Women Of The C-Suite: “We are all equal in service to the customer”, With Nancy Ham, CEO of WebPT

We are all equal in service to the customer. An example of this involves a past customer of mine. We actually broke something in their software, and they were unable to run the physician performance report cards they were using to pay their physicians. The only solution we could come up with was to run all 2,000 of the reports one by one. So, we divided them up as a company, and every single one of us, no matter our position at the company, ran reports to get the customer what they needed on time. Customer satisfaction is a top priority for any software management company, and it’s important to remember that ensuring this satisfaction is not below anyone’s job title.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Ham, the CEO of WebPT. WebPT now 500 employees strong, is a rehab therapy software company that provides end-to-end business solutions designed specifically for rehab therapists.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my career in investment banking and, although I learned a lot, I didn’t like that the industry prioritized profit above all else. Many of my clients were in the healthcare field, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d rather be working on the other side of the table. I learned that I needed a career with a little more soul and purpose, which led me to health care.

My entrance into the industry was as CFO for a healthcare IT startup. It was a tremendously valuable experience — and the company grew exponentially until we were on the verge of going public. During that transition, I recognized we’d be stronger with a CFO who had experience with public companies. So, I took a huge risk and essentially fired myself from that position and moved over to the company’s M&A and business development department. In that role, I led the acquisition of a business that I then had the opportunity to run. Working in those positions gave me the strong foundation I needed to become a CEO.

I’ve been in healthcare IT for more than 25 years now. I’ve served as CEO for Healthagen Population Health Solutions, an Aetna company, where I oversaw several tech businesses, including Medicity; I’ve served as CEO and director of MedVentive; and I’ve held several executive roles with Sentillion, ProxyMed, Healtheon/WebMD, and ActaMed Corporation. This path eventually led me to WebPT.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

During breakfast on the day after I started at WebPT, I reached for my drink and went into a full-body spasm. My first thought was that I was having a heart attack. I managed to dial 911, and then I immediately called my husband to let him know he needed to call the office and explain why I wouldn’t be in that day — on my second day of work! While at the hospital, I found out it wasn’t a heart attack, but rather a musculoskeletal condition that would require physical therapy.

WebPT was co-founded by Dr. Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC. Upon hearing the news of my injury, Heidi promptly sent me to PT!

My next day back at work was a tough one, as my attendance was required at a physical therapy conference. And because I was meeting with customers, I was unable to take pain medications. To make matters worse, my injured arm was the right one, which made it difficult to shake all of their hands. Once the news of my condition spread, it was as though every single physical therapist there wanted to touch me, diagnose me, put me on the table, and heal me. They couldn’t help it — it’s in their nature.

Suffice is to say that this was a very unorthodox way to kick off my job at WebPT. However, my attendance showed my colleagues that I was determined to carry out my responsibilities as their CEO — and helped me build trusting relationships with them early on. I also got to experience the process and benefits of physical therapy first-hand, which was incredibly insightful.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Before I was in investment banking, my first job was at a French bank, where I was responsible for overnight loans and overnight deposits — two actions with very different rates and outcomes. One day, I made a mistake and swapped them, which resulted in a very expensive error for the company. The instant I realized this, I began cleaning out my desk, because I was sure that I would be fired. When I informed my boss about my mistake, he told me with a very straight face that I did indeed royally mess up and that the money — several thousand dollars — would have to come out of my check. Considering that it was my mistake, I felt as though that was a fair punishment. To my enormous relief, my boss then proceeded to crack up and tell me to get out of his office and not to make that mistake again. This mistake taught me that honesty and accountability are incredibly important in business. Incidentally, this is one of our core values at WebPT: “F Up; Own Up.”

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Above all else, it’s WebPT’s dedication to its mission of helping rehab therapists achieve greatness in practice. WebPT has helped more than 80,000 therapy professionals adopt an EMR, providing millions of patients with a more complete medical record and ensuring compliance, safety, and healthcare transparency — as well as improved communication among providers.

