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October 25, 2016 Article 2 min read
If you don't innovate and disrupt, your competitors will. Here are four ways to foster a culture of innovation — in spite of the prospect of failure.

We’re living in a world driven by technology and consumerism. Industry norms are constantly changing, and business leaders must be innovative and adopt strategies that embrace disruption — if they don’t, their competitors will.

Disruptive thinking displaces an established course of action. It often creates ground-breaking products that change existing industries or create new ones. At Henry Ford Health System (HFHS), for example, we’re building on a history of disruption and innovation. Henry was far from a shrinking violet — he was a disruptor.

If your organization is successful, it can be hard for leaders to want to change — but this can be a very dangerous way of thinking.

In 1915 the auto icon opened Henry Ford Hospital and hired physicians and surgeons to staff the hospital, contrary to physicians only having private practices at the time. Over the years we’ve continued our culture of innovation: acquiring Health Alliance Plan in the 1980s, hiring a food and beverage executive from the Ritz to open and run a hospital, and more recently, opening the Henry Ford Innovation Institute, which enhances patient care through innovation and creative thinking. These are just a few disruptors that have not only been critical to the success of HFHS, but have moved our industry forward.

But how do you foster a culture of innovation?

Listen and keep an open mind

You need to give people room to innovate and create an environment that encourages staff to step forward and express their ideas. And when a good idea is presented, it needs to be recognized, supported, and rewarded.

The best choice isn't always the easiest

It’s also important to recognize that the disruptive choice is rarely the easy one. If your organization is successful, it can be hard for leaders to want to change — but this can be a very dangerous way of thinking. Innovative and disruptive thinkers bring a tremendous amount of value to any organization, but when they don’t get the support they need, they tend to look for other opportunities.

Engage and support indivduals

As a leader, make it your mission to engage these individuals and be their champions — even if some of their colleagues aren’t. If you believe in staff members and their ideas, help them bring those ideas forward, and show others the value their disruptive input brings. You’ll eventually garner support for change.

Learn from failure

Finally, keep in mind that not every disruptor will result in a significant change, and some promising ideas could fail altogether. Allow room for failure, learn from it, and help others do the same — sometimes failure is the first step in creating something incredible. Never let fear deter disruption.

Guest columnist: Nancy Schlichting

Nancy M. Schlichting is Chief Executive Officer of Henry Ford Health System, a nationally recognized $5 billion healthcare organization with 27,000 employees. She is credited with leading the health system through a dramatic financial turnaround and for award-winning patient safety, customer service, and diversity initiatives.