A Mentor Who Wants to Build Strong Leaders
By Karen Rosen, ATLANTA TREND™

LisaLaVallee

Lisa LaVallee decided at an early age that she wanted a career in healthcare, but wound up taking a path she never imagined. When her father passed away after suffering a massive heart attack, Lisa resolved to become a heart surgeon. She studied biology at Gettysburg College for 2 ½ years before life dealt her another unexpected turn. Lisa's mother became ill, so she returned home to Ohio to care for her and enrolled at Akron University.

Lisa subsequently went to work full-time for Prudential Insurance Company, where she was responsible for the group claims practice.

"It was there I had the opportunity to really understand healthcare procedures," Lisa says."

Now she’s Chief Information Officer for the McKesson Provider Technologies (MPT) and the RelayHealth Provider and Consumer Business Units. Representing more than 13,000 employees, Lisa is one of eight McKesson business unit chief information officers. She’s the only woman in that role and the only CIO reporting directly McKesson’s Randy Spratt, executive vice president, chief technology officer and chief information officer.

McKesson, founded in 1833, had revenues in its most recent fiscal year of $106.6 billion and ranked 15 on the Fortune 500.

In her 16 years at McKesson, Lisa has held leadership positions in R&D, Services, Sales, Process Office and IT. Before joining McKesson, she worked at Sotriss Corporation, where as one of five employees, "I had responsibility to sell, develop products, do implementations… we painted the office. You do what you can in an entrepreneurial organization." Joining HBO & Co., the largest software supplier to the healthcare industry, Lisa realized she had a knack for working with customers to solve problems.

Honesty is the Best Policy

"One of the things that I think they appreciated about me the most is I am transparent," she says. "If there’s an issue, you tell them there’s an issue, and say, ‘But here’s what we’re going to do to solve it.’ And they’re happier when you’re honest with them."

When McKesson developed a product line called Pathway to provide additional products to support the hospital system, Lisa took on her first leadership role requiring true people management.

Lisa, who has helped develop common methodologies to address customer education, recognizes that she’s very process-oriented.

In R & D, she spent a significant amount of time truly understanding the various roles within the hospital environment.

And though she’d been forced to give up her goal of becoming a physician, "I saw how I was able to touch healthcare without actually being a healthcare provider," she says, "how I was able to help make their jobs easier, and actually improve the safety of the patients."

Taking on a leadership role within the sales operations team, Lisa helped implement a sales portal that became one of McKesson’s highest adopted sales tools. It was her first real IT-type project.

She attributes its success to the decision to let the sales people design and build it.

"It became theirs," she says. She knew it was a hit when the sales leadership – not the IT leadership – introduced it at the national sales meeting.

When McKesson became interested in Six Sigma, the business management strategy, Lisa helped put together a Green Belt and Black Belt program. But while several people went directly to Black Belt, Lisa took Green Belt first because she wanted to see the progression. She then became Black Belt-certified.

The Bridge Between Business and IT

Lisa's bosses are aware that she' s extremely team-oriented and focused on collaboration and relationship-building. The CIO who preceded Lisa asked her to help work on a business process reengineering program.

Her skills made her the perfect fit for the IT organization, and after 30 days on the program, she moved into the CIO role.

"I think I’ve been very successful at bridging the gap between the business and the IT organization," Lisa says. "So, everything that I’ve done through my career has led me into this role. And I am having a great time. But I also know that again, just because I got here, I can’t stop."

Lisa wants to continue to grow the organization, drive leadership, drive efficiencies and engage in succession planning. After all, Lisa knows she’s not the kind of person to sit in the same job for years.

"I’ve learned that what I do best, and therefore what I enjoy, is either fixing something, starting something or helping to drive change," she says.

Lisa tries to help others fulfill their potential, too. "One of my goals is I want to build strong leaders," she says.

To achieve that goal, Lisa loves to mentor. People come to her from both inside and outside the company. She spends time understanding each employee and their skill sets, learning their career desires, goals and direction.

"Folks would come and ask, ‘Do you think that this is the type of role that I should take?’" she says. If it’s not, she tells them.

Lisa also has been paired with a Georgia State University student who is one of the Bergeron Scholarship recipients through the Robinson College of Business.

