Providing quality leadership: Q&A with Linnea Chervenak, M.H.A.

October 16, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

Linnea Chervenak, M.H.A., joined the Quality Department when it was formed in 2016, and she and Chief Quality Officer Steve Bernstein, M.D., M.P.H., have played a major role in the department’s development.

In honor of Quality Month, Headlines recently caught up with Chervenak, the senior director of quality, to discuss her current responsibilities and the advice she’d give to aspiring leaders in the organization.

Q: You started in the Quality Department during a time of transition and restructuring. How did you prepare for this role and how have you been successful?

LC: Much of my 13 years with the health system was spent in Ambulatory Care Services within the U-M Medical Group (UMMG), working as part of the team that established the Population Health Office. During this time, I formed relationships with other health care partners in the community and gained insight into the future of payments and drivers for health care, which has proved beneficial to my role in Quality.

I feel strongly that one of the elements of success is to surround yourself with smart, motivated individuals, which is why Steve and I made sure we pulled together an excellent leadership team within Quality. Our leaders have backgrounds and experiences in patient safety, continuous improvement, project management, and data and analytics. I feel confident in the team we have established and know I can lean on them when needed.

Another reason I believe I am successful in my role is that I understand the importance of relationship building and maintaining a systemwide view when working on projects. The Quality Department is a central support service — meaning our main focus is helping departments and units across the organization achieve their quality and safety goals.

Lastly, I am a firm believer in taking time to interact with colleagues and staying informed of current trends in health care, particularly in quality. Our department is filled with smart, talented people and I would be remiss if I did not look to them for ideas.

Q: How have your past experiences, both good and bad, informed your leadership style? 

LC: Over the course of my career I have seen and experienced many different leadership styles that helped me identify the type of leader I wanted to be. I was also “lucky” enough to be in the room during some difficult conversations that helped me see how decisions were made and communicated to others.  All of this experience came with me into this role and I was able to apply some of what I had learned while we were establishing the Quality Department.

One of the very first things Steve and I did was meet with every individual who was transitioning into our department to gain an understanding and appreciation of their role and the work their group did. We also gave each staff member an opportunity to provide us with feedback on what they felt the role of the department should be. Holding these meetings helped us establish more personal relationships and, I hope, made people feel more comfortable in reaching out to us with questions about where the department is headed or with ideas about how we can be doing things better.

My current leadership team has also helped me hone my leadership style because I quickly realized that each of them is motivated differently, so I had to adapt how I interact with them. I have learned how best to communicate with each of them individually to build a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?

LC: For those early in their careers, I would suggest they never say no to a project. Whether it is something that you were asked to participate in or if it just “fell in your lap,” jump at any opportunity that comes your way. The only way to advance and grow in your career is to step outside of your comfort zone and take on new challenges.

I would also encourage aspiring leaders to not let themselves be stopped by barriers. Push through them. If you do not know how to do something, figure it out. Look it up. Ask questions or find someone who can help. Do not expect someone to tell you exactly what to do – jump right in and learn as you go. Anyone in a leadership position truly appreciates a person who takes initiative and learns how to problem solve without having to be told what to do.

Q: What are some of your focus areas for the Quality Department over the next few years?

LC: Our leadership team is working hard to align the strategic objectives of the Quality Department with the goals of the health system and priority areas for the academic medical center. To do this, we created a visual matrix that shows how our work aligns with the health system. (An example is shown to the right.) A large version is displayed on a wall in our office and is updated monthly during our leadership team meetings. We discuss each priority area and how we’re tracking and address any potential barriers that may stand in the way of a project’s success.

Our goal for the next year is to expand the use of the matrix and encourage staff members to use it to align their daily work with the needs of the health system. We plan to hold quarterly meetings at the strategy wall to engage with staff and discuss current trends in the health system. We want to use these meetings to further establish a culture of continuous improvement within our department.

We also are putting an emphasis on creating a more collaborative environment that ensures our employees feel engaged. Several staff-driven groups have formed across the department to create recognition opportunities, plan activities and drive engagement. All of these groups are being led by staff members outside of the leadership team, which is a great opportunity for them to gain leadership experience and career growth. This culture of collaboration and continuous improvement is something I hope everyone in the department can learn and carry on, no matter where their career takes them.