Sharp HealthCare

An engaged IT workforce translates into better patient care.

Employees at some companies rave about the great benefits generous stock options, for example. At other companies, workers say they love the location; maybe they can hike in the mountains or go to the beach on weekends. Still others cite some special corporate culture, the company picnics and retreats, or the accessibility of top management.

At Sharp HealthCare in San Diego, its all of the above, and more. Employees say the company has terrific management, great benefits, a warm corporate culture and a quest for professional excellence that makes them stay year after year. The companys efforts to improve on all those fronts pushed Sharp to the third spot on this years Best Places to Work in IT list.

Sharp hasnt found a magic bullet that other companies might rush to adopt. Rather, it comes down to a sustained commitment to six pillars of excellence: quality, service, people, finance, growth and community.

Sharp HealthCare IT employees

Sharp HealthCare IT employees

We call it the Sharp Experience, says George Gilmore, director of IS administration. Its about making Sharp the best place to work, the best place to practice and the best place to receive care.

Others have taken notice. Sharp has won numerous accolades. In February, for example, Modern Healthcare magazine named it the best integrated health care network in California and ranked it No. 18 nationally. Last year, Sharp received the state-level equivalent of a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award through an affiliate program.

Bill Spooner has been at Sharp for 26 years, the past 11 of them as CIO. What keeps me going? Sharp has a really good reputation in the community. We have absolutely the best boss in the world and a great leadership team, he says. Our CEO is a real people person and a great problem-solver. We dont have a big budget, but we look hard at the investments we make and really try hard to improve the organization.

Spooner says Sharp went through some financial difficulty in the mid-1990s and almost sold out to another health care firm. But instead, it embarked on a number of quality programs that grew successively more refined before culminating in the Sharp Experience umbrella program in 2001. We started to improve satisfaction at all levels of employee, Spooner says. A lot of it was employee empowerment, rewards and recognition, motivation and cheerleading.

Indeed, quite a lot of cheerleading goes on at Sharp. There is an annual assembly of all 14,000 employees, held in three half-day shifts. We celebrate our accomplishments from the past year, we have some leadership and motivational presentations, and we talk about what we are trying to do for the next year, Spooner says. We also have awards not money, but recognition, trophies and so on.

Sharp managers meet quarterly for a daylong session with a similar format. The IT staff meets quarterly as well, and each physical facility has get-togethers managers meet monthly and full staffs quarterly.

Ann Diffley, a customer support systems analyst who has been at Sharp for 24 years, says she particularly enjoys the annual Thanksgiving potluck meal by and for the IT department. Everybody gets together and really has a good time, she says. I can remember when we started out with one turkey, and this year we cooked 11 or 12.

Its not all fun and games at Sharp, however. Diffley is the current chairman of the IT employee action team. Each year, the team is reconstituted, mostly with rank-and-file staff members, and given two action items from the annual employee survey. The idea is to take two high-level goals that surface in the survey and figure out how to make them reality. This year, the team is focused on improving communication between IT and other departments and on determining how IT can work more effectively with doctors to provide better patient care.

Why It's A Top Pick

$3,500 annual training budget per IT employee

49% of IT managers are women

Ranked No. 8 for benefits

Ranked No. 10 for retention

One notable accomplishment of the action team was to create a walk-in-my-shoes program, Spooner says. So people go to another department and spend a half day or day working with somebody else, side by side, to learn their job and learn a better appreciation for it.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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