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For Exceptional Results Focus on the People

Karen Johnson

Chief Deputy Director, Policy and Program Support, California Department of Health Care Services

Karen Johnson

Q: Can you tell us about a time you led a high performance work team?

A: Recently, we transitioned a contract for our enormous health care mainframe system from one vendor to another. The key was ensuring individuals from both the Department of Health Care Services and the new vendor understood and embraced our vision. This was critical, to ensure they were committed and dedicated to successfully making the mainframe system transition happen. The vendor transition required employees and stakeholders from many different disciplines to work together, including information technology, administration, and health care programs staff. We created cross-functional teams that developed a playbook of close to 40,000 tasks to accomplish the transition. We had to ensure that the system worked after the transfer, and these tasks represented a strong sample of critical functionalities that could not fail. I helped this process by encouraging the team to be precise and explaining why this was so critical. The team created measurements that tracked our performance, relying heavily on the data to tell us where we were, where we expected to be, and how we were progressing toward our deadlines. The cross-functional teams and playbook also helped us anticipate certain issues and work to prevent or address issues if they arose. It's an illustration of how keeping your team well informed and empowered can build toward success. Following that, we celebrated. It's as important an aspect of leadership as any other. Recognize and honor your team's successes.

Q: What role do leaders play in retaining high performing employees?

A: The Department of Health Care Services conducted five different surveys asking questions about why our employees stay with the department. It came down to leadership. People believe passionately in the vision and mission of the department. Leaders must nurture this passion in their employees and provide challenging work for and invest in their staff.

The interview with Karen Johnson was conducted on November 9, 2012 and has been edited and condensed.

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