Innovation and Communication

by webadmin on October 22, 2010

Free Exchange of Ideas Essential for Organizational Creativity

The CEO of the Xavier Healthcare System was convinced that if he could foster an innovative corporate culture among his 6,000 employees that many of the issues his system was facing would be resolved. From patient care and marketing through operations and finance, he could see that the organization was mired in the status quo.

He began the transformation process by huddling his management team for a two-day retreat led by an outside facilitator who had conducted a survey of employees. The primary finding from the survey was that the system’s struggles with innovation were linked to issues of communications.

While the system’s mission statement stated that innovation was a core value, the management team was sending different messages through its actions: the workload of every employee was growing each year and no time was reserved for creative thinking; employees did not understand how to submit ideas to the hospital’s “Innovation Now” suggestion system and no one could recall an innovative change resulting from this program; communications flow was top-down, from the CEO through supervisors;  employees reported that they concentrated on daily tasks and relied on management for creative thinking and innovative ideas.

During the next day and a half, the facilitator emphasized to the management team several concepts related to innovative corporate cultures: every individual, from housing keeping to the CEO, is capable of creative thinking if encouraged to do so; multi-tasking is useful in managing heavy workloads, but don’t expect employees in overdrive to think creatively; a creative environment is essential to creative thinking, yet most hospital work areas were anything but conducive to creative thought; the hospital mission statement championing innovation was doing more harm than good because management was not supporting these statements through its actions; inspiration for creative thinking can come from many sources, including the arts and culture.

Based on the survey results, comments by the facilitator and soul searching by the management team, an action plan emerged. Facilities management was tasked with identifying areas that could be converted to “innovation stations” that would be reserved for brainstorming among employees. Essential requirements were that these spaces be comfortable, equipped with colored markers and large sheets of paper and decorated to look unlike any other areas of the hospital.

To assure that innovation stations were used, human resources was asked to revise employee development plans to include growth goals based on developing innovative solutions to departmental and system-wide challenge. These solutions would be considered as part of annual performance evaluations.

The hospital training department was challenged to revise its catalog of in-service training. New offerings included seminars by writers, artists, poets and musicians who would share their perspectives on creativity. The training department also contacted the local university and developed an employee reading list that included works of fiction, poetry and the classics; a bookstore agreed to offer hospital employee discounts on books. Through a cooperative agreement with the arts council, the hospital began to offer tickets to cultural events, including symphony, opera, theatre and art exhibitions.

Finally, the hospital’s innovation facilitator began a series of interactive seminars for senior management and employees given responsibility for facilitating brainstorming sessions. Through a variety of interactive activities, these seminars stressed essential concepts related to innovative cultures: the ability to think creatively is innate in every individual and highly personalized based on life experiences; ideation processes must be free flowing with new ideas subjected to logical scrutiny only after a wide range of new thinking has emerged; creative inspiration can come from virtually anywhere for those open to new experiences.

With the hospital’s innovation program in place, the CEO conducted meetings with employees to outline action steps and field questions, and he recorded a video that outlined the new program for new employee orientation. The hospital’s newsletter began to include an innovation section, and the communications department was asked to report on the progress of the program.

To assure that the emphasis on innovation was kept on track and accountable, the hospital named a chief innovation officer. The responsibilities of this position were to assure coordination of various elements, sustain momentum and measure results.

Xavier’s program began to foster creative thinking: the emergency department initiated an improved system of triage and communications with waiting families that resulted in higher scores on patient satisfaction; marketing began to use patient satisfaction surveys to provide input for each department’s innovation brainstorming sessions, which led to numerous improvements system-wide; housekeeping developed training guides that were multi-lingual and illustrated to support an emphasis on reducing infection rates; facilities management implemented sustainable practices that reduced costs and improved the look of the campus.

This hospital’s experience illustrates the fundamental role that communications plays in fostering innovative corporate cultures. It begins with a commitment to align mission statements and reality, and it continues throughout the organization, encouraging and inspiring every employee.

Is this type of transformation process easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes. Advancements in America’s healthcare system have been based on a continual flow of innovation in every aspect of care. With open, free-flowing communications, backed by action plans, a wellspring of new ideas can take our nation’s healthcare systems to even higher levels of quality, access and affordability.

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* Xavier Healthcare System is a fictionalized name, but the situation described in this article is based on actual experiences in fostering innovative corporate cultures.

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Suzanne Fetscher, MFA, is president of McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, N.C. McColl Center sponsors The Innovation Institute, a program that encourages innovative cultures by providing executives with insights into the artistic creative process and how it can be applied within their careers and their organizations. sfetscher@mccollcenter.org

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