Susan Sharer, FedHealthIT’s President, had the opportunity to interview Liz Porter, Group President with Leidos’ Health Group where she oversees the portfolio of programs supporting the Defense Health Agency, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, and other civil and commercial health organizations. The discussion focused on resiliency – honing in on leadership and technology for resiliency, and lessons learned related to resiliency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Resilience has definitions in both personal and business contexts, many of which have been tested as a result of COVID-19. From a personal view, resilience is about maintaining a strong sense of purpose and a positive attitude during turbulent times. From a business view, resilience is about the ability of the team to respond to change and disruption in a flexible and innovative manner. It’s important for organizations to help employees pivot when necessary – driven by values-based leadership that puts people first – with clear, frequent communication. This has been especially true during the pandemic that saw increased reliance on telework which can significantly alter co-worker communication and relationships.
Resilience in Leadership
As leaders, we need to maintain a focus on the mission and a sense of team. In times that call for resilience, we as leaders also need to ask for input and provide a timely response. Our response needs to stay true to core values, where at Leidos ours are integrity, inclusion, innovation, agility, collaboration, and commitment.
We also need to think holistically about the team and individuals within the team. We’ve worked with the Military for decades and while we bring solutions to their toughest challenges, we also learn from them. Their Total Force Fitness Framework takes this holistic approach – examining physical, psychological, ideological/spiritual, medical/dental, nutritional, environmental, financial, and social dimensions – and it’s something we point to when we think about resilience and leading for resiliency.
Resilience in Teams
Leadership among teams is not about a title, but rather, about that individual who shows empathy, who is able to be at the front, guiding a team. That leader aligns with what the team’s purpose is and what team member roles are and is making sure that everyone on the team is carrying his/her weight and participating. Especially important during trying times is that leaders personally care about where those individuals are and how they are moving forward.
Engagement within teams is critical to ensuring resilience. That means not just having an open door policy, but listening and incorporating what individuals bring forward. At Leidos, we also see tremendous engagement from our employee resource groups or ERGs. Our ERGs further empower employees to bring their full selves to work and to better connect with the organization in various ways.
A Culture of Resilience
Resilience doesn’t come from just one or a few individuals. It needs to be ingrained in the company’s culture. It’s up to leaders, through the culture that they’ve established, to appropriately respond, embrace, and charter that way forward. Embedding that culture within the organization so every member of the team supports it is critical.
Once again, I applaud the Military for its Total Force Fitness Framework, which they are embedding in their culture to help Service Members adapt to changing requirements and build resilience to stress.
Technology Support for Resilience
Technologies that leverage data, combined with a holistic physical and mental health perspective, directly support resilience. One example that comes to mind is feedback informed counseling or feedback informed therapy, which is a very deliberate model of improving outcomes from counseling or therapy. There are also Military health programs where we integrate years of longitudinal data with clinical workflows. By looking at that continuum of care, we’re actually better able to identify patient indicators so that caregivers can provide a more effective treatment.
Under the current pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in the use of mobile devices for virtual visits. We have a wholly-owned subsidiary called QTC that provides exams for Veterans, and the increase in the virtual visits has been extensive, enabling ongoing care and ongoing exams in a secure digital environment.
Smart electronic devices like wearables, which are another mobile technology, are increasing in use, based on the fact that they’ve become a lot less expensive and therefore more extensible. People may use them to track steps but they can also indicate sleep quality and support other overall health goals. In our work with the Military health laboratory, we’re testing various wearables where sensors can measure not only the physical reactions to stress, but the mindfulness and wellness of a person. In this case, the wearables really are becoming more intelligent and therefore able to sense bio-behavioral indicators.
Within Leidos, we have also recently provided access to an application to support our employees’ mindfulness and wellness. The app is designed to help with sleep, exercise, and meditation. There are numerous apps like that companies and individuals can turn to in order to support resiliency and overall well-being.
Resilience during COVID-19
I am extremely proud of how Leidos has shown resilience during the pandemic. From the initial stages and identification of the pandemic, we took a hard look at our information technology infrastructure and modified our telework policy. There was a concerted effort to step up employee communications and the methodologies by which we communicated with the employees. That also included examining and modifying our leave policy to enable those directly impacted by the virus or had family members that were to take needed time off.
Other tangible support included waiving fees for our preferred telemedicine provider, waiving deductibles and copays for Healthcare expenses related to the diagnosis, testing, or treatment of the COVID-19 virus and offering a more flexible, subsidized childcare option to support our working parents.
Looking back over the past four months, it has become apparent that if an organization was unable to pivot, if the infrastructure wasn’t in place both from a technology and policy stand, then that business or agency was going to struggle to function. We saw some agencies move quickly and others that did not. Certain missions were more difficult to translate to telework – yet they had to be, for employee health and safety and to carry out critical Government services efficiently.
Some agencies had the information technology in place, so they just had to make some modifications to policies. In other cases, agencies needed to extend their capabilities, their virtual private networks, essentially their backbone, including laptops and virtual desktop environments, to enable teleworking.
What COVID has shown us, and what agencies will continue to drive toward, is greater resilience for whatever the future may hold. One of the benefits of this all has been the ability to see we can deliver on the mission outside of a specific set of walls and then thinking about how this may help us attract a whole new and different workforce and perhaps greater resources.
The health IT industry is the nexus bringing technology together with health and life sciences expertise. By leveraging that knowledge within our own companies and providing agencies with the tools they need to move forward with resilience, we can ensure we are all prepared for whatever the future holds.
About Liz Porter
Elizabeth (Liz) Porter is President of the Health Group where she leads an organization of several thousand employees providing services and solutions in health information technology, population health risk management and case management, health analytics, life sciences, and public health. Throughout her career, Porter has led several critical initiatives, including advanced programs (proposal execution) management, engineering, and operations management for the Defense Messaging System, database design, and software development.