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How to achieve innovation in aged care

How to achieve innovation in aged care

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What is innovation?

We are often drawn to thinking about innovation in terms of brand new digital products or services, such as smartphones or ridesharing platforms like Uber. However, innovation doesn’t need to be about creating a market-transforming product, which can unlock substantial value for an organization but are the hardest to develop and most challenging to execute.

Instead, innovation should be considered in the context of implementing ideas. Innovation is about generating ideas, and being able to translate those ideas, however small or large, into new processes, products, or services that create or add value. While this definition is broader, it is also more approachable for both staff and executives and removes the absolute focus on game changing, high impact (and usually high cost) 'innovations’. Importantly, it shifts an organization’s focus to acting on good ideas that add value not only to your business, but to staff and, critically, customers. For those who are just starting their innovation journey, seeking improvements to a process can be a comfortable place to start.

There are also several types of innovation. Focusing on one can be important to achieving success:

  1. Customer experience – identifying areas where the customer’s experience can be improved across their entire journey e.g. enquiring about your service, receiving care etc.
  2. Products and services – discovering new products and services, or finding new combinations of existing products and services.
  3. Operations – improving the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations.
  4. Business model/strategy – what your organization delivers and how it operates; is there a new direction your organization can move towards to unlock value?

These four categories can serve to act as an anchor point for any business seeking to innovate. Ask yourself: how can we improve the customer experience when we do X? How can we deliver Y more efficiently in this area? Or, why would the customer choose our service above another? While the answers to these questions are not always easy, nor immediately apparent, it does start to get you thinking about what you could do, and how you might go about it.

How can I innovate?

Anyone who has been involved in aged care should also be familiar with process and quality improvement, especially in the context of accreditation. Thus, we should already be strongly geared towards innovation, right? While there are some great examples of innovation in aged care, the industry is still relatively immature and many point to regulation as the inhibitor. However, healthcare and aviation are clear examples of industries where innovation can not only co-exist, but thrive, within a strong regulatory framework. The same applies to aged care, where innovation can shape and transform service delivery to meet your customer’s needs, whilst fitting within a regulatory framework.

So what are some practical tips to help drive innovation in your organization? Below we have provided some approaches you could consider to improve your success. While the list is not exhaustive, it may help guide those initial steps to becoming a leader in innovation.

Starting the journey

There are a number of methodologies, techniques and tools that can assist in enhancing innovation within an organization to generate ideas. Examples that have been proven to create value for organizations:

  • Design Thinking places the customer at the centre of innovation by identifying and addressing the key customer issues a business needs to tackle, and uses creative approaches to generate a wide range of solutions. It leverages tools, typically used by designers, to frame questions and problems in new ways, and test solutions/prototypes quickly.
  • Business Model Canvas is a tool that assists in pulling apart your business model and understanding the value drivers. By doing so it allows you to understand your unique value proposition to customers, and where changes may be required to strengthen this. Although it is often used for large-scale business models, it can be used for discrete service lines and when reviewing a current service or offering.

Resource appropriately

Some ideas require significant investment, and others are less resource intensive; however, all ideas will require some level of investment to implement. For example, under-resourcing individuals and teams, i.e. expecting them to deliver their current workload and implement new ideas, is unrealistic and will likely lead to failure. If you are serious about an idea then dedicate the appropriate level of staffing to implement it, and then champion it at an executive/board level.

If you are going to fail, fail fast

Innovating can be risky, and not all ideas will lead to immediate success. Therefore if you are going to fail, fail fast and on a small-scale. Get out there and test your ideas on a small section of your business, review the outcomes, and then decide whether you will pursue the idea through further iteration and refinement, or mark it down as a fail and move on to the next idea.

Measure your success

Measuring the success of your innovation is important. Understanding how the new process, product or service has been received by both your customer and staff helps you to identify further improvements and may even generate further innovation. Look to see if your innovation has:

  • delighted your customers 
  • engaged your staff 
  • increased efficiency 
  • improved your profits/business sustainability.

Create a culture of innovation

Changing the culture of your organization can be hard – start small and lead from the front. Create an environment where it is not only safe but where staff are encouraged to share their ideas across the business, regardless of their role in the organization. Staff who work at the frontline are often the first to notice inefficiencies with processes, or receive feedback from customers about what’s missing from a service offering. Raising ideas that create value and challenge the status quo should not be viewed as disruptive and negative, but rather as a chance to innovate. Similarly, realize that failure goes hand-in-hand with innovation; don’t punish or criticize the outcome, but focus on a robust process of innovation and decision making to improve your success. Keep forging ahead!

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2018 edition of Fusion Magazine by Leading Age Services Australia (LASA).

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