I attribute the company’s growth and success to an intentional, people-first approach to leadership, which aligns with the nationwide shift toward a healthcare system rooted in collaborative, value-based care. From day one, customers and employees were seen as true company stakeholders who had the power to directly impact decisions, features, and functions. Dr. Heidi Jannenga, WebPT’s co-founder, built this company on a foundation of service — and that meant listening to, and acting on behalf of, the entire rehab therapy community. This has allowed WebPT to quickly and continuously innovate its platform in alignment with therapists’ ever-changing needs — something that has proven especially important with respect to national healthcare reform efforts.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

WebPT has really been honing its focus on referral relationship management, which goes hand-in-hand with a new product we are working on that will help with exactly that. Our goal with this product is to target the patients who could benefit from physical therapy but don’t receive it, thus helping the best practitioners bring more patients to their practices. 
 This will empower practitioners across the healthcare continuum to accomplish the Triple Aim of providing better care, improving overall health, and decreasing costs. This has been a mission of ours since the beginning, and now that we’re armed with even more research on the evolution of patient behavior and effective care paths, this tool will help streamline the healthcare delivery process even more.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

I believe that leadership is leadership, regardless of whether you’re male or female. My biggest piece of advice when leading any team is to be a believer in, and practitioner of, radical transparency. When I first started out, I thought that information was power — and I wasn’t willing to share everything I knew. As time went on, I saw that this way of thinking was completely wrong. Now, I share everything with my team, even if it may upset or worry them. I think this approach builds trust, surfaces the best ideas and keeps us aligned, which is important to WebPT’s culture and keeps everyone focused on what needs to be done.

Another valuable lesson was taught to me by Susan Goldstein, a compelling and inspirational leader with whom I had the pleasure of working years ago. The biggest piece of advice she shared with me was to not be so task-oriented, because it was imperative for our team to build relationships with one another to become a stronger, more unified front. This meant that we needed to make time in our schedules to spend with one another. Her mandatory Friday lunches were a key to transforming us from a collection of talented individuals into a true team.

WebPT’s senior team also embraces this approach to team-building. We have lunches together, go out and share meals with one another, and even make it a point to do regular happy hours. We prioritize these activities so we can learn about our co-workers as individuals — in a non-office setting — which allows us to build relationships and trust.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

In my opinion, it’s easier to manage larger teams because you often have more layers of support — more leaders in place to help manage the team. However, no matter the size of the team, effective management requires many of the things I will touch on below, including maintaining open communication, applying radical transparency, cultivating and preserving your culture, being a servant leader, and hiring the best talent.

To add to this, I think it’s also important to remember that in your role as a leader, you’ll be confronted with some hard decisions regarding your team. And there will be times that you will need to let go of some people who may not align with your company’s culture and/or mission. They may be great people, but if they’re not there for the right reasons, they can be poisonous to the team and, moreover, to the company as a whole. Remember that it’s not personal; they simply aren’t a fit.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My first boss, Philippe Bricard — at the French bank I mentioned above. While there, Philippe essentially took me under his wing and would have me sit in his office while he fielded phone calls from all over the world. After each one, he would ask me why I thought he wanted to talk to that person and what I thought the benefit of the phone call was. In this way, he taught me how to relentlessly network — and why it was so important. To this day, I still attribute the key to my success to the lessons gained in those networking sessions with Philippe. Since then, I’ve worked diligently to expand my network and regularly impart bits of advice to my mentees on how to build their networks, where to start, who to call, and what to say.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve always been mission-driven, so every company I’ve been a part of for the past 20 years is doing something within the realm of the Triple Aim (i.e., ensuring better care, better health, and more affordable health care for all). In that vein, I’ve purposely chosen to align myself with companies I think are bringing goodness to the world.

On a personal level, I make it a priority to network, volunteer, and pay it forward whenever possible. I regularly dedicate my time and expertise to one-on-one mentoring at WebPT and within the business community at large. At any given time, I formally and informally mentor up to a dozen women and men from all career levels. I’m very passionate about sharing what I’ve learned through my career journey to help others find fulfillment in theirs, while also simultaneously promoting diversity among leadership in healthcare IT and advocating for women to have the confidence to pursue leadership roles.

