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10 considerations for a more innovative hospital culture

August 7th, 2014

by Andrea J. Simon

I work with healthcare providers to help them become more innovative. Inevitably, they ask me to make it simple. So, here's a cheat sheet on 10 things to consider for a more innovative hospital culture:

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  1. The brain hates change. The brain is a wonderful machine that is highly effective and efficient. It's driven by habits you develop as you grow up and become skilled at your job, relationships and roles. But ask it to change and it responds, "No way! This is painful." And it is. What to do? The brain can change, but it needs three things to do so: A picture or story about what you want it to do in a new way (make the undesirable desirable); a new script on how to tell that story in new ways; and rehearsal time to learn how to live the new and stop resorting back to old familiar habits.
  2. Have a crisis or create one. If things are going fine, why change? But because tomorrow will be different from today, you need to not just be ready for the new business environment in healthcare--you should create it. On the other hand, if you're in the middle of a crisis (such as a reorganization), people fall back on what they know. They fear the unknown even though they know the past is no longer working. So use the crisis (real or imagined) to build a team that adapts and innovates.
  3. Team innovation or "I" innovation? Can teams innovate or only individual creative thinkers, those outliers with weird ideas that can turn into amazing innovations? There's a great article in Forbes on this topic; you can even take its Workplace Serendipity Quiz. The thing to remember is that if you ask people to change, you will need: leaders, idea generators, implementers and effective teams to embrace the change. Therein lies the challenge. Who will own it? "You!" is probably the right answer.
  4. Training works. The research on this is quite compelling--check out this article in MIT/Sloan. While built around the theme "How to have influence" rather than "innovation," it is a sound, culture-based approach to influencing people to move in new directions, innovatively.
  5. The more ideas you have, the more likely you will have great ones--you just don't know which ones they are. This isn't a linear process, ideas come together at the intersections. Thus, you need to have an idea room or an idea bank to get the juices flowing. To learn more, browse through the "Medici Effect," by Franz Johansson.
  6. Where do you find those ideas? Surprisingly, the best places are right around you, namely employees, customers, and your partners. You just need to find a way to listen to their ideas and then organize them into an innovation process where they can be turned into meaningful solutions.
  7. Convert ideas into effect innovations. How can you know which ideas are worth developing into testable innovations and which to scrap? Solution: create a testing mindset. Develop prototypes and then bring in customers to work on them. Or take an innovation into the marketplace and evaluate its effectiveness.
  8. From concept to implementation. Now that you've converted a new idea into a tested innovation and gotten positive results, what next? One option is to leave it with the development team. Or you could bridge the gap between development and those who run the rest of the operation. Both can work, but be careful if both groups' skills are different and don't transfer.
  9. Onto the next big idea. Humans generally celebrate success and then revert back to business as usual. But the speed of change causes organizations to have a series of new ideas they convert into testable innovations, concurrently not sequentially.
  10. Celebrate. Don't forget to build in the symbols and rituals that will recognize and reward the people in your organization who have contributed ideas, effort, patience and persistence. People really do like hugs and they love to celebrate. Use these to build the belief that they really can do it innovatively.

As you embark on your own innovative journey, remember: There really is a path from pain to change that can help you and your organization see, feel and think in new ways. Have fun!

Andrea J. Simon, Ph.D., is a former marketing, branding and culture change senior vice president at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan. She also is president and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants.

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