Importance of Technical Certifications for Executives



How important are technical certifications to you when considering hiring an employee for an executive role? How important is it to get the CHCIO or CPHIMS, for example?

David L. Miller responds:

There can be no question that the hiring process in health care IT has and will continue to change, based on the increasing complexity and rapid evolution of the market as we know it. The higher up the food chain that you go, the more important that making the correct decision becomes. Factor in the expected shortage in the healthcare IT workforce overall, and the decision becomes even more critical.

In order to find truly high-performing leaders, I tend to divide the characteristics of good to great leaders into three factors: intrinsic motivation, talents and -- to your question -- skills/knowledge/experience.


Motivation is defined as a state of feeling or thinking that energizes one to perform a task or engage in a particular behavior. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is being driven by a deep interest and involvement in the work, by curiosity, enjoyment, self-expression or a personal sense of challenge. You might substitute the word "passion," but I am not sure that completely covers the situation. Intrinsic motivation usually results in higher productivity and performance than extrinsic (driven by monetary rewards or recognition) motivation.


Talent, frankly, is the factor that I focus on the most. Motivation can be created. Skills and knowledge can be taught. Experience can be gained. But talent for a particular role is something you either possess or you don't. When push comes to shove, I always select for talent. If you want a more detailed understanding of why that is important and what it means, you should read First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Chapter Three lays out the argument nicely.

I define talent as natural capabilities based on knowledge that you have gained early in life or that you seem to have been 'born with.' Individuals tend to exhibit talents often and in diverse circumstances, and using their talents seems to give individuals energy and enthusiasm. It is this diversity of expression and creation of enthusiasm that I find most valuable.

The nice thing about talent -- if you possess it for any particular role -- is that it can be nurtured and strengthened through investments of time, practice and improving your knowledge base around that talent. Strong talents can be made stronger. Weak talents can be improved. But it should be noted that excellence occurs when you focus on maximizing your strengths, not by fixing your weaknesses.
If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend Strength Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. It gives you tools to discover your own personal strengths and how to develop them.

When it comes to executive leadership, the talent domains I focus on are (in order of importance): execution, strategic/critical thinking, relationship building and influencing. All of these are critical to success in a fast-paced, rapidly evolving industry such as ours.


So, the question before us is whether industry certifications are an indication of an individual's ability to lead a high-performing team, that is, do these certifications tell us anything about the factors I have listed above? I would say the answer is a resounding 'yes!'

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I am a proud recipient of the Certified Healthcare Chief Information Officer (CHCIO) designation. I also should say that I have been a part of the reviewer group that helps select questions for the exam. I do think that gives me some gravitas in understanding the purpose behind the exam and the reason questions are selected. And though I have not taken other exams like the CPHIMS, I know that their intent and what is required to be successful is very similar in nature to the CHCIO exam, but focused on a different set of competencies.

Both exams demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge not only of the health care industry as a whole, but an understanding of how health care works, particularly in the subtleties of day-to-day operations. To successfully reach these certifications, you need not only skills, knowledge and experience, but also the strategic thinking and other skills to have successfully navigated through to a meaningful place of impact with your organization. You have learned important lessons along the way to add to your knowledge bank and expertise across multiple disciplines, which make you a valuable asset to those looking to fill important leadership roles in an industry where these values are not easily found.

Charlene Underwood adds:

I was fortunate to listen to David Horsager, author of The Trust Edge, who made the case for trust and its impact on the workplace and business. He asserted that "Trust, not money, is the currency of business and life." He also asserted "that everything of value is based on trust, from financial systems to relationships."


In the business of healthcare, where health is an individual's most important asset and each day providers make life and death decisions when caring for patients, trust is one of our most precious resources - from the trust between vendors and providers or between patients and their doctor and care team. While I agree with Joe that being talented is valuable, being trusted is a fundamental key to anyone's success.

So what does trust have to do the technical certification and employee hiring. Good leaders and managers realize that one of their responsibilities is to develop trust relationship between their area of responsibilities and their customers (who can be internal or external.) They recognized that trust must be earned and is earned through one's actions. One of the pillars of trust is competency. To quote Benjamin Franklin, "If you think that education is expensive, try ignorance."


When I hire, I consider competency for the position to be a mandatory requirement. A candidate who has completed exams and has technical certifications gives me the assurance that a candidate meets these job requirements. This is crucial in a market place moving as quickly as healthcare and where speed to market with quality products is essential. These exams provide an accelerator to help managers hire and employees perform.

Competency yields improved products and services which increases customer trust and hopefully retention. The fact that the candidate recognized the need and acted to keep learning means that they recognize the important of staying relevant and adapting in the midst of a time of great change. Imagine that you needed surgery and had to choose between two doctors to do the surgery. One stays abreast the newest procedures and the other is not as up-to-date. You would trust the continual learner. Trust is rooted in competency which depends on continual learning.


As a manager in a software development and implementation company, I find the person's resiliency is another aspect to hiring that make a difference in these challenging times. Resiliency is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. In healthcare, employees and employers face new and usually unexpected challenges each day. Having the ability of stay positive when external and internal factors changes what you do each day contributes to a collaborative environment and teamwork need to move projects and products forward. It is easier to have such coping skills when one has an understanding of the end game and an appreciation for the road to get there. As David points out, the exams demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge not only of the health care industry as a whole, but an understanding of how health care works, particularly in the subtleties of day-to-day operations.

Bottom line

Being able to earn trust and having resiliency are important success factors for employees in healthcare organizations today. Employees who have earned the technical certifications relevant to their roles have greater potential to be able to demonstrate these success factors.