Growing up in a philanthropic family that paid it forward, Sarah Richardson was raised to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do and to be nice because it’s hard not to be nice. As a CIO and life coach today, Richardson follows those same principles while sharing them with others.
“Collectively my passion, especially based on where I am now in my career, is making sure that other people have a voice, that they are heard, and that they have a chance to progress and use all of their best talents and skills to do something that they love,” says Richardson, CIO of Tivity Health, a leading provider of healthy life-changing solutions, including SilverSneakers®, Prime® Fitness, and WholeHealth Living®. “It's important for people to love what they do.”
Richardson shared her passion for helping others lead fulfilling lives with Ed Marx, The HCI Group’s Chief Digital Officer, in an episode of the DGTL Voices podcast. They also discussed her role as CIO, their outlooks on executives in the healthcare industry and the role they play, and how being a life coach has impacted her executive position. This blog post contains excerpts from their discussion.
Beginning a career in healthcare
Marx: I can't wait to get into some of the questions, but before we go there let’s start by telling your story because it helps demonstrate how you've become the leader that you've become.
Richardson: One of my favorite things that my husband says is that “we are the stories we tell about ourselves.” What's fascinating, and this is especially true of women, is we tend to focus on the bad things that have happened in our lives and the things that maybe make us less confident. If we don't know how to do 100% of a job that's in front of us, we're somehow not positioned in the right role.
I've always been confident. Early in my career, I would say “yes” to any opportunities that popped up and didn't weigh them against whether or not it was the right decision. I majored in hospitality administration in college in Las Vegas and started working in the casino business. So, saying “yes” to the next job down the street was always a good decision.
What was interesting about getting into healthcare was that I had worked for a startup airline after I had been recruited away from the casinos. Then, the airline went bankrupt and I needed a job. I was in grad school at the same time then and somebody in my study group was friends with the CA with the county hospital. I thought that sounded like a good job. It was a Trauma 1 not-for-profit county endeavor with the medical school. If you're going to start, just go into the most complex environment you could ever imagine.
Hiring leaders from outside healthcare
Marx: When people come into healthcare from outside of healthcare, a lot of times we're like, “Oh, you don't hire that person because they don't have healthcare experience.” But, that's the person you want to hire. So, people like you that come in immediately rise to the top because you have this other experience. Do you encourage people to hire people from outside healthcare?
Richardson: I was having coffee with one of my friends who is a CIO at a major financial institution who would love to do something different and has been told by myriad recruiters that her experience isn't relevant to do anything but finance after 20 years in the industry. I'm like, “Are you kidding me?”
What I've done more than anything is spread myself into organizations that are more than just healthcare associations. We're all solving the same problem. Recently, I needed a tool for something in my environment. So, I asked my group that I hang out with, “Who do you use for this?” All three of them told me the same person and now that's who I'm going to use for the same solution. We are in four different industries. Oil and gas, healthcare for me, manufacturing for one and another one is in textiles. But, we all have the same challenge we're trying to solve.
Marx: You have something that you do around Concierge Leadership, a coaching company that you lead. Can you share a little bit about what that is? And what is it that you do?
Richardson: After I had a hiccup in my career, it gave me a way to never be worried about how I would pay my mortgage or pay some of my bills. Financial independence allows you to make very different decisions in your life. You don't have to be worried about making the right choice at work when the right choice may not be the popular choice if you work in a culture or environment that doesn't support that and you could lose your job because of it.
I had an absolute passion and love for coaching and had been doing it my whole career. So, I got formally trained and educated. Suddenly, people were calling me and saying, “Can you coach me privately?” Now, I have a thriving coaching practice.
Marx: I don't want to end, Sarah, without giving you the last opportunity to share anything else. So, I'll leave it to you to end our time together.
Richardson: I would like to turn the tables. When you think about the state of healthcare or the health of healthcare, what grade do you believe our industry deserves today? And how much of that are we the change agent to affect?
Marx: We're at a “C.” That's why I love your approach with your teams. If everyone did that, we would get to an “A.” It takes bold leadership.
For example, virtual visits went from 1% to 65% at the height of the pandemic. Once we started to figure out a little bit more about COVID and have better precautions, and we got vaccinations, that number has now gone to 12% and it continues to go down. That troubles me because we know that the bulk of consumers wants that virtual care. They want the consumer experience they're experiencing in different industries, and we're allowing our organizations to walk it back. It's up to us as leaders to be bold and keep pushing forward, pushing these new virtual capabilities, these new points of differentiation, and this new innovation to help safety people's lives.
What about you? What's your grade?
Richardson: I would agree that it's a “C” in terms of how hard we push some of the right solutions because we know it's the right thing to do. I'm in the boat that you are. I'm never going to be okay with the status quo. The day I wake up and I'm comfortable in my role, I'm in the wrong role. If it's not a little bit hard, you shouldn't be doing it. If you ever thought that you went into healthcare, not to transform it, then what were you thinking?
I'm glad that when you bring really smart people together to do the right thing, it continues to have an exponential effect, but the change is hard.
My team and I hosted a workshop last week and gave ourselves a “B-.” When you own it, you only can make it better.
Marx: That's great. We're gonna leave it with that. And your quote earlier about “we are the stories that we tell ourselves.” Sarah, you're an absolute breath of fresh air. Thanks for being our guest.