Refreshed by Networking

Lisa also enjoys networking through Women in Technology, a not-for-profit organization of professional women. She is the McKesson executive sponsor and is in her second year volunteering as the events program director, with responsibility for two major fundraisers. As a thank you for her service, Lisa was invited to attend the WIT’s capstone executive coaching program.

"I had access to incredible coaches, speakers, people within the IT community that are well-respected and senior leaders," she says, adding, "It was a tremendous opportunity for me to have conversations with women who were senior leaders."

In every class, Lisa takes notes in the side of her book, not just for herself, but also for the people she’s mentoring. "I’ll write their names and I’ll highlight a topic that I want to cover," she says.

Lisa also brings exercises back to the organization."Everything I learn I try to share with everybody I can share it with," she says.

That’s in keeping with the common set of values that guide McKesson called the ICARE Shared Principles: integrity, customer-first, accountability, respect and excellence.

Lessons of Leadership

As she has gone up the management ladder, Lisa says, "I haven’t changed the way I interact with people. I think the individuals that work with me see that I’m truly doing what’s in their best interests as well as our customers’ best interests, and I’m not afraid to challenge where things need to be challenged. I’m not afraid to think or hear new ideas. And that’s where I think the teamwork and the collaboration come into play. And just like every other leader, I’m not afraid to make a hard decision."

Lisa has a strong faith and purpose. "My life, in addition to working, has not always been what people would call a bed of roses," she says. "I have had to deal with what most people at my age are only beginning to start to think about."

Besides losing both parents, Lisa lost a husband to cancer. While involved with his care, she was able to see medicine really work in a serious situation, showing the value of what McKesson provides.

With everything she’s gone through, Lisa says, "I hope that I can be a voice or a shoulder for somebody else who’s going through something similar and that I can help them get past that and know it’s going to be OK."

Lisa says one of her own mentors taught her a tough lesson about being a leader. Years ago, when she was a project manager, she took up the slack for a member of the team.

"The project was successful, but I was not seen as a leader," she says. "Because leadership is about making sure the people who are responsible are held accountable. So I didn’t do that person or the company any justice. With that example, I got it."

And she has continued to build on what she’s learned.

"When I walk out the door at the end of the day, I could still have 15 things on my action item list," she says, "and if I’ve had a really good conversation with a peer or a staff member, if I’ve mentored somebody, if I’ve helped them in some way, if I’ve brainstormed with them, I walk out feeling so rewarded and I get more out of it than they do. I really do."

Secrets to Success

Collaboration: "I don’t know the answers to all the questions, but I know who to ask and who to get involved, and I’m not afraid to do that."

Constantly learning: "When you develop relationships, then you also have a network that you can brainstorm with," which leads to better decisions and/or adoption of ideas.

Adaptability: "I can sit down with somebody and recognize quite quickly their style. Once you understand their style, you understand how to interact with them and how to communicate with them."

Willingness to change: "Change is inevitable. You need to be able to receive that change, and help figure out how to make the best of that change and actually flourish in that change."

Honesty: "I’m very transparent. l make a commitment to the customers to figure out a way to get their questions answered."

Resilience and a positive outlook: "I am definitely a person who looks at the glass half full in every situation. … I’m not the kind of person who’s going to go sit in a corner and say, ‘OK, life’s beaten me down.’ I’m going to say, ‘What are you going to throw at me next?’"

Lisa LaVallee is Chief Information Officer for the McKesson Provider Technologies (MPT) and the RelayHealth Provider and Consumer Business Units. Atlanta Trend expresses its thanks and deep appreciation to Lisa LaVallee for sharing her thoughts with us.

1.  Continue to LEARN every day. Great ideas are everywhere. If it’s difficult to recognize new ideas, then perhaps a change of venue, perspective, etc… may help.

2.  Consider how to ADAPT an idea to suit your needs. If this is difficult to think through, then you may want to get some help.

3.  TRY it, test it, and see if it works. Give it a shot. Typically, there is a great deal to gain and little to lose in conducting a pilot or trial.

4.  APPLY successful new processes and procedures to your entire operation.

"ATLANTA TREND™ expresses its thanks and deep appreciation to Lisa LaVallee for sharing her thoughts with us.


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