context of a corporate culture. When the values and goals of the individual are aligned with the values and vision of the organization, then transformational change moves easily. However, (if there is) any misalignment between the values and goals of the individual and the values and vision of the organization, then problems arise. Finally, transformational change takes three to five years. Therefore, the notion of “fast change” is not possible. 

Does your approach differ depending on the type of healthcare organization?
The simple answer is no. My approach is not a function of the corporate structure, but a function of the complexity of the issues and the strength of organizational leadership. 

Which elements of transformational change have the most positive impact on healthcare organizations?
The most critical success element is a clear, positive leadership vision of the desired future. The second critical success is the right talent, and the whole process is held together with trust and respect among all the change drivers. 

What elements of transformational change do healthcare leaders have the most difficulty embracing?
Because transformational change requires significant culture change, healthcare leaders have difficulties with the amount of time and the number of “moving parts” necessary to be successful. Also, too many healthcare leaders fail to engage the formal and informal physician leaders early in the change process. 

What are your top three favorite books and why?
Any book written by Jim Collins is on my favorite book list; and, a book (not related to healthcare), that shows the power of leadership is titled “Let My People Go Surfing” (second edition). This year, I was fascinated by Tom Friedman’s new book, “Thanks for Being Late.” This book might be especially enjoyed by CHIME members because it’s all about our digital future. 

What gets you most excited about the change you have seen in healthcare over the last five years?
While there are many positive shifts in the delivery of care in the USA, the one thing I find exciting is the significant increase in formal physician leadership development processes being developed at the local level. I firmly believe that the most successful delivery systems are “physician led and professionally managed.” 

Editor’s note: Tom Atchison, president and founder of Atchison Consulting and author of several books on healthcare leadership and transformational change, will kick off the 2017 CHIME Partner Education Summit, which will run Sept. 13-15 in Chicago. This Q&A has been edited for brevity. 

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