How to Engage Staff in Innovation/Simulation at Your Organization
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How to Engage Staff in Innovation/Simulation at Your Organization

By Hella Ewing, MSM, RN, Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President for Patient Care

Hella Ewing, MSM, RN, Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President for Patient Care

As an administrator and chief nurse at a pediatric hospital, I am always looking for ways to increase efficiencies, optimize processes, and improve the learning environment for both our staff and families. Creating an environment that supports all these activities is key, but it is so much more than bricks and mortar. There are key steps an organization must take to create an environment that supports inquisitive minds and creative problem solvers. Here are some tips for engaging leadership and frontline team members.

Provide the right environment to innovate

It’s not the square footage of a room that invites innovation – it’s the atmosphere. I have visited many hospitals with a dedicated innovative space for their staff, but those succeeding in creative problem-solving had a distinct feel. The more successful spaces have good light, a more casual feel and separate areas to collaborate. The classroom setting just isn’t engaging to staff. These centers are for exploring and asking, and staff need the freedom to try and fail. Having tools and equipment like 3D printers is helpful, but not necessary. Providing staff with a place to generate ideas – and test them – is the most important feature of any innovation center. Consider partnering with your simulation lab to allow your team to test their ideas.

Create an infrastructure that allows access to the environment

The best way to engage your staff in the innovation process is to remember you are a 24/7 operation. You must accommodate the staff who only work nights and weekends, and if you have only a handful of weekday staff to run equipment in the simulation center you will encounter bottlenecks. Therefore, consider creating experts throughout your organization who can help facilitate far beyond normal working hours. Creativity does not carry a Monday through Friday timestamp.

Give them permission to think BIG

Leave your badge at the door. In my experience, frontline staff rarely challenges an idea that is generated by a leader. That’s why it important to level the playing field when entering the innovation arena. Additionally, eliminate words like ‘can’t/too expensive/dumb idea.’ Instead, encourage staff to focus on the what if. What if my lines were never tangled on a patient coming back to the ICU from surgery? What if I could finish my charting by the end of my scheduled day? What if a family never had to wait more than a week to see a specialist? The culture and environment should lend itself to finding solutions, not just defining a problem.

Failure must be a prerequisite

Make failure part of the fabric of any innovation/simulation center. This is foundational to engaging staff and sustaining a creative environment. It’s important to remind your team that every idea should have failed attempts when it comes to building solutions. A true solution should have been tested and rewritten many times over. To keep a positive focus on the trial and error aspect of innovation, consider keeping a list of what your team has tried, instead of recording failures only. Above all, it is crucial that you as a leader and as an organization are accepting of failures – as long as they lead to productivity and growth.

"Investing in innovation and simulation within your organization is key to the sustainability of that organization. The added benefit, when done right, is increased engagement by your frontline staff and real solutions to everyday problems"

Motivate leaders to become innovators

As leaders, it is important that we understand the value of creative problem solving without dampening the innovation process. Recently, I was able to roleplay with my own staff, and I challenged them to create solutions to address improvements in patient care. I gave them free range on issues and a tight deadline. The teams not only came up with creative ideas, they also walked away with a deeper appreciation and a sense of ownership in their organization. It is important that your leaders or peers model the creative energy it takes to be an innovative facility. That being said, innovation without strategy is not productive to an organization. Therefore, it is up to the leaders to vet and prioritize all solutions, and make sure they meet your organization’s business strategy. No idea is too big or too small, but they may not all have the same implementation timeline.

External partnership

Don’t limit yourself by relyingexclusively on internal expertise. Look for non-medical experts in your community to help develop your ideas. Many educational institutes need projects to fulfill course curriculum criteria. Consider utilizing community and national partners in development of prototypes.Engage a family advisory council and invite community stakeholders to work on an issue that affects the community at large. Our mission as health care providers is to improve the health of our communities, and we cannot achieve that without being involved in the community we serve. Building these partnerships helps us keep a pulse on the state of our population, as well as the latest in technology and processes.

Investing in innovation and simulation within your organizationis key to the sustainability of that organization. The added benefit, when done right, is increased engagement by your frontline staff and real solutions to everyday problems. As leaders, we create the environment and tone that promotes the culture of innovation, and we are also responsible for implementing new ideas in a way that best serves our organization. Remember to support the risktaker, to encourage the dreamer, and to never be afraid of failure.

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