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By Monica E. Oss

I just got home from the LeadingAge Wisconsin Aging Services Conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin where there was a lively discussion of best practice innovation in my presentation, Meeting the Innovation Challenge In Long-Term Services & Supports. Innovation was top of mind for executives at the conference for several very familiar reasons—the declining margins in traditional fee-for-service reimbursement, the growing reach of health plans, and the changing consumer preference for, and use of, long-term services and supports.

For most executives, innovation is about long-term sustainability. The question: What are the service models that will result in the margins needed to sustain an organization’s mission in the future? I think that for any innovation to be successful within an organization, there are three critical requirements—that the innovation is integral to the organization’s future strategy, that the plan to take innovation from concept to reality is well-planned, and that the executive team has set the stage (in accountability, in structure, and in organizational culture) for scaling the innovation within their organization.

Regarding the first—innovation as an element in organizational strategy –any major innovation (as opposed to on-going data-driven process improvement) must be integrated into strategy. An innovation that isn’t a meaningful part of the organization’s future vision is an innovation that requires a second thought in terms of investment. Also, at a time when “change fatigue” is endemic in management teams, executives need to focus innovation initiatives. Fewer and faster is better than many and longer.

It is important to note that “innovation” can take many forms. There are innovations to improve the positioning of current services (whether integrating tech, repacking for health plans, or expanding to new markets); and there are innovations that involve new service line development (see New Service Line Development: The OPEN MINDS Step-By-Step Approach To Developing Innovative Programs, Meeting The Challenge Of New Service Lines, and Diversification & New Service Line Development).

There are also innovations that require strategic partnerships—which is particularly important when looking at long-term sustainability. This can take the form of a merger, an acquisition, a collaboration, an affiliation, or a joint venture. But when it comes to partnerships, executives need to keep the adage “form follows function” in mind. Don’t decide on the “what” until you answer the question of “why.” The structure of a partnership really doesn’t matter if, in the end, it doesn’t address the strategic or innovation issue at hand.

Last, but not least, we discussed strategy execution. The best strategy and best strategic implementation plan can be all for naught without great execution. In my experience working with provider organization executive teams, execution is where good strategy and great innovation go to die. First is the issue of accountability. Who is responsible for making the innovation happen and executing the implementation plan? This sounds simple, but the most common mistake is giving “responsibility” to someone who doesn’t have the bandwidth or the budget to make the innovation happen. Then there is structure. Does the innovation execution happen “within” a current operating unit of the organization? Is there a separate organization, or operating unit, or pilot site established to make this happen? And, if so, how does the “innovation” integrated into the overall operating structure in the long run?

The final piece of strategy execution is the culture issue. Most innovations that health and human service organizations need for sustainability right now demand significant change in organizational culture—from the executive suite to the field teams. Whether we’re talking about integrating technology in service delivery, managing performance risk, treat-to-target clinical service models, or improving consumer experience, these are not developments that happen without changing “how” team members work. And that demands transformational leadership in a complex environment.

Amid a turbulent market with many moving parts—from science, technology, demographics, policy, and practice—the “innovations” that health and human service organizations need to maintain their competitive advantage are more likely to be “bold new moves”, rather than “tweaks” to current services. For more on best practice innovation and new innovative initiatives in health and human services, check out these resources in the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:

  1. How To Create A Telebehavioral Health Strategy
  2. Five California Counties Approved To Launch Virtual Therapies Under Mental Health Service Act
  3. Solve The Problem, Gain A Partner
  4. The ‘Melting’ Value Chain
  5. For Successful ‘Integration’, It Takes Interoperability & Patience
  6. Unlikely Bedfellows
  7. Beacon Health Options Adds MDLIVE Behavioral Health Professionals To Its Provider Network
  8. CMS Planning To Fund 8 States To Develop Value-Based Contracts For ‘Integrated Care For Kids’ Model
  9. PHI Launches Home Health Rural Workforce Pilot In Minnesota & Wisconsin
  10. Geisinger & Merck Unveil EHR-Embedded Apps For Medication Management & Care Coordination

And for even more, Elite OPEN MINDS Circle members can join Stacy DiStefano, Chief Operating Officer, and OPEN MINDS Executive Account Lead Annie Medina for their web briefing, Do Something Different, “Differently” – A Specialist Provider Organization Guide To Building A New Strategy For Service Line Sustainability, on October 10 at 1:00 p.m. (EST).

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