Learn what it takes for innovation to flourish at your organization as it did in ours — we were recognized as one of Fast Company’s top 100 Best Workplaces for Innovators in 2020.
When we sought out to define our path for inviting innovation across our firm, we started with these non-negotiable key ingredients:
- Executive Sponsor – An executive at the company who offers guidance and participates in innovation efforts. In our case, that came from our president Larry English, who has the wisdom to know focusing on innovation cannot be an afterthought.
- Committed Collaborators – People across the company driven to help design opportunities to engage, support and coach those who want to explore “new” concepts.
- Passionate Explorers – Employees who are inspired by generating ideas, building through experimentation, and proving the value of their efforts with evidence and feedback from the people their innovation helps.
With those three pillars and lots of commitment, innovation can flourish in your organization just as it did in ours.
This year, we were named one of Fast Company’s top 100 Best Workplaces for Innovators for creating a culture of innovation through our Virtual Innovation Lab. While we did not have a great honor like this in mind when we set out on our innovation journey, it certainly validates the hard work by many of our people.
Let me share a bit more about how we created an award-winning innovation culture, so you can, too.
Our Innovation Journey
The design of our innovation journey has been deliberate and democratizes feedback and sharing. Because, while we know innovation starts with ideas, the hard work comes with experimenting and learning through innovation efforts.
Virtual Innovation Lab
Our Virtual Innovation Lab provides pathways for our passionate explorers, across the country, to share ideas and begin to work with committed collaborators.
Microsoft Teams serves as the engine to increase visibility across the firm, helping us foster multi-person dialogues over chat, work together across various tools, and meet virtually.
While all efforts need to be driven by passionate idea owners, not everyone inherently has all the know-how to navigate the build efforts and bring ideas to proof of value. We learned early on that we needed to provide guidance and coaching on how to evaluate and develop ideas.
We also learned we needed to coach idea owners on how to advance their concept through a process. Yes, innovation thrives with process. It may not be rigid or narrowly governed, but it certainly is a process.
Innovation Advisory Team
In 2016, we established an Innovation Advisory Team with support from our executive sponsor, which helps orchestrate activities for idea originators to take the right next steps for their unique concept, from bringing it forward to inviting opportunities to learn.
The team consists of committed collaborators who help activate a critical feedback loop, make the call at essential points of decision, and provide coaching — an activity that has been critical to advancing our innovation efforts. Coaches support design sprints, lead proof-of-value builds, and help connect innovators with our internal innovation communities and external partners.
Over the years, the team has produced guides to inspire innovation, including one for coaches and one for innovators, using our education tool, Degreed. It also curates and shares the best and latest thinking on innovation management to help innovators along their journey. Some of our favorite sources of information include The Lean Series books, Design Thinking courses and the Jobs to be Done theory.
Innovation Measurement Framework
Finally, we have designed an innovation measurement framework that impacts the behaviors and benefits we seek. These measurements include:
- Traditional financials
- Investment in innovation (such as software, project hours, etc.)
- Qualitative aspects – idea diversity, measures and analysis of what’s driving our ideas, and activity for ideas in incubation
This framework has given us the opportunity to challenge colleagues who lead our practices such as Insurance, Healthcare and Modern Software Delivery to solicit ideas and incubate them to arrive at a proof of value for their customers.
We focus on “value” rather than “concept” because the innovation needs to bring value to its intended customers to be viable from our perspective.
One Innovative Idea
Thanks to our culture to pursue innovation, our Healthcare Practice Lead, Dr. Marcie Stoshak-Chavez, had a natural outlet to test an idea, which was triggered by some information she gathered from articles and conversations with medical colleagues.
The topic was the opioid epidemic and the use of these pain medications in end-of-life care.
She took her conversations with Dr. Bob Uslander and connected with passionate explorers across our firm to ask: “What if providers could use Virtual Reality sessions instead of a powerful narcotic or anxiolytic in their treatment of palliative care patients?” From that hypothesis, our Virtual Reality for Healthcare (VR for HC) incubation was born.
This effort progressed through our innovation funnel and was not without challenges and setbacks. Our team (Carmen Fontana, Chris Martinez, Joel Gray, and Michael McKinney) undertook the original design with clinical protocols in mind, like germ suppression and ease of use for the providers.
But through experimentation and engagement with our customer experience (CX) team, we learned that patient experience could not be overlooked or underestimated. This meant we needed to revisit decisions on hardware and software design.
We moved away from the Google Cardboard VR headset, which had afforded us disposability, and moved toward Oculus Go because it provided a better fit — figurately and literally — for the target patient-user, often elderly patients with limited mobility.
In addition, focus on that patient base helped us realize a key software component was required: provider-guided VR. Our provider partners — doctors, nurses and medical assistants — were more powerfully utilized if they could serve as the patient’s guide throughout the VR experience.
As is the case with most innovation pursuits, our path was clearly not linear, but these roadblocks were opportunities to learn and improve. Not to be overlooked were the variables of which technology platform we should use for development and which healthcare provider we could partner with to get the innovation into patients’ hands. The former was key in our effort to fund the pursuit and the latter was critically important to drive our engagement and product development with patients.
In sharing with our technology partner network, there was significant interest, and we were fortunate enough to have a few partners offer to fund the first ‘proof-of-value’ build. We secured a grant from Microsoft, another Fast Company top workplace for innovators, to develop on its Microsoft Azure cloud platform.
On the healthcare provider front, we started with the colleague that Marcie connected with, Dr. Bob, and his patient base for elderly care. After countless collaboration hours, it became clear that the incubation, while necessary, was a lesser priority than the care that his small and nimble team needed to provide to their patients.
So, we pivoted within our networks to find another healthcare partner halfway across the country. It was with this group, Vista Springs, that we began putting the solution in place. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with Vista Springs, we brought the hardware and software know-how and married it with their healthcare delivery expertise to have patient sessions where we could capture feedback on the experience and their pain outcomes.
The innovation project has been through about four versions of re-design. And Vista Springs palliative care in Cleveland, Ohio has put it to use, helping us explore and improve through these iterative designs.
Based on what we learned, the team has earmarked improvements in patient and provider experience. We are eager to expand our reach and launch with other palliative care and senior living facilities as we close out 2020.
An Innovative Culture
The VR for Healthcare idea is just one concept that’s surfaced from our innovation efforts.
Currently, we have 11 ideas in incubation and another idea that’s graduated beyond the incubation period and is being piloted as an offering for our clients.
Keep an eye out for more about what we’ve learned while building our innovation muscle, over the past several years, to advance our core value of “Strive to Innovate.”