Trinity Health Transformation
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Leading with a Beginner’s Mind to Innovate and Improve Operations at Trinity Health

As we strive to improve personal accountability and ownership and reach for a new standard of excellence, one of the greatest tools we can use to build our ideal future at Trinity Health is to lead with a “Beginner’s Mind.”​

Our new campus gives us a great reset, allowing us to rethink many of our old habitual processes and re-examine if what we’ve always done is the best route to our ultimate goal.

As leaders, we are called upon to set the direction and game plan for our department and key organizational initiatives and our team is looking for us to show them the way forward.

Faced with that need for clarity and direction we may all too easily default to the familiar and proceed with previous methods of doing our work that may no longer be the best way to operate in our new environment.

Though we’ve made it to the peak and opened our new campus, let us keep our adventurer’s heart and continue to approach this next stage of growth with a willingness to innovate, explore, and unlock our creativity to find an even better way forward.

The Beginner’s Mind

From the beginning of our Leadership Quest, we set our four key focuses of a leader to distill everything we must do to successfully lead our teams and impact our patients and communities: instilling personal resilience, increasing employee engagement, improving the patient experience, and inspiring operational innovation.

 We set the challenge to embrace a quest mindset where we took agency of what is happening and believed the best was yet to come. And, we committed to building a culture of continuous improvement where we are always seeking to discover and implement a better way of doing things.

In order to make those improvements and continually elevate our care and service to our patients and employees, we can approach every leadership challenge with a beginner’s mind.

A beginner’s mind is adopting a temporary suspension of everything we think must happen in a given situation and having a willingness to bring fresh eyes to what we do.

The beginner’s mind allows us to take a step back from any challenge we face and question the status quo, re-examine previously held assumptions, and explore new possibilities about what could be done.

Though our years of experience and qualifications are a great service in our role as leaders, the beginner’s mind asks us to temporarily set aside any staunch commitment to what must be done, look under the hood of deeply held theories, and ask questions like:

What if we started over, would we do this the exact same way?
What if my assumptions are wrong, despite the best evidence at hand?
What if the perfect way of the past is no longer relevant or appropriate to move us forward?
What if we had a magic wand and could do this any way we wanted? How would it get done?
What if criticism we’ve received in the past has merit? How would we update our approach?

Taking the time to ask these questions when launching a new project or initiative can help us take exponential leaps forward to improve our work and delivery of care.

This open mind and willingness to see a better way can help us become more efficient, decrease costs, streamline workflows, and become more innovative.

Five Skills of Innovators

Innovation does not have to be a scary or hard to approach skill.

We don’t have to be a patent inventor or mad scientist to radically improve the quality of care, access to our services, efficiency, or the experience of our patients. We simply have to leverage the power of our team and allow ourselves to explore the better way.

To increase our capacity to innovate and open our minds to what’s possible, here are five skills of disruptive innovators we can use to improve every process and outcome:

1) Questioning:
With our beginner’s mind activated, we can begin to ask probing questions about every process and activity and dig deeper to uncover why we’ve always used this approach, how it could get better, and what we could do differently.

This skill allows us to take even the best functioning system and continue to make improvements. How could this be even better? Where could we connect deeper with our patients and employees? How can we deliver an even bigger wow result?

2) Observing: In order to begin to improve our processes, we have to be deeply in tune to what it is we currently do. Great leaders and innovators are masters at studying their environment and seeing how care is delivered, how patients respond, where there are gaps in the workflow, and were things seem to get held up.

This skill is mastered by simply having the eyes to see. It’s noticing the world around us and catching nuances others may miss.

3) Networking: Networking is key to innovation as it allows us to reach out to others with different perspectives and make unsuspecting connections that can help us get closer to our desired result.

October Roundtable speaker and Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Thomas Graham explains it best noting that we may have a lock on our campus that another health system or department in our organization may have the key to, and vice versa! When we keep in contact with other industry leaders, we can help to solve problems much more rapidly by leveraging our collective experiences and knowledge.

4) Experimenting: Every inventor and innovator has had to try and test many prototypes and variations to get to the ultimate solution. Lightbulb inventor Thomas Edison notoriously had to find 9,999 ways that “didn’t work” before he happened upon the 1 perfect idea, his ten thousandth iteration that led him to the light.

Even in our departments, we must be willing to test and try new methods and processes to not only get to the best idea, but to continue to practice and improve our approach and master implementation of our new way.

5) Associational Thinking: Innovation and finding the better way happens best at the intersection of knowledge domains. Grand new solutions are developed when we take what we know from one discipline and see potential for cross-pollinating concepts into other fields.

Great leaders and innovators can make connections between seemingly diverse topics and find ways to try a new approach through unlikely associations.

Putting it to Work

As leaders, we have the power to lead our departments, teams, and the entire Trinity Health organization into the new frontier of exceptional patient care, high employee engagement, and deep community impact.

To continue to push our edge and create an environment rich in personal and professional excellence, we must simply begin with a beginner’s mind. With a fresh and open perspective, willing to explore how else we could iterate and improve to continue “Making More Possible,” we can lead the way and become incredibly innovative.

Spend some time building these skills and try beginning your next project kickoff meeting with a few minutes of beginner’s mind exploration, allowing a chance for observing what is and isn’t working, questioning the status quo, networking with colleagues to uncover new ideas, experimenting with a new way, and creating associations and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.

YOU ARE AN INNOVATOR, and you do have what it takes to help us continually improve and adopt a better way.

(References: Deloitte, Innovator’s DNA)


LEADER-TO-LEADER: What would a great leader do?I

mplementing great ideas and enacting innovative thinking requires us to keep open communication with our teams and use our 1:1 check in times to iterate where necessary and adjust to adopt the new way.

We can maximize our time with our leaders and direct reports by using the beginner’s mind approach and the skills of great innovators, especially questioning, observing, associational thinking, and experimenting.

Great questions are key to helping us create widespread acceptance for new policies and practices and observing the questions we routinely ask can help reveal a lot about our leadership and the current state of our organization.

The questions we repeatedly ask help reveal and reinforce our values and reinforce behavior in our teams. If we say we value service, exceptional patient care, great communication, and the personal touch, yet we only ask about numbers and data, we’ve failed to capture stories around our key values and will be failing to emphasize those goals as important to the organization.

Think back about what you’re consistently asking your team and reassess if you’re asking the right questions.

If you’re stuck in any challenge or situation and unsure how to take the next step or what to do to lead your team toward the intended result, try asking yourself “What would a great leader do?”

Leadership speaker and author Andy Stanley recommends this key question for all leaders for several reasons:

-When there is high emotion, this question can help us zoom out to a more unbiased perspective, begin to think from a broader view, and act in a way that’s better long term. Many times, we will me more at ease with the result and be more pleased with our decision for action when we chose from this more rational perspective.

-This question can reveal our deeper motive. At times, our personal ambition can cause us to steer our teams toward what most engages our interest, rather than what’s best for all. Asking what would a great leader do helps us remember that personal sacrifice and service to something greater are key to leading meaningfully.

-It also reveals our personal weakness as leaders and where we have room to grow. We may find that we have recurring habits and patterns that may cause difficulties for our teams. If we ask what a great leader would do, we can prevent getting hung up on our faults and build up our skills around where we tend to fall short.

-It helps us raise the bar. Ultimately, we are here to continue to raise our standard of excellence and deliver ever more exceptional service to our patients and teams. When we put the greats in our view and ask what they would do, we are lifted higher and can achieve more lasting impact even faster.


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