What are the 5 leadership lessons you learned from your experience? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Build the why (a.k.a. make sure you’re solving the right problem). There’s a technique called the 5 Whys, which is designed to help leaders avoid solving the wrong problem, something that’s very easy to do. In tackling various problems by continuously asking “why?”, I’ve come to realize that I’m able to get to the root of the issue in a much more efficient way, which in turn allows me to better solve the problem.

2. Amnesty on the past. In my experience, when I’ve come into a new job, I feel people often want to point fingers and blame prior management for a slew of things that may not be working well at the moment. This habit is so unproductive and concentrates too heavily on what was done in the past, inhibiting our ability to move forward. Instead, I like to operate under the assumption that any prior decisions were made with the company’s best intentions in mind at that time. Then, I like to propose that because we’re in a new place, we need to focus our efforts on making a new decision. It’s a very neutral way to shift the focus to “now” and move forward.

3. We are all equal in service to the customer. An example of this involves a past customer of mine. We actually broke something in their software, and they were unable to run the physician performance report cards they were using to pay their physicians. The only solution we could come up with was to run all 2,000 of the reports one by one. So, we divided them up as a company, and every single one of us, no matter our position at the company, ran reports to get the customer what they needed on time. Customer satisfaction is a top priority for any software management company, and it’s important to remember that ensuring this satisfaction is not below anyone’s job title.

4. Embrace situational leadership. There is so much talk about what kind of leader you are and how you should lead, but it is all dependent on the situation. Leadership can, at times, require collaboration; other times, it requires inspiration. And there are even times when you simply need to get stuff done and be directive. In one of my previous jobs, a software partner withdrew from our platform, which meant we were going to lose a key part of our software within 60 days. This short window didn’t provide me with enough time to build consensus and gather a lot of input from my colleagues. The day we got the news, I left work, went home, decided what we were going to do, wrote the plan, and hired consultants, so that when we came in the next morning, we were ready to work. You can’t approach every situation like this, but in this instance, the directive approach worked in our favor.

5. Relentlessly pursue top talent. When you set your sights on top talent, you need to be relentless. A good example of this is how WebPT attracted one of our incredibly talented VPs. Interestingly enough, he initially said “no” to our job offer not once, but three or four times over the course of several months. But I knew he was gifted and exactly who we needed. I talked to other candidates, but none of them were as good of a fit as he was. So, I essentially hounded him until he said “yes.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Empowering female leaders is pivotal to the future success of our entire race. According to UNESCO, less than 40 percent of countries provide girls and boys with equal access to education. And only 39 percent of countries have equal proportions of boys and girls enrolled in secondary education. There are a number of studies out there asking what we can do to better the future of humanity, and the most prevalent response is to educate and embolden girls and young women.

I think this needs to start at a grassroots level — in our homes, in our schools, and in our workplaces. Parents need to be aware of the verbal and nonverbal cues they are sending to their children. And in the workplace, we need to become champions of cognitive diversity and open the dialogue about gender issues.

We’ve started this at WebPT with PropelHer, an in-house women’s leadership group that fosters open and honest discussion about professional and personal growth. I am also a member of many women’s HIT groups, such as WBL and C-Sweetener. I also spearheaded a national webinar in April 2017 in partnership with the website HISTalk.com: “3 Secrets to Leadership Success for Women in Healthcare IT.”

Additionally, WebPT has doubled down its philanthropic efforts to focus on STEM in Arizona through partnerships with the Arizona Science Center, Peoria School District, and Girls in Tech to support initiatives aimed at inspiring and encouraging diverse groups to engage in STEM.

Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson” quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is one that was actually written in my high school yearbook — and has stuck with me ever since. It’s about the importance of being fearless, which I think is especially essential for women:

“It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price. One has to abandon, altogether, the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to the total acceptance of living and dying.” — Morris West

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nancyham/

WebPT Twitter: @WebPT

WebPT Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WebPT/

WebPT Instagram: @webpt

Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!