One of the ways in which Envision Physician Services invests in its physicians’ and physician leaders’ professional development is to send selected anesthesia providers and practice managers to the Anesthesia Business Group (ABG) Executive Management Program. This exclusive, four-day, on-campus, residential program is offered during the first quarter of each year by ABG in partnership with the Wharton School of Business. It has been Wharton Executive Education’s most highly rated program for five years in a row. The 2017 session took place February 12–16.
The tightly structured program uses multiple educational formats including lectures, workshops, role-play exercises and multiple break-out sessions each day. All the instructors are well-known, highly-respected subject matter experts including top healthcare management consultants and some of Wharton’s most highly-rated professors and department chairs.
Topics spanned a range of issues essential to effective management and leadership including strategy, negotiation and collaboration, all with a healthcare/anesthesiology focus. For example, the first educational session was on “The Changing Landscape of Health Care: Implementing Strategy.” On the third day, Thomas (Tom) Gakis, COO, Department of Medicine at The Clinical Practices of the University of Pennsylvania, shared his observations on leadership and operations challenges from the Penn Medicine perspective. In the final session, participants learned the STAR model of high-impact leadership, which is based on helping leaders and their teams focus on small, repeatable actions that produce a practical culture of success. Some sessions included case studies from other industries that offered valuable, relevant insights, such as the groundbreaking, flexible Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) platform whose autonomy-with-accountability framework has transformed workplace culture and management practices at companies worldwide.
We spoke about the value of this program with two of this year’s attendees, Envision Physician Services’ senior vice president Steven Topfer, D.O. and vice president of anesthesia operations for the Northeast region Laura Irwin, MBA, FACMPE. Both highlighted the sessions involving role-play exercises, in which groups of participants honed core skills they used routinely in their practices. In the negotiation workshop, participants were divided into groups. One person in each group played the role of a commodities salesperson who had one day to profitably liquidate the entire global supply of an extremely rare, highly perishable commodity for cash. The three other participants in each group played potential buyers, each of whom needed only a specific part of the product. Dr. Topfer was by far the most successful of the six sellers, negotiating a 32 percent profit on a $600,000+ investment while satisfying the needs of all three buyers. He shared his winning strategy with the other participants: discovering each buyer’s most pressing priority and then putting together a deal where everyone’s needs, including his, were met. Dr. Topfer called the exercise “an incredible learning experience.” Each participant came away understanding his or her personal bargaining style, what types of questions to ask and the best time to ask them, when to exert pressure and how to use a collaborative approach to arrive at win-win agreements.
The session on collaboration also featured a role-playing exercise. The scenario involved the radical clash of cultures following a large, foreign corporation’s acquisition of an independent, family-owned and -run U.S. company. Participants role-played difficult conversations, putting themselves in the shoes of several key players: the new president, who was one of the executives sent by the parent corporation to replace the family managers and impose rigid control via the corporation’s autocratic and bureaucratic operating model; the vice president of sales, who was being called in by the president to discuss the drop in sales since the acquisition and a suspected violation of company policy by the top-performing salesperson; and that salesperson, a key influencer within the now mistrustful, demotivated and demoralized sales team that would likely walk out en masse unless something could be done quickly to restore their trust. “I thought this role-play exercise was great,” Irwin said. “The physicians were all so smart and had so much clinical expertise, and it was interesting to see those in play as they practiced developing their EQ [emotional quotient] skills.”
Dr. Topfer said he came away with many useful insights into management and leadership, e.g., if you want to listen, don't discuss. “In other words, if you're in a room and you want to hear what everybody's thinking and feeling, don't let one individual engage you in a discussion, because it will shut everybody down,” he explained. “Instead, say ‘We can talk about that, but first, I want to hear what everyone else thinks.’ I also learned that, as a leader, my job is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning. The solution doesn’t need to be my idea.”
Both he and Irwin found the program’s anesthesiology-specific lens on management and leadership issues extremely valuable. “I and many of the physicians in the room had done MBA programs, but typically, participants come from different industries,” Irwin explained. “You might get a healthcare emphasis, but you still wouldn't have a single-specialty focus on anesthesiology.” Dr. Topfer said he also appreciated the “unparalleled” networking opportunities with both the instructors and the other program participants during the activities, breakout sessions and formal and informal meals.
Both were extremely impressed by the quality of the education and the professionalism of the program. “There was nobody on their cellphone, nobody lost in electronica, no one who snuck out to go to the bathroom and didn’t come back,” said Irwin. “Everyone was fully engaged and leaning into it. I think that was partially the audience—mostly anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists—but also a recognition of how special the program is.”