Strategic Planning

How to Create an Innovation Strategy That Sticks

Creating an innovation strategy

A healthcare revolution has arrived, and you’re probably wondering if your organization will sink or swim.

Consider this perspective. If you never learned to swim, you know that by jumping into unpredictable waters, you could be putting yourself at risk. You may decide to do it anyway, but if you don’t plan ahead and bring a life jacket, you are likely to sink.

This is similar to embracing innovation in healthcare – except there are no life jackets to keep you afloat, and making a decision to jump into the unknown will affect more lives than just your own.

To survive this revolution, you need to implement an innovation strategy that will stick. And in most cases that means reimagining your company’s vision and how you execute on it.

No one is exempt from the current wave of digital transformation, which is why healthcare organizations need to begin reimagining their business models to stay ahead of the curve.

When the big picture of where an organization wants to go is unclear, defining the overall vision should be the first step of your innovation strategy.

Understand the ‘Why’ Behind Your Innovation Strategy

With changing payment reimbursement models and various other changes facing healthcare, it’s prime time for organizations to start thinking differently about their role in the health ecosystem, and about how to embrace health information and technology to deliver better care.

Developing an innovation competency for your organization is critical, said Neil Patel, executive vice president at HIMSS and president of Healthbox. “Having a dedicated corporate innovation function is kind of how you operate in other industries, but it’s something that health systems have not traditionally had.

“It can take on a lot of different flavors. The way we frame it is that it’s either innovation you consume from the outside – things other people make and you look to bring it on – or it’s taking unique assets you have, new problems you’re trying to solve or new ways of solving them – and building a product or service that you can take to market yourself. Then, you may be able to create new, differentiated revenue streams to help offset other parts of your business that might be more mature and where margin has been compressed.”

RELATED: Three Steps for Prioritizing Innovation Projects

Once you can define the “why” behind your innovation strategy, the road ahead will become much clearer. “You have to make sure you know and clearly define what you’re doing this for,” said Patel. “It could be recruitment or culture, competitive market dynamics; maybe you’re seeking new areas of growth. Maybe you’re looking to resolve things related to patient or provider experience that are struggling, or challenges with quality and cost.” All constitute the “whys” of innovation strategy, Patel explained.

Align Your Innovation Strategy with Your Organizational Objectives

Enterprise strategy. Digital strategy. Innovation strategy. Though all of these are executed differently and can occur at different stages of an organization’s lifespan, they all exist to support organizational objectives.

“There’s varying levels of complexity for each, but the processes can be similar,” said Patel.

For instance, if you are aiming to improve patient experience, or to become a more consumer-oriented health system, how you measure that progress should be consistent across the board. With this in mind, a framework should be developed to support all of these measurements.

“Create those same metrics you’re measuring on the innovation side, align your innovation activities against it and see how you can supplement the overall strategic goals with the things you’re getting from an innovation standpoint – so that you know that your innovation strategy is aligned,” Patel explained.

“Here’s the way we think about it: If innovation is just an exploratory vehicle to see what else is out there, and it’s not really solving fundamental business problems, then it’s not going to be rooted as a core competency of the organization. It’s going to be seen as kind of a bright shiny object that can be discarded when times get tough and budget cuts are required. Innovation needs to be seen as an enabler of the overall enterprise strategy as opposed to a ‘nice to have.’”

“Your enterprise goals can be the same goals that you set out to achieve with your innovation strategy,” added Patel. “It’s about being intentional when looking at your overall strategic plan and priorities, and making sure you’re aligning the things you’re going to spend your time and money on.”

Measure Early, Measure Often, Measure Inside Out

Ensuring you are on the right path to achieve your desired goals with your innovation strategy is dependent on continuous measurement, Patel explained. “Measure early, measure often and measure the right things. In most cases, innovation projects need a longer horizon than typical projects you might take on in a health system. But that’s not an excuse to not measure them. You need to make sure you’re measuring the inputs – the activities that you’re undertaking – and use them as a diagnostic so you can make sure that activities are on the right path so you can get to the outputs you want.”

For example, if the goal of your innovation strategy is related to intellectual property, licensing technology and achieving ROI on the investment dollars you’re putting into building new products and services, you want to measure all activities related to that, Patel explained.

“If you’re not measuring the inputs, you’re going to be blind for a long period of time until you actually know whether what you’re doing is working or not,” said Patel. “You want to make sure all the solutions you’re introducing are solving the big problems you set out to accomplish in the first place with your innovation strategy.”

Back to the improving the patient experience example: if you are tracking metrics around this, you’ll want to have a baseline of where you started and what the progress was over a certain amount of time, for the number of solutions implemented during that time, Patel explained. This is in addition to tracking other efforts as part of your overall innovation strategy.

“We know technology solutions are not the only way to solve this,” said Patel. “But for a lot of the strategies being implemented in parallel, what you want to look at in the long term is, how are we moving those metrics over time? The same goes for external innovation.”

Create an Internal Culture of Innovation

To effectively implement an innovation strategy, the entire organization needs to be on board and connected, because silos can prevent innovation from reaching its full fruition – whether those silos are related to people, information, technology, processes or the combination.

“People need to be aware of what they’re doing and feel supported by innovation departments. Health system leaders need to understand they’re there to serve their needs and advance their strategies,” said Patel. “They should not exist in silos, and they should be breaking down silos whenever they see them.”

RELATED: Process Improvement Should Be Led by People, Supported by Technology

To bind people together, both successes and failures need to be celebrated, Patel added. “Innovation, when it’s done right, can really permeate and uplift the culture of the organization. The more people you can involve in the work that’s being done, you will find champions to help you support the introduction of new solutions from the outside.”

Change management is one of biggest challenges when introducing an innovation strategy to an organization because if people don’t believe in it, it may never reach its full potential. “People need to be excited about the change,” said Patel. “Make it broad, open, inclusive, transparent and use your innovation program to change and advance the culture of your organization.” By being open and transparent about your organization’s innovation strategy, it’s easier not to let it fall through the cracks, creating silos.

After you’ve taken the time implement an innovation strategy which demonstrates your organization’s new vision – one that can be easily measured, is strategically aligned, and fully understood and supported by your entire organization – more often than not, you will achieve the success you’re seeking to jumpstart your organization’s next chapter.

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