“It really comes down to creating trust”

Garrick Stoldt discusses his journey from public accounting to healthcare finance, and how the change not only affected how he approaches his work but also how he’s grown as a leader

Garrick Stoldt of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System has learned some valuable and sometimes painful lessons in his thirty-six-year career as a healthcare financial professional. Over the years, he has altered his management approach from focusing on short-term results to taking a long view of employee development to build a loyal, highly capable team.

While some of the work at his previous employer, a public accounting firm, mirrors his responsibilities at Saint Peter’s, the two roles differ in some striking ways. AHL recently spoke with Stoldt about the similarities and differences in the two environments and how he overcame some weaknesses as a manager. Here’s what he told us.

“I abhor the idea of anybody considering themselves an expert. There is always something you don’t know.”

Management style

Then

In public accounting, I had teams for separate projects. Staff rotated out regularly. I might have worked with someone for a few months and then not see them again for six months. I was not very good at getting people committed to working for me. I was considered something of a slave driver. My focus was on getting things done on time or early. That sometimes made it difficult to persuade good people to work on my team. Other managers were also trying to have those same people assigned to their teams. There were other people in the firm that staff would gravitate to, and I couldn’t understand why.

I assumed that everybody on the staff had as much knowledge in the subject matter as me. That was a bad assumption. People in professional life hate to announce their deficiencies, so they were afraid to tell me when they needed help. I should have inquired more about their experience and worked with them to improve where they were lacking.

I used to be oblivious to people’s personal issues. It wasn’t something that I thought I should spend time on. I realized later that a manager needs to be more concerned with those issues.

I went to a Jesuit high school where I learned about the concept of introspection. Years later, I read about the Jesuits and how they changed radically from the 1600s to today through introspection. So I adopted that concept in my own life and career.

Now

I changed how I approach managing people. I have a dedicated staff that works with me every day, and I work to establish trust between staff and me. I want people to feel comfortable coming to me with problems.

With new regulations and marketplace trends changing often, I assess everybody’s abilities and when we might need outside help. I get to that much earlier in the process than I did before.

What it really comes down to is creating trust between staff and me. I used to focus on leveraging my staff’s strengths and not working on their weaknesses. I used to consider that a waste of time. I found out that if you help staff where they are deficient, you can accomplish your goals faster—maybe not in the short term but in the long run.

I don’t think people can bifurcate home and work issues. If they want to go to their kid’s little-league game and work at night to make up for it, then I am okay with that. If you make it easier for people to handle their personal issues, that adds a big element of trust.

Project management

Then

I managed a number of auditing and consulting projects, primarily for hospitals. I remember one project for a substance-abuse facility in Connecticut that was considering a sale. I had to do a projection on it. I remember pulling together all the people working on the project at certain times to assess where we were. We also needed outside support for certain technical elements and information we didn’t have readily available in the firm. I stayed very close to the selection process.

Now

Today I would assign that selection process to someone else. I also send people out to seminars now to enlist information. I didn’t do that back then, and we probably should have. Training is a bigger piece of the process now.

Hiring philosophy

Then

I used to focus pretty much exclusively on skills when hiring. Technical skills meant everything when I made hiring decisions.

Now

Today, when I hire, I value communication ability as much as technical skills. I’ve interviewed people with great technical skills and terrible communication skills, and I won’t hire them. All of us in different departments—reimbursement, the admitting office, medical records—have to deal with the government and managed-care companies. Each department has interrelated issues. We need people with good communications skills to get the word out on things so that we can start addressing them as quickly as possible.

Soliciting staff input

Then

I had a very top-down, command-and-control approach to problem solving.

Now

I abhor the idea of anybody considering themselves an expert. In the healthcare field, there is always something you don’t know. If you put five people in a room strategizing over an issue, nine times out of ten you’ll get a better result than if an individual does it. Someone brings something to the table that you hadn’t thought of that can be very helpful. Sometimes it can be your least-experienced person bringing a fresh set of eyes that provides valuable insight.