Social Innovation

Innovating with Purpose: Moving Beyond Semantic Saturation

By: Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH

This is the second in a series of blogs describing the Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health’s journey to cultivating and nurturing a culture of social innovation.  

I am excited to lead a multi-disciplinary team from Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health charged with cultivating and nurturing a culture of innovation that empowers our team members to innovate with purpose.

Our goal in better defining our approach is to help ourselves and our co-workers avoid semantic saturation, which I described in my previous post. In that initial post, I highlighted an experience at a conference where speakers said the word “innovation” 204 times in one afternoon. Also in that initial blog, I detailed the work my team is doing to nurture a culture of innovation. Now, in this second blog, I’ll explain what we did to prevent semantic saturation and support a culture of innovation within the Office that extends into Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

Read the first post in this series: Innovating With Purpose: Semantic Saturation

When I recently Googled “culture of innovation,” 343,000,000 results populated in .39 seconds. A quick review of the first few pages of results makes creating a culture of innovation seem like a simple process that is achievable in three, five, seven, or 10 steps. While I do not have the exact numbers, I remember having a similar feeling of astonishment as I prepared for our first innovation team meeting in February 2018, and uneasiness regarding how simple the process appeared to be.

The goal of our first meeting was to brainstorm and develop an action plan that would guide our work for the first year. In preparation for our meeting, I asked the team to do some preliminary research regarding culture of innovation.

While what we read was helpful and informed our thinking, none of the resources really spoke to the depth of engagement we agreed was necessary to accomplish the culture of innovation our team desired. During our first meeting, the team agreed we did not want to define and operationalize Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health’s (the Office) culture of innovation in isolation. Leadership in the Office established innovation as a key priority by articulating its importance in both the mission and business strategies of the Office, but we had yet to operationalize the innovation framework, goals, and strategies. Our team hypothesized that in order for the culture of innovation work to be meaningful and sustainable, we needed to engage program leaders and team members. However, we struggled to find resources and strategies describing how to do that effectively and efficiently.

During an online master class titled Innovation Leader – Tactics and Timelines for Changing Culture, facilitators Gary Getz and Michael van Hove confirmed our assumptions. They defined culture as values and beliefs reflected in behavior and action. They also shared strategies to stimulate new behaviors, highlighted common shortcomings with culture of innovation efforts, offered strategies to overcome cultural barriers, and shared how to align systems and processes with ways of thinking. In order to create a meaningful and sustainable culture of innovation, we learned the importance of understanding:

  • The model in which team members are successful in our organization.
  • The degree to which it is acceptable to challenge what is commonly accepted.
  • How collaboration is happening across organizational boundaries.
  • The extent to which leaders celebrate and reward smart failures and rapid learning.
  • The behaviors the institution, the Office, and our respective programs reward and discourage.
  • How leaders engage with team members.

The team decided to deploy what we describe as a top-down, bottom-up strategy to nurture a culture of innovation. In the top-down portion of our approach, leadership within the Office continues to reinforce that innovation is a priority with program leaders and team members. In the bottom-up portion of our approach, we meaningfully engage program leaders and team members and give them a voice in how the Office defines, operationalizes, and supports a culture of innovation.

We then decided to focus our attention on engaging program leaders and team members. As described above, we started the year off by reviewing what resources existed for culture of innovation. After watching the webinar facilitated by Innovation Leader, we expanded our purview to include resources regarding culture transformation and employee engagement, and began developing a strategy to engage program leaders and team members in partnership with Connecticut Children’s Human Resources Department.

Learn more about Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program.

We originally intended to draft a culture of innovation definition in collaboration with Office leadership, and then solicit feedback from program leaders and team members. Instead, we decided deploy a multi-pronged strategy to solicit buy-in regarding the importance of nurturing a culture of innovation; understand what innovation means to program leaders and team members; understand what resources teams have access to that would enable them to participate in the culture of innovation; and identify what resources we need to secure.

Over the course of the spring and summer 2018, we:

  • Shared our strategy with program leaders and asked them to 1) highlight the importance of our work with their team and 2) support their team members’ participation in our efforts.
  • Presented the goals of our group and opportunities for program leaders and team members to participate at program staff meetings.
  • Conducted 18 stakeholder interviews with 21 program leaders and supervisors.
  • Conducted three engagement and innovation forums with program team members.

We learned a tremendous amount from program leaders and team members during our stakeholder interviews and forums. We worked together to identify trends and key themes while digesting and synthesizing the information.

Later in this series, I will share more on what we learned during this process and how it informed our work going forward. I will also share our new culture of innovation definition as well as more on how this exploration process helped inform that. I’ll also highlight successes and lessons learned from our partnership with another organization launching a similar process to nurture a culture of innovation.

Read additional Social Innovation blogs here.

Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH, is the program manager for Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program.

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