More pilots than British Airways…. the downside of ringfenced innovation pots

Oct 29, 2020

Everybody loves a time hop, don’t they? Four years ago, among other awards, Beacon received an award for Best Example of Adoption or Spread of ten High Impact changes. Catchy title, but essentially, we were recognized for a service innovation that transformed how patients would interact with the practice. This innovation was the creation of a new multi-disciplinary team.

Last week, I delivered a talk about how to establish and mature a multi-disciplinary team having influenced national policy here and internationally in between then and now. It was an honor to be involved and to create an environment for the innovation to succeed. What many people do not realize is that the innovation was borne out of a pilot and that it was the only one of four different pilots that were adopted. Within the NHS arena, there is a constant drive for improvement and regular funding for innovation. So much so that I have heard it joked that the NHS has more pilots than British Airways!
So how do you go about scaling and adopting an innovation, shifting from experimental to mainstream seamlessly?
1. Clear intentions and an open mind
We all remember science classes at school and the process of writing up an experiment – problem, hypothesis, method, results, analysis, conclusion. With many short-term innovation pots, bidders are either scrambling quickly to put together a proposal or have a library of potential bids on the shelf waiting for the funding. What both approaches can have in common is that both are often superficial in the detail.
Being clear on the problem that you are looking to solve, the metrics that you expect to see shift and measuring that shift can give you a boost above 40% of other pilots.
The next element – open mind, is about staying curious and observant. What is happening around the experiment? What are early findings reporting back? What needs to adjust? Those implementing the innovation cannot be hands off at this point – active listening and appreciative enquiry are key skills here.
2. Identify return on investment
Especially important if the initial change was funded via grant, but to be shift into mainstream someone must pay. Depending on your operating environment, take time to work out where savings or income come from - either internal or external to the business. Carefully consider the point in time where you will have enough evidence to create a business case so that the pilot can be continued. Often, funders are not willing to commit until the full duration of the project has passed but the best talent will not wait around on that promise. If the funders will not budge use the early figures as promotional material and to test the likelihood of further resources. Establish whether the results are significant in the eyes of the decision maker. Keep warming up your stakeholders so that the final impact makes the project irresistible.
3. Socialise the concept
By socialise, I mean communicate early and often about the pilot within your organisation. Not only does this enable you to explore areas that will be involved if you decide to scale the concept it will also increase the speed of adoption.
The added benefit is that this also signals to the rest of the organisation that you are willing to support pilots and experimentation. When others see that you are trying to solve a problem through innovation, they will be more willing to come forward with suggestions.
This is just as true for pilots that do not get taken forward. There will be learning to come from the pilot and innovation needs an option to fail to take the greatest risks.
4. Normalise the concept
Time to look outside the organisation to customers and stakeholders.
The example that I gave at the start related to a multi-disciplinary team in a healthcare environment. Communication was vital to the success of the pilot. It made the new team more palatable to patients, our customers, because we were in control of the narrative. We focussed heavily on benefits of the solution to the customer and directly commented on safety features which we knew would make the roles more approachable.
We talked openly, borderline evangelical, about the roles and our ambition. This reinforced confidence within the team (improving our chance of success) and signalled to others that we wanted to attract new talent.
And we were happy to share details with other providers.
That might run counter to competitive behaviours in other industries but we wanted to project a vision where this kind of team would become the norm, we wanted to help others to develop their own teams so that more and more patients would see this as a standard. This is just as true in technology – who wanted to be a Betamax rather than VHS?
5. Even in mainstream never let go of the experimental mentality
The goal is not to get the pilot mainstreamed; the goal is to solve the problem.
It is vital that even as the solution is mainstreamed performance is still measured against goals. It is vital that appreciative enquiry is used to understand how it is operating and how it can keep improving. Its easier to retain a sense of agility than it is to instil into an established team.
If you scale a pilot, keep examining to understand the fit in different areas. What needs to be tweaked, as much of the success of an original is the context of the team and the environment, they worked in. That is unlikely to be identical in every other unit of the business. Scale is about repeating success but that is not always about a carbon copy.
If you have scaled, then keep treating the original pilot as a test case. Consider how you shift to maturity to help the other units? What happens when the initial excitement subsides, what activities need to be repeated or amended? How do you keep elevating the offer, perhaps upskilling members of the team? What happens when a team member leaves?
It is easy in any industry to move on to solve the next problem. There are enough tasks on the to do list, but that shift in focus can slow down progress.
You’ve got this!
Every week, we’ll be sending a new topic linked back to honing those billionaire mindset skills: big picture thinking, relentless laser focus, risk taking, leadership and exceptional decision making. If you want to explore and develop your skills in yourself or your team get in touch to book a discovery call.

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