Innovate or Stagnate: Creating a Culture of Innovation

Nonprofits need internal entrepreneurs.  For Doctors Care, I find it quite joyful to think about how we can improve the delivery of care – not just healthcare, but total life care – for the patients we serve.  I have worked in services for people in need for over 35 years now, starting right out of college as an eligibility caseworker for food stamps and public assistance.  These early experiences inform my thinking today. Unfortunately, today we do things much like we did 30 years ago. What gets in the way of our ability to innovate?

We are problem solvers. We start and end our days with to-do lists. Usually our lists include the people we are helping, a specialist who may provide care for our patient, meeting the food and housing needs of our patients, staffing issues, calling a potential donor – the list goes on forever. These things will always exist. Do they help or hurt us? Make us more efficient or strangle our creativity? I don’t know the answer for you. For me they are a guide, sometimes a comfort. But lists are not enough to accomplish all that is needed in today’s world.

Innovation is about creativity and fearlessness. Let’s assume that we all believe in a little magic or have an abundance of faith in the world we live. We tend to believe if we try a little harder, and share hope when there appears little to spare, we will make the world a better place. Today I bestow upon you an imaginary magic wand – a reminder that we believe in a better world. We have chosen to work or volunteer in mission-driven environments. We tend to be a hopeful people; we tend to believe wishes come true. Don’t be afraid to think big, hairy, fearless thoughts and use your magic wand to create innovative goals.

Declare your ultimate goal. This goal must rest just outside your grasp. Look for commonalities in the people you serve. Do you see ways to innovate solutions that save time? What tools are at your disposal that could make your job easier or reduce duplication of effort? Explore and exploit existing capabilities. Ask yourself if someone else could be tasked with these things and figure out ways to pass them on or innovate a way to do it faster.

I will declare my organization’s goal: Doctors Care will empower perfect patients who know how to get their health needs met. They will attend medical appointments or cancel in a timely fashion, follow providers’ recommendations, ask the right questions, and be highly informed and effective users of the technology available to them. My personal goal is to be involved, informed and open to new ways of making this happen, and willing to motivate others to overcome barriers that pop up along the way. And in doing all this, we will discover new ways to be financially self-sufficient.

Define your goal so it is relatable to your co-workers. I have taken a triple aim approach to defining the “perfect patient”. It is always honest to declare your organization’s self interest. Doctors Care’s self interest is that a “perfect patient” will make it easier for us to recruit volunteer specialists and hospitals to participate in our mission. We get to say things like, “Our patients are well-managed, held accountable, and appreciative for the care they are receiving from you”. If I apply the triple aim to the definition of a Doctors Care perfect patient I would say patients, “have better health outcomes, are less costly to care for and satisfied with the care they receive.” Our patients are on the Doctors Care Advantage Plan. Much like a Medicare Advantage Plan, we provide the additional services that will make it easier for private physicians to help us care for our patients.

Disclose your goal. Share it with your co-workers, patients and volunteers – a trusted group of stakeholders. Ask the right questions. Be willing to take risks. The biggest risk is the possibility you will be laughed off the stage. I always ask, “Can it be done different than it was before?” Share your ideas with others and identify some common threads. Think about reducing cost, making your organization more efficient, and playing well with others. Share the ways innovation and technology are improving the lives of people, as well as meeting your self interest as you move toward your ultimate goals. Allow your ideas to be questioned.

When we innovate, we serve our community, adapt to changing needs and make a positive difference. It may be as easy as adding an item to your to-do list that says, “Innovate today! I am an internal entrepreneur for my organization.” Thirty years ago in my early days as a fundraiser I realized we were not raising any money from business. Though I didn’t have a good plan for how to fix it, I decided to add a line item for business donations in the budget. It became a reminder not only to me but to our board that we needed to figure out how to raise money from that segment. Dollars eventually showed up, magically. It may be as easy as reminding ourselves everyday to avoid letting the daily minutia get in the way of passion for the work we are doing. Give yourself permission to think three years from today. This makes it possible to optimize how you do your work. Be creative and fearless and use your magic wand to make the magic work for you.

by Bebe Kleinman, CEO

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