Five Ways to Create an Impactful Innovation Culture

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by Callie Patel, Director, Innovation Consulting, Healthbox

When it comes to effectively changing organizational culture, sometimes the biggest challenge is getting the conversation started. And often the best way to start that conversation is by asking questions.

When you are ready to start thinking about creating an innovation culture within your organization, convene a diverse group of stakeholders and ask questions like these:

  • What frustrates you about our current operations?
  • What pain points stand in the way of our goals?
  • What do you want to change?
  • Why does it need to change? (And then ask why again a few more times!)
  • How do we get everyone on board?
  • How do we make everyone feel involved?

While having these conversations, you might be surprised at what you learn. Most likely, you will identify champions who want to be part of the change and help drive a new culture.

The knowledge and experience your employees bring to the table—at all levels of the organization—is highly valuable. Many individuals are experiencing the problems you’ve set out to solve firsthand and have the knowledge and background needed to support the development of your innovation competency. That’s why it is so important to convene and collect this expertise.

To create your innovation competency and establish an innovation culture, here are five things you’ll want to keep in mind throughout the journey.

1. Build organizational buy-in and employee authority.

One of the greatest barriers to creating a sustained culture of entrepreneurship is achieving organizational buy-in. This means setting a tone that aligns with your overall innovation strategy: one that you and your employees believe in and are excited about.

The key to transforming your organization so that it supports an innovation culture is to bridge experimental processes with operational ones. Although this can be a challenge, it’s far from impossible when the organization maintains a steady focus on change management—an integral focal point when creating a culture of innovation.

To manage any type of change, a development of thorough processes and decision-making criteria should clearly demonstrate the path forward and serve as a reference for all employees. The ADKAR Model is a helpful reference in developing your change management strategy.

Source: The Prosci ADKAR® Model

Culture transformation cannot flourish without people who acknowledge and support the changes in store. Prioritizing change management will spur the growth of new knowledge, skills and behaviors needed to help drive your new innovation culture.

2. Embrace experimentation.

The idea of failing fast is a common mantra, but it is not as easily embraced in healthcare when lives are on the line and patient care can be impacted. That’s why for many healthcare organizations, experimentation can be the most challenging part of building a new innovation culture; it means building a completely new mindset to accompany that new culture. Even those with the best intentions of harnessing innovation tend to struggle with this.

Expect projects to fail, because they inevitably will. As a leader, it’s understandable if you no longer want to support a project that isn’t achieving the desired results. What’s most important is continuing to support all of the employees involved in that project. Employees should have the opportunity to test ideas without fear of failure. Foster experimentation and balance it with rigorous accountability for progress.

Healthcare leaders must learn to build an innovation culture that values the lessons learned from failure while maintaining the safety and security of the patients inside the organization. Internalizing lessons learned and viewing them as opportunities for growth will eventually lead to future attempts that have a higher chance of success. Healthcare organizations that can balance this approach with a process-driven, strategic mindset will likely see the most success from experimentation.

3. Create longitudinal support.

Creating a culture of innovation inevitably means large investments of your time, budget and labor. And in healthcare, both time and dollars can often be constrained. That’s why employees look to leadership to ensure that these resources are being devoted to projects with the most potential for success. During times of transformational change and challenging of orthodoxies, continuous support and frequent communication is critical to keep the organization feeling connected and operating efficiently.

During this time, flexibility should be expected and anticipated. Employees who are championing the change your organization is focused on must possess the autonomy to step outside their roles when necessary and de-prioritize other work.

Related: 3 Steps for Prioritizing Innovation Projects

Expect resistance, then combat it with transparency, communication and support for those who might need more help than others adapting to an innovation culture. Even the smallest process changes require detailed oversight from your team and stakeholders across the organization.

Many projects that fall outside of normal operations will flounder without champions and dedicated support. But once you do have adequate support, the momentum that sparked an innovative new project can become self-sustaining. Innovation then occurs both because it can and because people within the organization are empowered to move it forward.

4. Celebrate victories.

One of the most satisfying aspects of developing an innovation culture is sharing successes across the organization. This can come in many shapes and sizes, as everyone has their own unique preferences for sharing and receiving recognition. For example, if your organization has a blog or a news show, you can highlight projects and innovators during specific segments. Some organizations have large annual retreats where awards are distributed for different accolades. If this sounds like your organization, suggest adding a new category for “Most Innovative Team” or “Toughest Challenge Solved this Year.” Some individuals might consider having the chance to sit down with your CEO highly rewarding as well.

Whichever approach you take, there should never be silence. Accomplishments are meant to be celebrated! However you decide to celebrate, ensure that it is meaningful and authentic. Sharing in success creates support and excitement that produces a snowball effect perpetuating ingenuity.

5. Provide incentives.

Incentives for internal entrepreneurship should be cultivated at the organizational level. Combining a mix of financial and intrinsic incentives and ensuring alignment with organizational values is ideal, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Before launching an internal innovation initiative, make sure you understand what will drive the incentives. Again, it is critical that that executive leadership takes the time to develop an innovation competency. What is the desired output? Is it new, diversified sources of revenue? Attracting and retaining talent? Once this is established, you can begin to form incentives that fit your organization.

Executive leadership should define the policy in advance and challenge themselves to think of it both as a financial equation and also an employee perk. Do not ignore intrinsic motivators; it is important for organizations to recognize these, as research has shown their power to incite action. Once defined, make your incentives transparent and proactively communicate them to employees.

The great thing about innovation is that when it works, it improves lives and solves problems. As employees recognize this, they will want to be part of the culture change rather than feeling like it is being forced on them. When everyone is engaged and focused on improvement, it boosts morale and empowers your new innovation culture to thrive. After all, people are the most powerful component of successful innovation.

Additional Resources

Healthbox Reports: Addressing key challenges and emerging trends for healthcare leaders, Healthbox Reports present our latest thinking, offering key considerations and strategies for the topics that matter most. Download the complimentary reports

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