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Equipping leaders with innovation to futureproof healthcare organisations

Lyndal Hughes by Lyndal Hughes

Innovation in healthcare organisations

Innovation is one of those concepts that almost feels untouchable, particularly when coupled with terms such as ‘design labs’, ‘innovation labs’ and ‘disruption’. However, the reality is that we innovate all the time. Sometimes even by accident, mostly when we come up with new ways of doing something more efficiently or effectively. Deliberately making new things is about design, whether the process is formal or informal.


In Healthcare, innovation disrupts people as much as systems – often for the better. That’s why it needs to be fostered and supported by wise and skilled leaders of all levels.  In fact, those closest to the frontline delivery of services are those who need to find comfort with innovation the most.


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The definition by economist Theodore Levitt described creativity and innovation in the most succinct way: “Creativity is thinking up new things; innovation is doing new things”


In that light, we think of leadership as ‘holding open the space for both creativity and innovation’.  COVID-19 has provided a fertile ground for innovation, from standing up hubs in stadiums, to Nurse Managers in ICU changing practices to meet new demands and providing vaccines to vulnerable groups in ways not done before. It has proved to the health industry and its leaders that breaking traditional ways of operating can in fact happen quite quickly and often for better outcomes.

Innovation can be resisted by the complexity and rigidity of the Healthcare system.

Key to future-proofing organisations and healthcare roles is shifting our mindset around innovation, particularly those in leadership roles who have the responsibility to drive better mechanisms by which change can positively impact the work and environment of their teams and patients.


According to Dr Mark Strom, innovation will always emerge at the frontline as we imagine new and better ways to deliver patient care. Our challenge is to create and support a culture and infrastructure that enables ongoing innovation. This requires a mindset comfortable with iteration and even failure within intelligent risk guidelines.


For example, Q5 currently works with the NSW Ministry of Health, under the sponsorship of Richard Griffiths, Executive Director Workforce and Talent Development. They are piloting an immersive program to not only upskill leaders in understanding design and innovation, but also how to spot and champion it.  It is being created to start a movement, not just increase capability.


What equips a leader to foster innovation?

Healthcare organisations need to begin to consider innovation not only as part of its culture (values, behaviours and mindset) but also an inherent part of leadership.  Start by:

  • Freeing leaders to make decisions that matter, even if they are seen to be unconventional
  • Remind leaders that both innovation and healthcare are human-centric; they both raise patient care
  • Set up space for leaders to reflect and challenge each other; peer-to-peer forums are an example.

In terms of equipping leaders themselves:

  • Learning and championing innovation takes energy and focus. Workplace wellbeing provides a foundation, so leaders have the bandwidth to trial new ways
  • Reinforcing an intent to bring about innovation as part of day-to-day leadership role.
  • Providing a way to stimulate dialogue and learning about what is happening across the whole system and how to foster intelligent new initiatives on behalf of those Healthcare serves.
  • Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate, it helps people feel involved, sets expectations and initiates understanding and acceptance that change is on the way
  • Increasing influence in leaders as taking innovative ideas from team members to a wider benefit needs impact and nous to break silos and gain traction


Innovation is for all. Leading well helps to give space for innovation to occur successfully and increases our tenacity to magnify this area for greater benefit.  The future of Healthcare is on a trajectory to become more tailored to each person as we draw greater focus to the human experience. An understanding and championing of innovation is what will enable the futureproofing of our skills and systems across all areas of Healthcare.

Visit the full article on My Health Career here.

My Health Career is an online publication reaching 400k annual readers, including health professionals, industry organisations, guidance counsellors, career development practitioners and career advisers, as well as students aspiring for  a career in health. 

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