Building an Idea Driven Organization
I've written a number of blogs on the power of ideas, the keys to building an innovation culture, and what leaders need to do to drive these initiatives within their teams. Over the past eight months my team and I in the MidAmerica Division of HCA have embarked on a journey towards building an Idea-Driven Organization and I wanted to share the story of that journey so far.
In November of 2014, I became the Chief Information Officer for the MidAmerica Division of HCA. At the recommendation of a friend, I picked up a digital copy of The Idea-Driven Organization by Alan G. Robinson and Dean M. Schroeder on the flight to my new home in Kansas City. The book does an excellent job of both underscoring the importance of empowering employees and demonstrating the competitive advantage companies can gain through their number one resource: their people. I instantly knew that the book contained the foundation of the culture I would hope to build in MidAmerica—my only question was whether the MidAmerica team was ready for it.
In preparation for the first offsite meeting I would have with my senior leadership team, I asked them to read the first chapter of the book so we could discuss it as a group. To preface the discussion, we watched Steven Johnson's TED Talk “Where good ideas come from.” In it, Johnson talks about a network of ideas that connect to one another and develop/strengthen as the network grows. Once the team conversation began, we started drawing some natural correlations around ideas:
- Ideas come from all around and are typically based on individual or organizational needs
- Ideas work better when they connect to other ideas, ultimately leading to better outcomes
- Ideas are fragile and need support, guidance, and structure to survive
From these “simple truths”, my team and I worked to develop a structure that would support an Idea-Driven Organization.
While we all left our offsite excited to continue reading and discussing the book together, it became very clear that building an idea driven organization would not be quick or easy. We first had to tackle the foundational elements to any successful innovation program:
- Trust–Without trust, people can't open their minds and free themselves to think uninhibitedly
- Desire–Without a desire to change or improve, innovation falls on deaf ears
- Passion–Without passion there is no driver or motivator that can lead an individual or team to success
When all of these cultural elements come together they form a foundation of trust that leads to open hearts and minds which in turn creates a desire to follow your passion. In short, where there are trust, desire, and passion, you will find innovation.
Prior to my arrival the team had gone through two years of coaching, training, and team building to establish a foundation of trust. In talking 1:1 with members of my team I could tell they had a desire to improve and test the boundaries of their potential. From these same interactions I discovered their passions, like technology, arts, science, engineering, and healthcare, and I couldn't help but imagine what would happen if all of these people with different passions came together to collaborate on their ideas.
At the launch of the iPad 2, Steve Jobs said, “It is in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” When I started to better understand the passions of the members of my team, I knew that a collective network of their ideas and the web of collaboration that binds it would yield amazing results.
After analyzing our culture we came to find that we had the foundational elements; now we needed a process. We started by laying out the traits that would characterize our ideal process:
- Simple–Ideas are fragile, and a complex process will crush them
- Familiar–Aligning with existing verbiage, processes, and people will help to minimize the change curve
- Decisive–We needed a process that would promote execution. Ideas can't linger in limbo; they need a definitive state of Yes or No
Once we had our goals established, we took our existing project intake process and built around it to support the acceptance of ideas. We tweaked the process and challenged every decision point until it was as simple as possible, while still proving effective. We used elements of Design Thinking to visualize the end state of our process through the eyes of those who would be using it and then continued to iterate based on the ideas that would come out of our brainstorming sessions. Once we found a process that we felt comfortable with, it was time to find a platform that could support our workflow and the collaboration that happens between intake and execution.
In reviewing a multitude of idea management tools, we decided to partner with Kindling. Kindling is incredibly flexible, meets our need for customization, and it is available on every platform we use (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android). We also found the Kindling team wanted to form a true partnership with our organization towards helping us achieve success not only with their tool, but with our program generally.
After reviewing the Kindling tool, we decided to further tweak our process because the workflow available to us in Kindling actually removed steps and additional work that we thought would be manual effort in the original process. We reviewed Kindling and our new process with our extended leadership team and gained buy-in from all leaders in our division. Our Idea-Driven Organization was finally ready to launch.
In January of 2015, during my first All Hands meeting as CIO, I shared my vision of the Idea-Driven Organization with my entire team for the first time. We provided a copy of the book to each person, and I suggested that they form mini-book clubs to read through it and discuss how this initiative could transform our company. From that moment forward there was a new energy in the air and people started discussing their ideas and how we could implement them. We unleashed a long slumbering passion that was exciting to witness.
We launched the Idea-Driven Organization at the end of April 2015 during our All Hands meeting. I talked with the team about ideas’ capacity to change the world, regardless of how big or small they might be. We presented Kindling and announced that the system was ready for their ideas by posting a large QR code that took them directly to the site. Finally, I gave them an open invitation to question everything, to think differently, to dare, and to dream big.
The results have been incredible so far—in less than a month we have over 150 ideas submitted and nearly 400 comments on those ideas. Our team is embracing our new culture and as a result we are finding amazing new solutions to problems. We have shifted from an organization with a fear of failure and have become an Idea-Driven Organization. I couldn't be more proud of this team or how they adopted this new mindset, nor could I be more excited to see what we will build next.