Internal culture: The hidden barrier to innovation in healthcare – MedCity News

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As the landscape of healthcare changes at a faster pace than ever, leaders are prioritizing ways to make healthcare more equitable and accessible.

With the realities of mergers, pandemics, e-commerce, payment reform and new tech, healthcare organizations must become increasingly innovative and focused on the patient experience to stay in the game. Those committed to providing healthcare for all must empower their teams to not only create new solutions for equity and accessibility but also further deliver on that promise through every interaction and communication — internally and externally.

But many healthcare organizations face a significant barrier to growth, innovation and equitable experiences. This threat is an invisible yet powerful force that you might not expect: internal culture.

Why your internal culture matters

Internal culture dictates how organizations operate on the inside and shapes how employees behave and make decisions. These invisible aspects of culture determine whether an organization is able to grow, fulfill its purpose and deliver what it promises to its stakeholders. It can trigger creativity, innovation and momentum. Or it can cause teams to lag behind with mediocre results.

In other words, an organization is only as successful as its culture allows it to be. With so much change, innovation and M&A activity happening in healthcare currently, it’s an imperative time to take a look at your culture and determine whether it’s delivering your desired outcomes.

For example, late last year, two large regional health information exchanges merged forces in an effort to make healthcare more accessible to all, especially to underserved populations. However, anytime two teams come together to introduce a new brand, it can create a new set of complex challenges for delivering on the vision, brand promise and stakeholder experience.

This is where starting with culture — before the logo, website or messaging — is crucial.

Culture cascades into every part of your organization

In the case of the aforementioned merger, the newly formed executive team knew they faced a few challenges. Not only were they bringing approximately 1,800 healthcare organizations under one umbrella, but they also had to rally their teams and customers on both sides of the merger around a new mission and set of values.

Like so many organizations, however, they didn’t have a formally established internal organizational culture. And this is absolutely mission critical to organizational success. Internal culture forms the foundation for employees’ behaviors and decisions. It cascades into every other part of the organization.

The fact of the matter is, every organization has a culture, whether it’s deliberately created or not.

An intentionally created culture wins every time as it provides more consistency and alignment when it comes to outcomes and experience.

But too often, when organizations undergo a rebrand or merger or acquisition, they bring on a branding company that starts with the visual components first — completely sidestepping culture. When this happens, the result is often a name, logo and identity that could be slapped onto any other organization in the same vertical instead of a meaningful solution that reflects the organization’s vision, values and commitment to stakeholders.

How culture guides your team

Culture acts as a roadmap, dictating how you operate on the inside and how your people behave. In fact, former MIT professor and author Edgar Schein once wrote, “Culture is to a group what personality or character is to an individual.”

These invisible aspects of your culture — how your organization operates internally, the decisions your people make, and how they act — defines your brand. This means it’s your culture that determines your brand’s success, profitability and innovation and whether it’s driven by the patient experience.

When aligned with your mission and values, culture becomes your secret power and key differentiator. When it’s not aligned, your stakeholders — internal and external — know it.

Build your internal culture for success

To build a solid internal culture, bring your core team together to work through the following collaborative process. This not only engages your people but also ensures buy-in down the road.

1. Define your why

The first phase of building your culture is to agree upon your mission, audience and purpose. Gather your key internal stakeholders and establish a shared understanding of these core fundamentals.

2. Workshop your values

Look at your values and assess whether they serve your employees. Are your values clear and specific enough for your people to know what actions and decisions they need to make to innovate and produce great outcomes that serve your external stakeholders? Take time to reframe your values into clear, behavior-based statements that inform your employees’ daily actions and decisions.

3. Reward innovation

Innovation has the power to fuel your success, but it also requires risk. Cultivate an environment where employees feel safe to take on-brand risks. Reward innovation by incentivizing your people to take bold risks that align with your mission, vision, and values.

Sometimes risks will end in failure. Accept this as a minor byproduct of innovation. When a calculated risk turns into failure, celebrate the endeavor and discuss what lessons your team can learn from it.

Culture work can be tough, especially for larger or more well-established organizations. It takes focus, brutal honesty and single-mindedness to build a culture that fuels innovation and supports your mission.

But it’s also exciting. Many of our clients who go through our culture-building process experience an organization-wide renewal of energy around their mission.

As one of our clients recently said, this approach to creating a culture that drives success is “not only right on point — but incredibly fun and enjoyable.”

Photo: wenmei Zhou, Getty Images

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