An Employee Idea System Helps Healthcare Organizations Reach Their Goals

Commonwealth Medicine is now ForHealth Consulting at UMass Chan Medical School. More information available here. This content has not been updated with the new name.

What percentage of your healthcare organization’s employees is directly contributing to projects or initiatives aligned with company strategy? After organizational goals and objectives are established, do you have a process that engages employees in sharing the problems they see and ideas they have about reaching those goals?

In healthcare organizations with a Lean culture, Idea Systems are that process. They give employees a voice in executing strategy and addressing what’s most important to them and, ultimately, your customers. After all, employees have the best view into organizational performance and where the barriers to high achievement exist.

With an Idea System in place, your organization can effectively crowd-source the implementation of strategic initiatives and achieve your goals.

The foundation of Lean culture: sharing problems, solving them through ideas

There is a right way to create a Lean culture of employee empowerment through ideas, and it doesn’t involve a suggestion box, email solicitation, quarterly meeting, or focus group. These approaches lack a key ingredient – employee ownership of idea prioritization and implementation – leading to frustrating declarations of, “I keep sharing my ideas, and nothing is changing!”

Instead, your organization should engage employees by having them lead idea generation through an Idea System, which includes tools and processes for them to collaborate, share and implement ideas, and recognize each other. These actions happen in huddles, short meetings where teams of employees of all levels:

  • Discuss their goals
  • Capture their ideas to achieve those goals
  • Document the progress of their ideas
  • Celebrate their wins

Idea Systems promote alignment with organizational strategy

Just as you may have goals and metrics that are reviewed regularly in leadership meetings, each Idea System team has goals and metrics that are aligned with their department and ultimately, your organization’s strategy. Teams use data to drive idea generation in their huddles, focusing on those that directly impact business and/or employee well-being. They also review metrics to look for opportunities for targeted improvement or celebrate progress when goals are met.

In addition to driving strategic success, the Idea System offers additional benefits to your organization, including:

  • Providing a platform for open and continuous communication among teams
  • Giving frontline employees leadership opportunities
  • Recognizing employees’ idea generation and successes through celebration, sparking motivation for continuous improvement

How to make continuous improvement efforts stick

A crucial step when implementing continuous improvement through an Idea System is securing buy-in. Leaders must practice respectful, active listening to spur employees’ engagement in the Idea System – listening to their passions, problems, and ideas to promote their feelings of ownership and inclusion.

Once the Idea System is underway, team members should choose ideas within their work scope and control, align with their team’s goals, and deliver the most impact. An idea that is too large or complex or that requires outside help may prevent it from gaining traction or delay its progression.

However, if an implemented idea doesn’t show immediate results, that’s OK, as it’s impossible to gauge whether an implemented idea will improve a process until it’s measured through PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act).

Reaping all the benefits of your Idea System

Once ideas get implemented and problems are solved, employees genuinely see the benefits of the Idea System. The entire organization does, too; here’s just one example of how Commonwealth Medicine helps put this into action:

The Work Without Limits program is operated by a small team whose primary goal is to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. While successful toward achieving this goal, the team realized they weren’t systematically sharing their successes and desired to do so more broadly.

Using their Idea System, the team developed a process to identify and describe achievements that demonstrate program effectiveness and could potentially drive program revenue through new business. The result is a compilation of “Success Stories” posted to a dedicated location on the Work Without Limits public website and promoted through social media. The team can monitor social media and webpage hits, likes, and comments and can use story quotes that resonate for future marketing material.

The idea promotes business development as well – by sharing success stories externally about the unique impact Work Without Limits has upon the broader workforce, the team is able to measure inquiries and traffic to its website and social media channels.

This type of idea also directly impacts Commonwealth Medicine’s other strategic priorities, such as employee empowerment and engagement, because the implemented idea was a team effort with input from all members.