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  • Writer's picturePam Stoik

Top 5 Health Trends #5: Organizational Agility & Unconventional Partnerships ( ok really 2 trends!)

When covid hit, big organizations held their collective breath and hit the “pause” button.

Then something interesting happened…

Agile organizations realized pausing for too long was going to set them back BIG TIME. And so, those orgs quickly adjusted, switched to virtual and got busy getting busy again while some of the more conservative companies lost time (and money I’d reckon) waiting for things to go back to “normal.”

It’s pretty obvious who comes out on top in this scenario.

But here’s the thing: while many people think “innovation” –a vague, loaded and often misused term—is only reserved for tech-related companies or the likes of Elon Musk, it isn’t. There are hundreds, probably thousands of definitions of innovation floating about but the bare essential formula, in my opinion, is applied creativity that adds value. That’s it!

And there of course are so many ways to arrive at this and so many approaches and tools that can help. Mark Zuckerberg’s, “move fast and break things” mantra can hardly be applied where patient health is concerned (ironically, I’m sure many patients would already describe the health system as “broken”). And yet…

And yet, like it or not, a global pandemic forced health care to move pretty damn fast. Big pharma reached warp speed to concoct effective vaccines. Governments (perish the thought) had to move equally fast (and yes, I recognize there are some who’d argue too fast) to review and approve Covid-19 vaccines. Provincial governments rolled out clinics in record time. Health care organizations, who seemed to doddle with regards to virtual care, found a way forward and ramped up in weeks and months instead of years. It may have also helped that health ministries “miraculously” found a way to compensate medical staff conducting virtual visits. Plausible became doable, became done.

According to the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with McKinsey ” History tells us that organizations that invest in innovation during a crisis outperform their peers in the recovery.”

So, the big question is, how do health leaders achieve prolonged agility? How should they be thinking about reinvention? Yes, many organizations were able to act fast out of necessity, but how can this flexibility, openness and responsiveness be sustained?

Hint: it’s not about blue skying it. Contrary to popular belief, successful innovation requires a disciplined approach and is process driven. It’s one of the reasons I love design thinking. There are a number of variations of this process. Ideo’s empathize-define-ideate-prototype-test is probably the most well-known, however, lately I’m partial to IBM’s scaled back process of observe-reflect-make. A great overview of each and their differences can be found here.

Both really begin with empathy of the “customer” which, depending on the scenario in health, could be the patient, caregiver, worker (or possibly any combination thereof). Once the problem/opportunity is clearly defined, ideas are generated, and action is taken to trial the most promising ones.

Why am I such a big fan of design thinking? Let me count the ways 😉… When well-facilitated, design thinking:

  • Provides key stakeholders with a seat at the table. You know the saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions?” Including patients, family and frontline staff at the start of the process keeps leaders in check, provides a variety of perspectives and will hopefully prevent your project from going down that “burning” road 😊.

  • Give introverts a voice. The process is constructed so that EVERYONE’S ideas are laid out there, not just the person with the loudest voice, most senior job title or best sales pitch.

  • Has a bias for action. I love design thinking because actioning your ideas by conducting small-scale tests to help determine desirability, feasibility and viability are baked in.

  • Takes a test and learn approach. Notice I didn’t say “fail.” There’s a reason for that. Yes, new ideas can fall flat for many different reasons. But agile organizations dissect that so-called “failure” and learn from it. A failure is only truly an “epic fail” when it goes nowhere AND leaders bury their head in the sand about its causes.

Though people tend to think innovation is driven by “big I” billionaire innovators like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, building internal capabilities (design thinking, lean, agile or some combination thereof) across a business can help to “pollinate” the organization and build a culture of innovation.

Anyone who has ever worked at a large organization knows how challenging navigating change (an essential ingredient to any scaled innovation) is. This pollination approach teaches champions how to apply key concepts and “innovator tools” to daily work—building in a more open and flexible approach to problem-solving and opportunity mining. The shark image below—first introduced to me at Schulich—is such a great illustration of this concept and how it bakes in agility while still being connected to the larger organizational “big picture.”

Shark shape made of goldfish facing a real shark underwater.
Teams led by innovation champions can help a big organization be more flexible and adaptable.

Openness to Unconventional Partnerships

In this topsy-turvy, rapid-reality-changing world, there is a strong sense that the face of health is becoming more commercial—even in Canada. No doubt much of this is spurred on by the rapidly aging population. Whether its through acquisition or partnership it’s clear that retail, tech, government and health spheres will continue to coalesce to capitalize on one another’s strengths resulting in (hopefully) a more seamless, integrated and optimal experience. I could probably create a list three pages long, but here are just a few examples:

It’s clear from all this movement that health care isn’t just a major concern for aging populations across the globe, it’s also a high-growth business opportunity that requires, a growth mindset, flexible approach and an openness to disrupt the status quo.

Back 2019, as part of my Smith’ Masters of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MMIE) capstone project, I had the good fortune to interview Managing Director at Klick Health, Keith Liu. We talked in-depth about culture and one of his quotes generated from the conversation has always stuck with me: “If you don’t get in the business of disrupting your own business, someone will do it for you.”

Want to get started on building a more agile, flexible organizational culture? We've been there, done that and can help you do it too! Contact us to chat.

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