How To Create A Healthcare Culture Of Innovation That Can Successfully Adapt To Changing Times

GiraffeAt a time when the need to respond to dramatically changing times is particularly acute, the pressure is on for the once staid and stable world of healthcare to develop a newfound culture of innovation, writes Andrea Simon, Ph.D., President/Founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), in her recent article published in the September 2014 issue of Healthcare Innovation News.

To illustrate the depth of the dilemma, a common question Dr. Simon asks when conducting CEO workshops is: “How many of you have innovative cultures in your companies?” Most of the hands go up, she reports.

That question is followed by, “How many can share one recent company innovation?” Over and over again, she says, a few CEOs timidly raise their hands. More often, though, few can describe a major innovation.

This lack of understanding of the need to implement facility-wide innovation—and fast—exposes the enormous challenges faced by companies today:

  • The pharmaceutical industry faces unintended consequences of new therapies.
  • Hospitals are trying to reinvent their value, from buying and managing medical groups to reducing ER visits to keeping people out of the hospital.
  • With the advent of ICD-10 standards and electronic medical records, companies that supported the old world of handwritten records must face the daunting task of re-imagining themselves.

Regardless of the segment or industry, organizations know the culture of the past won’t get them where they need to be in the future. But how can they actually make the leap and create a more innovative culture?, Dr. Simon asks.

Why Do Organizations Have Cultures?

A highly-experienced corporate anthropologist, Dr. Simon explains that human beings live in herds, and that today’s culture provides each different herd with core values, beliefs and behaviors.

An organization is really a collection of department herds that have an integrative common “tribal” culture, differentiating them from others, she says. Far too often, the emphasis is on “the way something is done” without examining whether it is the best way to do it.

Yet ironically, as times change, as they are for healthcare today, organizations are realizing that the way they have done things in the past might have been right for then but are wrong for the future. Hence, there is a need to become more innovative and more importantly, to become a more innovative culture.

Types of Corporate Cultures

There are many nuances to different cultures, but they tend to fall into four major types, as described in the book Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture:

  • Hierarchy. The focus is on harmonious internal function with strong processes and procedures and top-down decision-making. This is a very controlling, stable and predictable culture.
  • Clan. The focus is on collaboration and cohesion with strong emphasis on human development and teamwork.
  • Ad-Hoc. These are creative cultures that foster innovation, transformation and agility. They are about idea generation, value-empowered individuals and self-reliant teams.
  • Market. These organizations are highly competitive, hard driving and results-focused; they are very externally focused on the competition and trends in the marketplace.

Some of the most effective organizations understand how to balance their business models incorporating all four of these cultural styles, Dr. Simon asserts, and the key to success lies in balancing them appropriately.

Building a New Future

Dr. Simon offers these 10 important tips to help healthcare organizations successfully create a new culture:

1. Diagnose the culture. The Organizational Cultural Assessment Instrument (OCAI) online survey is a terrific way of capturing how employees see their culture today and how they would prefer it to be in the future. It also produces an excellent culture map of an organization and a shared vision of where employees want to go in the future.

2. Develop a process to guide culture change and outline a company’s journey toward achieving that change. Note: This is a team activity.

3. Choose leaders and determine who will become key cultural transformers. Putting organizational development and human resources staff at the head of the effort is critically important to the success of the culture change process. Buy-in by the entire organization, from executives on down, is crucial. Everyone must believe change is possible.

4. Create a story about today’s culture. Employee stories can help companies visualize their current culture.

5. Envision the future and create goals. For the process of new culture creation to work, the team has to outline the actions they will take to create change—or in some instances, retain what has proven successful.

6. Generate actionable ideas and convert ideas into innovations.

7. Encourage creative problem-solving.

8. Help people in an organization learn new skills to adapt to changes.

9. Take action, analyze choices, tweak ideas and proceed. Culture change is a journey, and what an organization envisions might not always be what is really needed.

Creating a culture of innovation can happen, but it takes time and focus

Culture isn’t incidental; it is the fundamental foundation for how people gather, get along and get things done, Dr. Simon writes.

In changing times, however, organizations must adapt, she warns, or their herds might very well not survive.

To read Andrea Simon’s article in its entirety in Healthcare Innovation News, click here (page 4).