Strategies to Thrive as a New CNO

Strategies to Thrive as a New CNO

Shane Parker, RN
Co-founder and Chief Nursing Officer

First Year CNO? Use These Strategies to Thrive (Not Just Survive!)

The first time you’re appointed Chief Nursing Officer, your gut may be churning with many emotions: pride, a sense of accomplishment, excitement, energy, overwhelm and fear. It’s natural to feel a little intimidated about taking on a senior leadership position for the first time, and many new CNOs can feel lost in their role initially, due to poor or no existing systems to help them transition into an executive position. If you’re a brand new CNO you may not believe this, but it is possible to thrive (not just survive) during your first year by using the following well-thought-out strategies to succeed.

Today’s CNO Challenges Require New Coping Strategies

In decades past, when healthcare was a volume-based venture, the Chief Nursing Officer tended to focus primarily on workforce and care delivery concerns, which often were considered somewhat separate from the organization’s business objectives. She might have resided in the C-suite, but the CNO often stayed out of over-arching budget discussions, business analytics and strategic planning.

Today’s CNO enjoys a much-expanded role in the executive offices. She needs excellent general business skills, a solid grasp of financial and accounting principles and a healthy dollop of software savvy. As Healthcare Finance News reports, “Today’s CNO must be as comfortable talking about methods to improve productivity and reporting and the strategic importance (or lack thereof) of an IT initiative as they are about patient care initiatives.”

One problem with that: Most MSN and doctoral nursing programs teach students little to nothing about the business side of healthcare. If you rose through the ranks to your CNO position via traditional nursing pathways, you might feel woefully unprepared for these types of high-level business discussions.

So how can you not only survive but thrive in your first year as a CNO? Try these tactics.

1. Nourish Your Body, Mind and Soul

You’re entering a stressful phase of life as a first-time Chief Nursing Officer, so it’s imperative you prioritize your own health (and sanity!) above everything else. To operate at peak efficiency, you must eat healthy, engage in regular exercise, hydrate and get plenty of sleep. And don’t forget to nourish your soul, too. Don’t sacrifice favorite hobbies or leisure activities for the job. Make time in your busy schedule to enjoy downtime and time with family.

2. Surround Yourself with Structure

Ideally, a newly appointed executive in any type of business would begin with a tenure that overlaps her predecessor’s to create an orderly transition with a personal hand-off of duties. Unfortunately, many new CNOs find this not to be the reality of the situation. Your long-gone predecessor may have left behind little or no guidance to help you hit the ground running in your new role. To address this problem, spend some time initially setting up the structural support you need to feel grounded and confident as a CNO. Determine your work schedule, define the types of data reports you require regularly, set up systems and procedures to guide your days, weeks and months. With the right infrastructure, you’ll be able to avoid the unmoored feelings that can come from operating on-the-fly.

3. Create a Peer Support Group

Join a local or virtual CNO group or another group for executive leaders. If no such group exists, create your own. Invite select participants (including those outside healthcare) to meet regularly for lunch or after work hours to discuss practical and theoretical leadership concepts. You also can reach out to seasoned CNOs by phone and email for advice and support. No matter how you construct your support group, you’ll benefit from interacting regularly with those who have “been there, done that.”

4. Read Books on Executive Management and Leadership

Due to the unique nature of the patient-provider relationship, healthcare can’t be compared to many other consumer-focused service businesses. Hospitals are not McDonald’s, after all. However, you can glean many useful management tips and leadership strategies by reading books authored by CEOs and other experienced business veterans. For instance, the advice former Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson offered to a newly minted Vice President of Engineering should resonate equally with a CNO: “Develop the right relationship with members of your company’s board… The people on the board were world-class investors and operators and I learned a lot in my early days from asking questions and accepting their offers of making connections to people in their networks who could help.” By reading widely, you can take away leadership strategies from diverse industries to get you through that crucial first year, when you’re still learning the executive ropes.

5. Avoid Micromanaging

The unfamiliarity of an executive role can make your professional life feel out-of-control, which may spark an urge to be very hands-on with unit-level management. Don’t do it. From a practical standpoint, micromanaging makes little sense. Your time is precious, and you need to use it to focus on top organizational priorities, not on low-level issues like solving a personality conflict on a nursing floor. A better approach? As CNO you can develop programs that give existing nurse managers the tools to supervise better on their own – and save your energy for the higher-level tasks instead.

6. Be Decisive

In an effort to make the best possible decisions in your new role, you may fall victim to “analysis paralysis.” But over-thinking that delays crucial decisions cannot be considered good leadership. To avoid analysis paralysis, use a four-step process that includes: determining if the decision truly rises to the level of CNO or if it could be made by someone further down the organizational chart; setting a firm deadline for the decision; identifying the most important factors you need to review prior to making the decision; soliciting input from only a handful of experts or peers to provide context. Once you’ve completed these steps, then act. Not every decision you make will be a great one. But sometimes decisiveness trumps perfection.

7. Build Staff Relationships

Whether you’ve accepted a CNO position in a new-to-you organization or you’ve earned your job by rising through the ranks in the facility where you began your nursing career, you should conduct rounds as often as possible during your first year to build staff relationships. Not only will you learn about your nurses’ true concerns and challenges – to better address them at the executive level – but you’ll build a network of staff at all levels to serve as trusted advisors and support your decisions within the organization.

8. Focus on Team-Building and Partnerships

As you build staff relationships, you’ll also contribute to your efforts to develop the interdisciplinary teams necessary to deliver a continuum of patient care in the value-based care environment. These teams may include both internal and external constituents, such as educational institutions and community organizations. If you inherited a roster of teams and partnerships from your predecessor, focus on strengthening those bonds. Cultivating well-functioning teams will help you excel in your first year as a CNO by supporting one of your organization’s top objectives to provide excellent care to every patient.

9. Hone Your Strategic Thinking Skills

Asked “what critical skills prepared you for a CNO role?” the former CNO of Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Rhonda Foster, told American Nurse Today, “Strategic thinking—the ability to think about [both] the system and the person working one shift a month on nights.” If you don’t feel blessed with high-level strategic thinking skills, take heart: They can be learned. The American Management Association calls for leaders to develop a “strategic frame of reference” that incorporates:

  • The organizational vision and mission
  • Goals
  • Objectives
  • Strategies
  • Tactics
  • Roles
  • Relationships

You can hone your strategic thinking skills by reading management books and consulting frequently with your executive peers. By working consistently on developing a strategic mindset, you can smooth the path of your first year as a CNO.

To Thrive as a CNO, Maximize Your Use of Technology Solutions

In your role as a CNO, you can maximize efficiency by relying on software tools to manage your daily life. Electronic calendars that sync to your smartphone, routine data reports delivered by IT to your inbox on schedule and workforce scheduling software that frees up your department managers’ time to run their units effectively without constantly appealing to you for intervention all can make your life easier as a CNO. Schedule a complimentary demo of ShiftWizard nurse scheduling software today to discover how much time you (and your staff) can get back – so you can focus on your top priorities and guide your organization to exceptional outcomes.

Healthcare Staff Scheduling. Developed by Nurses for Nurses.

ShiftWizard makes nurse scheduling and communication easy, so you can focus on what really matters---improving patient outcomes.