Turn Your Innovations into Realities

Innovation is easy to talk about, but often difficult to implement. Check out this excerpt from Jeffrey Fox and Robert Reiss’ book, The Transformative CEO; Impact Lessons from Industry Game Changers, which features quick steps for innovation and the CEO of Griffin Health Services, Patrick Charmel, sharing how he transformed the health care industry by putting these steps into action. ©2012, McGraw-Hill Professional; reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Managers know they must innovate. They know they must change, adapt, differentiate, take some risk. Yet some managements are so tethered to their past, to their silos to the way it was, that they can’t, won’t, or don’t know how to innovate. Here are some public secrets on how to innovate:

  • Innovation starts at the top. If the leader talks innovation, gives lots of examples, rewards attempts, lionizes successes, the organization gets the message. There is more untapped innovation in most companies than there are mussels on the Santa Monica pier.
  • Innovation is an idea turned into reality. Creative ideas that are sketches on a pad, or the subject of unanswered e-mails are nothing. To innovate you must execute. And poor execution is not a reason to execute (as in terminate) the innovator or the idea.
  • The innovative company is always trying to improve. Leadership talks new products, new markets, new machines. The company budgets aggressively on research, engineering, customer contact, smart people, commercialization.
  • Match ingenious engineers, or development people, with genius marketing people. This is the most important rule for new product success.
  • Listen to customers.
  • Have a high tolerance for rule breakers, as it relates to innovation, but not for breaking the company’s culture rules.
  • If someone proposes a promising idea, assign the development of the idea to that person.

Differentiation is innovation. Your differentiation, your product or service point-of-difference, need not be “better” than a competitor’s, just different. The folks in your local breakfast spot who smile, are different than the bored, indifferent waitress down the street. You must differentiate your product, particularly if your competition is big and dominant.

Griffin Hospital is a small 1160-bed community hospital. In each direction of the compass, just 12, or so, miles away, there is a major hospital. The people in the Griffin Hospital’s market area can drive 12 miles and get care at large city hospitals including the well-known Yale-New Haven.

Patrick Charmel (CEO, Griffin Health Services): “At the outset of my career, I knew intuitively what I now know empirically; talk to the consumer. The consumer is the inspiration for innovation. If you probe, and if you listen, the consumer will tell you what she likes, dislikes, her concerns. The consumer usually won’t give you the answers. Getting the answer is the job of the problem solver, not the problem sufferer. “Our first big differentiation at a time when our survival was dependent on our ability to differentiate our hospital from the six competing hospitals that surrounded us was inspired by talking to expectant mothers. They indicated that they did not want giving birth to be treated like a medical emergency or illness care event. Mothers did not want to be exposed to sick patients or the traditional hospital environment. They did not want the visitation rules that were standard protocol in hospitals. We changed everything. We built a special entrance just for the mother and her family. We changed the maternity ward to look more like a home than a hospital. This was a radical change from how traditional maternity care was delivered. Gone was the restrictive one-size-fits-all approach. It was replaced by a personalized approach based on patient empowerment and family involvement. Changes to the care environment included the creation of large private postpartum rooms with beautiful finishes and furniture, some with the country’s first queen-size hospital beds and Jacuzzis for pain relief in early labor. We made many other such consumer-centric changes. Most of our older, male, ‘that’s not the way it’s done’ doctors left. We replaced them with younger, more enlightened obstetricians. Our maternity business boomed, and we took what we learned to develop a patient-centered care model for the rest of the hospital. “To complete our transformation, Griffin collaborated with the Planetree organization, a not-for-profit founded by a patient dissatisfied with her hospital experience, to change the way hospitals and doctors interact with and care for patients. Griffin ultimately acquired the Planetree organization and has grown its membership organization and consultancy by helping hospitals transform their cultures to deliver true patient-centered care. Health care providers are now dealing with educated, engaged, informed consumers. Health care organizations that understand and respond to changing consumer expectations will be their industry’s new leaders. This understanding will be a game changer in health care.”

The Transformative CEO; Impact Lessons from Industry Game Changers is filled with insights from remarkable CEOs from companies such as Home Depot and General Mills, sharing their success stories and tips on various business topics, including culture, leadership, and decision making.

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