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The Little Engine That Could – My Journey to KLAS

Bob Cash_headshotMany are familiar with the story The Little Engine That Could. For those unfamiliar, the story tells of a stranded train attempting to get toys to the children on the other side of the mountain. Several train engines passing by refuse to help, with various excuses for their lack of sympathy. Finally, a little blue engine offers humble assistance, exclaiming “I think I can!” again and again until the obstacle (the mountain) is overcome and the toys are delivered to the mountain village children.

Working in healthcare for over 30 years at various large healthcare organizations, I often found myself enjoying most those times that I worked in the smaller, perhaps more personal sections of these organizations. Most notable were the smaller hospitals, where teams could work together in a personal way with a focus that was simpler and clearer—an attitude of “let’s simply take care of and focus on the people who come to us; these people are our neighbors, our family, and our friends.” For a short while, I led Alta View Hospital, a small hospital that was literally across the street from my family’s home. Two of our children were born in that hospital, and many of our neighbors and friends had surgeries, hospitalizations, medical tests, and doctor visits on the campus. 

Over time and through growth opportunities, my career moved from small hospital to large, from personal and familial work relationships to more impersonal and bureaucratic. Certainly, less intimacy is not absolute in a larger organization; there are always smaller work groups where strong, personal relationships can be forged, but the nature of the business becomes naturally less personal as the complexity of the organization grows.

Around 2007, I first learned of KLAS, a local Utah company that I knew did some form of healthcare research with a focus on healthcare information technology. My introduction to KLAS was through a close associate who regularly extolled the virtues of the company. I observed over several years the culture of the company as it touched the life of this associate. The company’s business model and actual work remained a bit of a mystery to me, but the good vibes from afar were real.

Upon reaching a point in my career where I wanted to and could make a change, I determined to find an opportunity where my contributions were less obscured by the sheer mass of people and work involved in running a large organization. Should I consider teaching, consulting, or opening my own business? In the midst of these musings, my associate friend suggested I take a look at KLAS. The good vibes drove me to explore KLAS, and a real opportunity emerged.

What I did not know and could not know without experiencing it is that KLAS is the little engine that could. From its early beginnings, KLAS has had its share of serious doubters. One friend of our founder, Kent Gale, shared his thoughts on the potential of the KLAS concept, stating, “While I believe an aggregate report on vendor performance would be useful to the marketplace, I think there are too many barriers to ensuring fair and accurate comparisons,” adding to the handwritten note, “Good luck nonetheless!” Nearly 20 years later, we chuckle a bit at this kind but misguided perception of potential. 

Kent and his colleagues determinedly stated (in their minds if not out loud), “I think I can, I think I can.” Now, thinking back, they can proudly say “I thought I could, I thought I could.” I, for one, know that KLAS, with its nearly 150 employees, has indeed climbed the mountain and is “delivering the goods:” accurate, honest, and impartial insights regarding vendor performance and ways for providers to succeed and vendors to improve. The influence of KLAS’ candid evaluations, representing interviews with thousands of end users, is now international in scope and influence. The company remains relatively small, but its influence is significant. I am more than happy to be on the train!
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