The Forum

How can you keep innovating during a pandemic? Follow these 3 strategies.

by Vidal Seegobin

The majority of my conversations with health care chief executives over the last two months have gravitated to one common theme: 'In the early stages of the pandemic, we developed new solutions to key problems like bed capacity, staff flexibility and cross-continuum partnership. I want to hold onto those improvements. I want to accelerate them. I don't want us to go backwards.'

Innovation Toolkit: Your step-by-step guide to build an infrastructure for business development

But while leaders seem to share this desire to move forward with innovation, their teams are not as unilaterally supportive. While some teammates are fully on board, motivated by the opportunity to do things differently, others really just want things to go back to the way they were before Covid-19.

Every organisation has a mix of these colleagues. And for executives hoping to move forward with innovation, addressing both sides—those who want to charge into the future and those who want to return to the past—is a necessary, but challenging, step to success.

These three tips can help you thread that needle more easily.

1. Sketch the end of the story

To help communicate what lies ahead, we've been telling our teams that the global coronavirus pandemic 'is a marathon not a sprint.' This framing helps convey both that:

  • We're going to be working under difficult conditions for the foreseeable future; and

  • We need to pace ourselves accordingly—for instance, if a vaccine is our finish line, and we expect that it's still far off, it's crucial to reinforce that we're in this for the long haul.

But if you want your innovations to carry through past the pandemic's end, it's also important to keep in mind what happens once we do hit that finish line—in this case, what happens after the vaccine? Leaders need to start sketching out what that looks like right now. Clearly, there's a lot of uncertainty the further we forecast—but one definite message we can weave into our communications is that 'after the marathon, things are not going to look the same, and we need to be the ones who shape that.'

For more information on why stories are a powerful form of communication—and how to tell one in 90 seconds—read this blog post.

2. Tailor the message for proponents and detractors

Most large organisations and leaders are fully aware that communications should not be one-size-fits all. And now that we're dealing with roughly two camps of staff when it comes to changing the status of our work going forward—the 'proponents' and the 'detractors'—segmenting our messages is even more important.

When it comes to the detractors—who, based on anecdotal evidence, will likely be clinicians—the goal here is not to win them over. Instead, we want to make them 'agnostic' to the change. Specifically, according to our research on system change, the key ingredient to convert resistance to agnosticism is clarity. So take care to explain why we are making this change, what we expect to happen, and how it will impact you.

For more detail, check out our guidance on how to reduce resistance to system change by increasing clarity.

3. Celebrate the wins

That brings us to the—hopefully—invigorating part of innovation work: engaging with energized proponents for change.

The obstacle, in this case, isn't enthusiasm; these are the people who are excited to move forward with innovation. And we've written a lot about how to resource and support innovation in health care organisations over time—see the resources and tools linked at the bottom and throughout this page.

So, what's the key challenge in this cohort at this moment in time? It's navigating all the innovations and improvements that happened on the ground because of the pandemic—and figuring out which to prioritise carrying forward.

Learn more: How to lock in crisis-driven innovation

To help you conduct a more comprehensive inventory of all that great work and celebrate these improvements, we've built a crisis-driven innovation audit.

We developed it from 100+ interviews conducted from March to June, and it captures the most common places organisations around the world innovated during Covid-19.

Download the Guide