In a recent conversation with ECG’s newly appointed Chief Operating Officer, Michelle Holmes, we learned how a lifelong interest in healthcare laid the foundations for a consulting career that has had compounding impact. Through our discussion, we picked up a few leadership tips and some advice for those looking to launch their own careers in healthcare management consulting.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I grew up in Idaho and Nevada.
Q: How do you think your background has shaped your outlook?
A: My upbringing in small towns made me self-sufficient and contributed to my work ethic and drive.
Q: What was your favorite subject in school?
A: Math was probably my favorite subject, because there was always an answer and it was always right or wrong, no gray area. There was no subjective grading in math.
Q: When you were in school did you envision yourself being a COO or a CEO?
A: No—up until the time I was in junior high, I wanted to be an optometrist and then, for some reason, I decided I wanted to be a neurologist.
Q: So, you were always interested in healthcare?
A: Yes, always healthcare. I even considered being a doctor. I started working at a one-stop primary care practice the summer after eighth grade and was there for four years until I graduated from high school and moved for college. In my first year at the practice, the doctor had me sit in on a mole removal, which was when I quickly decided I did not want to be a doctor. I realized maybe management and the business side of healthcare was a better match for my skill set, as opposed to having to be around a person’s insides. There’s a reason some things are on the inside—so you don’t have to look at them!
Q: How and why did you join ECG?
A: I learned about ECG when I was in grad school at the University of Washington. ECG did lunch and learns in the business school and had booths at career fairs. I was immediately interested in ECG because I had enjoyed experiencing different areas of healthcare—at a small primary care office, an academic medical center, and a larger specialty practice—and I didn’t want to pick just one type of organization. I liked the idea of consulting and being able to work with a lot of different organizations on a variety of problems. So, I interviewed with ECG as I was finishing up grad school. I actually got turned down with the advice to go get some additional work experience and then come back and try again. I was very disappointed that I couldn’t join ECG then, and I was especially unhappy that I was told “no” about something I really wanted to do.
After graduation, I started working for a health system. Although I learned a lot there and enjoyed my experience, every six months I would call ECG and ask, “Do I have enough experience now?” Finally, after two years of chasing the company, ECG relented and let me go through the interview process a second time—and I was somehow able to talk them into hiring me.
Q: In your time at ECG, what are the most valuable leadership lessons you’ve learned?
A: I have two. First, you can learn as much about leadership from observing traits and characteristics you don’t want to replicate as you can from noticing those you do. I tend to pay a lot of attention to both people I see as great leaders (and what makes them that way) and to those who aren’t effective leaders or managers. I pay attention to what they do or don’t do so I can be more conscious—not just about adding things to my arsenal, approach, and skill set, but also about not picking up or continuing bad habits that I may not be aware of.
I have also learned the value of teaching people enough so that they can take the basics and ultimately become much better at doing things than I ever was. Good leaders help set up strong foundations in such a way that their people can add to and grow from where they started. By approaching leadership this way, I become unnecessary for those functions or activities, knowing that they are being accomplished in even better ways than I could have imagined.
Q: What do you look most forward to in your new role as COO?
A: In the new role, I look forward to having an even bigger impact on the quality of ECG’s consulting delivery. Right now, my scope of impact and influence is still focused on the clients I work with directly, as well as those of the consultants I support. I’m excited to be able to establish an environment that makes it easier for people to be effective and focus on applying their skills. I want them to hone in on creating value for our clients and putting energy toward their other career goals and passions like teaching and leadership. My hope is that by doing this, even though I won’t necessarily have that direct client impact, I can create an environment that helps more consultants affect more clients in a positive way.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the first 100 days?
A: During the first 100 days I will work to get a clear picture of the top four to five most impactful things that I can do over the next 12 months. I want to improve the day-to-day experience of our consultants and our corporate operations team so that it’s easy for everyone to effectively do the work they want to do. Before I settle on those objectives, I need a broader perspective to make sure I identify the ones that will resonate across the firm and aren’t just based on my experience and perception so far.
Q: What do you do outside of the office?
A: I mostly spend time with my family. I have two rambunctious kids and two even more active Golden Retrievers. Trying to keep up with my four children (human and hairy) tends to keep me busy outside of work.
Q: How old are your kids?
A: They are six and eight right now—the human ones, that is. The hairy ones just turned one year old.
Q: Do you have any rituals that you use to start your workday off right?
A: Over the course of my career, I have tried every type of virtual and electronic task list, application, or tool that you can think of, but I always navigate back to a good, old-fashioned checklist written on paper. I carry it with me everywhere, and it dictates my life. I have a panic attack whenever I spill anything on it.
I start my day by updating my to-do list. My first tasks usually include identifying what I need to get to other people so that I’m not holding up progress, as well as being aware of everything I need to delegate out.
Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to get started in the healthcare consulting industry?
A: As much as I was disappointed at the time about getting turned down from ECG straight out of graduate school, getting that additional operational experience was really valuable to me. Since I had been working on the ground in clinics and hospitals since the early ‘90s, I needed the post–grad school exposure so I could look at challenges with a bit of a different lens. It was helpful to me to look at healthcare issues in less tactical way.
To folks thinking about getting into healthcare consulting: get some exposure directly within the healthcare industry first, whether that is on the provider or payer side, the area most interesting to you, or where there are opportunities. Direct experience and exposure helped me become a better consultant faster, because I had a firsthand understanding of the impact of what I was recommending. I could more clearly visualize: If we choose one option, this is how it’s going to impact the day-to-day work of the physician; if we choose the other, this is how a finance leader will react. I would suggest that anyone who wants to be a healthcare consultant take the time to build a foundation of experience that allows you to work directly in the industry, and then use that as a springboard for your career.