Learning new skills has been proven to keep your brain sharp, but that doesn't mean it's easy or even enjoyable. Most of the time, we gravitate toward the skills we've already perfected, seeking out the affirmation of our existing talent rather than the uphill climb of a new challenge.
But often, being a top-notch consultant means seeking out experience outside your application to make yourself a more well-rounded, multi-faceted healthcare advisor. Here, Senior Consultant Chris Chandre shares his approach to broadening your horizons and treating learning as a constant evolution throughout your career.
If you'd prefer to read rather than watch, the transcript for the video is below.
John Manzuk: Hi, I'm John Manzuk from Nordic Consulting. I'm one of the VPs of consulting services here. I've got Chris Chandre, one of our consultants, with us to talk a little bit about how consultants grow in their careers. Do you want to introduce yourself a little bit, heading into this?
Chris Chandre: Yeah, sure thing. My name is Chris Chandre. I started at Nordic in 2011. I had worked in a healthcare setting for 15 years in various levels of leadership and then got into IT, and came over here, like I said, in 2011.
John Manzuk: Cool. What you do now as a consultant is very different than the types of roles you took when you first started at Nordic, is that fair to say?
Chris Chandre: It is fair. It escalated quickly, when I started at Bellin, which is one of our signature clients, where we were asked to do just about everything. We were brought in to bring them live without Epic's help and it quickly escalated into who needs a training coordinator? Get the Willow guy. Who needed this? Get that guy, and if anything didn't fit, we gave it to Matt Baker and that was it.
John Manzuk: When I'm talking to consultants and they're considering coming to Nordic, they ask about career opportunities and growth and that sort of thing, and they often think about it in terms of the next opportunity. One of the challenges we see there is clients are usually hiring people for something they've done, not necessarily what they have the capability of doing. You're hiring a consultant for what they've already done. How do you live with that or how do you take advantage of that and still be able to grow, knowing that clients are mostly looking for what you've already done?
Chris Chandre: Sure. I think there's a middle ground on all that. I understand that they're hiring us because [we're experts]. But we also have skills they don't know about. We can stay quiet in meetings or we can talk, and I've seen consultants just be the guy that can answer the question. What the project managers and what leadership really want is someone to help them guide the implementation, and that gives you opportunity.
I came in as a ClinDoc consultant. I now have up to eight certifications, based on clients alone telling me, "We've got this project coming. Do you think you can do that?" It's because I was in these meetings, guiding them down a path, saying, "Well, these are the right decisions." They don't want to have to go to someone to get a decision. If you can offer that up or at least give guidance, it takes away so many steps in the project plan for them. At the end of the day, deadlines, money, all that stuff, they just want it to be easier for them.
John Manzuk: Right. You've been here a couple years at Nordic, but primarily with, what two clients at this point?
Chris Chandre: Yeah. I was a renewal machine at St. Luke's. I was there, with nine renewals. I started with ClinDoc, but I had ClinDoc, Orders, ASAP, but then they needed a reporting and dashboard person. I said, "I know how to do that," and went off and got trained for that, did all their dashboard and reporting work. Then, HOD installs, so I went off and got ambulatory and HOD certified, then case management as well. It's just understanding a project, understanding a landscape, and filling a hole. If you try to live on the knowledge you have when you show up, you're slowing dying. Got to keep up.
John Manzuk: I think that's been an advantage for you too, in that you built the trust of a client onsite and that's why they opened up all the different career paths and opportunities for you.
Chris Chandre: Absolutely.
John Manzuk: They're not going to put you new into an HOD role if you haven't worked with them before but you were in those meetings. You built those relationships and that's what helped open the doors, is that fair to say?
Chris Chandre: Agreed. You have multiple consultants and analysts in a room, and everyone is either doing their job, or you find the ones that are trying to further the project. If you go in knowing you have a list of stuff as a consultant that you're implementing, then you're just going to feel like, "I have to do all this stuff." There's a second layer to that project that you need to live in, which is how to move the project forward without having to just answer questions. I just see too many consultants waiting to be called on and then answer, and that is the last you hear from them in a meeting. We have way too much knowledge for that. I have the other side of the healthcare experience, so I get to bring in, "Here's what that end user is really looking for, because I've been able to walk around in the end user's shoes for 15 years and then implement from a champion side before I even went to IT." When I'm in a meeting just to decide something, I can't stay quiet. I'm like, "I know what the OR wants here."
I worked in the ER for 12 of those 15 years, and we worked with everybody, and so in order to get things done, you had to work with everybody, and you've also got to go into a conversation knowing you're not going to get everything, which I think is sometimes where consultants can come in aggressive. I mean not necessarily on purpose, but they'll say, "Well, at this last client I did this." That's an ending statement and it can't be. You can't take that approach. You have to understand those different sides, and too many people don't. I think the best consultants understand the middle and try to further it, to be honest.
John Manzuk: I think you're talking about a couple of different types of growth as you're walking through that too. You've got consultants who move like this: "I started as an analyst, and then I moved into a team lead role," or "I went into a project manager role." There's also growth within those types of roles, such as the amount of technical expertise you acquire as an analyst, or the political situations you can navigate as a project manager. You've done all those sorts of things, right?
Chris Chandre: Sure.
John Manzuk: Are you conscious of all those moves? How do you walk through the different types of growth, or think through the different types of growth?
