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How To Incorporate Innovation Into a Strategic Plan


By Jennifer Phillips, Center for Innovation, Virginia Mason (VM) Medical Center

"We want to be a more innovative organization."

A common cry these days, but how? Literature and seminars abound to feed the knowledge quest, but making it a systematic strategy that transforms your organization can be more difficult.

Consider including innovation as a deliberate goal in your long-range strategic plan. Declare that you will be an innovative company and then assign operational accountability to an executive and program team to steer the work.

Get Concrete

Innovation means different things to different people. Some people consider any new idea an innovation. Others require it to be a creative idea that is actually implemented (our definition at VM). Common questions include:

  • What constitutes a creative idea?
  • Do we want our teams to be creative about everything?
  • How do we reconcile a desire for innovation with the need to follow standards?
A critical first step is to get any and all questions out on the table, then study the concepts and methods of innovation so that you can define what it will mean for your organization. Why do you want to be innovative? What results do you want? Are process innovations needed to get unstuck from old ways of doing things, both for the sake of efficiency and satisfying patients? Do you want to create a more satisfying, stimulating environment for your staff? Any of these goals, or others, lend themselves to an innovation strategy. The key is that innovation should be a means to an end. How will it serve your mission, vision, and other strategic plan objectives?

A key element of Virginia Mason's strategic plan has been to "promote a culture of innovation." We spent the first year just studying and developing a strategic innovation sub-plan. We do annual updates to reflect the changing landscape of health care and organizational mid-course corrections.

Some Initial Steps

  • Develop short-term and long-term objectives to convert the work from conceptual to concrete.
  • Study other organizations to identify attributes and strategies of innovative companies you find inspiring and relevant. At VM, we studied companies such as 3M, Toyota, Wiremold, Genie Industries, Hitachi, IDEO, Southwest Airlines, Proctor & Gamble, Linux, Nordstrom, and Starbucks. Research took the form of literature reviews, site visits, and conversations with leadership contacts within these companies.
  • Look inside your organization to inventory practices and results. What innovations already exist, what is working in your favor, and what's lacking? Spend energy understanding your culture and how it will help or hinder your efforts.
  • Act on what you learn with a multipronged set of strategies:
    • Identify the primary innovation and creative thinking methods that fit with your approach to improvement and will help leaders achieve priority goals.
    • Include ways to bolster your culture in support of innovation. For example, you may have innovative individuals or teams who readily adopt new methods but are frustrated by a lack of time, resources, or leadership support to pursue innovations. They will not feel they are operating in a strong culture of innovation unless these support systems are addressed.
    • Ask leaders to set specific innovation targets rather than trying to be innovative about everything.
    • Include a plan for communications and skill building.
  • Create a common framework for everyone to understand the innovation strategies and provide forums for ongoing learning and enhancement of techniques. Spread the knowledge and skills to your leadership and project teams to use. At VM, we accomplished this by:
    • providing leadership classes in innovation and creativity;
    • training improvement specialists in innovation and creativity facilitation techniques;
    • creating an internal Web site for leaders and staff to retrieve tools and readings;
    • occasionally hosting an innovation journal club;
    • providing one-on-one coaching when leaders need to tackle a pressing problem; and
    • increasing exposure to concepts and techniques through countless improvement workshops in the corporate, hospital, and ambulatory settings.
  • Help connect the dots when exciting outcomes are a result of adopting an innovative approach.
  • Monitor innovative activities in order to identify underlying system and culture barriers that need attention.
  • Accept that this work will take several years; resource it appropriately with the right program support and ongoing attention from executive leadership.



About the authors: Jennifer Phillips is the program director for the Center for Innovation at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. Virginia Mason's Center for Innovation serves as an advocate, resource, and catalyst for building a culture of innovation. It works with executive and operational leadership, as well as directly with staff teams, to foster the conditions and skills needed to boost creativity, design, prototyping, piloting, and full implementation of innovations.

 

Last updated: April 10, 2013.