Chris Chandre: Sure. I think a couple of things have given me an advantage: having a heavy healthcare experience before this, and being in those meeting with physicians, nurses, all our clients, every single day, dealing with their aggression, if you will. And then our project timelines and trying to get that to work. It helped a ton in understanding, "Don't sweat this little thing, get to the big thing." But even within the role, it's teaching those analysts. I've done nothing but implementations up until my last client, and so you have raw analysts by and large. I immediately take them and decide that I'm going to teach a class. It's something that is usually not asked, but I asked the project manager, "Can I teach class all day?" Teaching them how to do Epic essentially forces you to take a team lead your first day. Don't hide from that role. That's why you're there.
You've got to be team lead, but then guess what? The project manager wants you in on meetings to decide the future of this project. Should we involve these people? Do we have enough people? Next thing you know, you're in those conversations, and that's a great place to live because then when opportunity presents itself. You're like, "I can do this," and you have the ability, or "Hey, I know a couple people. Let's call Nordic." That's what happened literally at all my clients so far: We find our way into that management route and suggest improvements and usually it's advantageous for them to have this.
John Manzuk: You talked a lot about mentoring there. In your opinion, can you be a good consultant if you're not a good mentor?
Chris Chandre: You're a short time consultant if you're not a good mentor. I mean, you're going to be hired. I've already told new consultants, "Anyone can get their first gig. Getting the second gig is the hard part because you have to prove that you should be extended or you should get the next gig." If you're just there to answer questions and do your project punch list, you're not going to get hired again, and so you have to be a mentor. I think it should be natural to a lot of us, and if it's not, that is a skill you absolutely have to work on. It comes naturally to me. I kind of consider it like a quiet leadership role. You don't want to take away from the project manager or the team leader that's onsite. You have to be that quiet leader in the corner, that if you're hearing something go sideways, you have to talk.
Don't be in the background, going, "Oh, that was a wrong decision," and then try to scramble around it. No, head it off before it happens. I think that is largely forgotten by a lot of consultants – not necessarily at Nordic, because I've noticed we seem to rock that area – but it's where I see other consultants struggle.
John Manzuk: I imagine it took you a couple of years to strike that balance with clients. They bring you in to do a job, and sometimes they say, "This is how we want the job done," but you, based on your experience, are coming in, "You know what? I don't think that's the best for this situation." How do you strike that balance between knowing you were brought in to do a job, but also knowing that the way they're asking me to do it is a little different than what might actually be best?
Chris Chandre: It's a delicate balance too, because you have a lot of people in leadership roles that came to these conclusions based on what they thought was best, and so you have to be very cautious about how you approach it. Don't come out of the gate with, "At my last site we did this," and "I've done this before." Both of those fall on deaf ears or will usually anger a room. Logically explain the issue. Tell them where the pitfalls will come down the road if you do this. Map out the problem, they'll figure it out. Don't try to just come in strong and say, "Because of me, you've hired me to do this, accept this." No, logically talk about it. That's the balance: Don't try to take their job, just try to help their job. Everyone wants to move this thing along; be there for that.
John Manzuk: Regardless of the experience that you're bringing, every customer site's different too, right?
Chris Chandre: Yeah.
John Manzuk: Listening, navigating the politics, understanding the context for the decision being made, because you won't know that going in, right?
Chris Chandre: Absolutely, and I mean, ask that question. That's a good way to just bring yourself into the conversation. "Hey, I wasn't here when this first was started. Can you tell me why we got to this point?" or something like that. Most often, they're very open to that because you're going to be able to see the problems coming down the road that they didn't plan for and don't get scoped. You don't get any of that if you can't become part of the conversation.
John Manzuk: So as you look two, three, four years down the road, what does your own career path look like?
Chris Chandre: I really like what I do. I wake up every day really happy. I like projects.
John Manzuk: It's a good place to start from, right?
Chris Chandre: What's that?
John Manzuk: It's a great place to start from, right?
Chris Chandre: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I love learning more about Epic. I go out to Epic on my off days. I work with my TSes. I try to just get immersed in the behavior. I think it's a language. It's not an act. I've kind of lost that feeling that I have application-specific certifications. Now I speak Epic, and that's just how it is. I like to just immerse myself in that. I love the teaching aspect of it. When I go to a site, I immediately talk to the program manager going, "Hey, if you want me to teach, let's do it." I also like the episodic nature of clients. I do like getting extended, but you know what? I've enjoyed starting new clients because there's this excitement at the beginning, especially with new projects like I'm on right now, which is an exciting project out in the San Francisco area. I just like that too.
I don't see a change in the future – I'm not a home office guy. I just really like my role onsite. Maybe I'll become a project manager, but I really just like what I'm doing right now.
John Manzuk: That's a great place to be. If I were to summarize some of the things we've talked about, I mean you're talking about one, growth happens most within an engagement, not the jump from one engagement to the next. It's get the relationship onsite. See where you can take advantage of the opportunities there and provide more value, right? Be a mentor, and also just take a look at the industry as a whole. If I want to become, I don't know, the best this thing in the world, but that thing isn't going to exist five years from now, what ... Use the influence and the knowledge of people around you to get a little bit of a feel for what's going on and map your direction forward.
Chris Chandre: Yeah, pretty good summary. I mean that's exactly it. I like – and correct me if I'm wrong – but the Embrace the Gray scenario. That is exactly what you're doing in these meetings, is project plans are nice and tight, and everyone loves them, but the work's done on the side. The work's done in the gray and if I have to go talk to, or if the project manager doesn't get the answer and has to go talk to someone else who has to get an approval to even go talk to someone, no. Cut through it.
John Manzuk: All right. Well, I appreciate you taking the time this afternoon. It was great to talk a while.