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Joy Harken, project development manager in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, tells us why adopting ImproveWell has revolutionised the way they work



‘ImproveWell pushes us forward to be inclusive, to think outside the box, work together and collaborate as a team.’


The challenge

‘Initially, we were working to change the culture of the department. We wanted to figure out how it understood and participated in healthcare innovation in order to solve our biggest challenges. We wanted to find innovative ways to solve our biggest problems such as reducing costs, improving employee culture, excelling and leading in our core missions of delivering superior care delivery, patient outcomes, leadership, education and research.’

Harken and her team were also aware that sometimes great insight can come from people who are slightly removed from the eye of the storm. ‘We can look at the challenges that we face through many different lenses, from many different angles,’ she says. Giving staff the confidence to voice their ideas, and a positive place to record and subsequently develop them was a key motivation in seeking a new way of working.  ‘Our biggest challenge is as a leader is ensuring that we’re listening to our team and that we’re creating opportunities for our team and our staff to participate and be more engaged, because a more engaged workforce is going to have better results,’ Joy continues.

‘ImproveWell is a way to bring everybody together, no matter their role, no matter what position they hold in the department.’

Capturing ideas as they manifest is also crucial. ‘But in an academic health system, who do you tell? Where do you go? Do you keep telling the same administrator all the time – do they even have the bandwidth? Do they have the know-how? Is that their role? Will they be able to do something with the idea?’ In time-poor, stressful environments, it’s also easy to get swept up into getting on with the next job and that means that what could have been a brilliant idea is lost forever. If we could solve that problem, it would be of huge value to us and was really appealing to people.’


The solution

‘I was part of the team working on how to create a culture of innovation in the department. We asked ourselves “How do we create a culture of innovation? What does that even mean? Does this mean lots of meetings?”,’ Joy continues.

‘Where to start? We needed to find a way to continue collecting ideas. It wasn’t feasible to have this big department meet every month, and we needed to be able to record ideas as they appeared. We thought about setting up an email address for people to email their idea to us. So we were having this conversation in a strategy meeting and there was a 4th year resident in the meeting who just said, “I’ll look around and see if I can find anything”.’ That’s when they came across ImproveWell.

‘All of  ImproveWell’s features were exactly what we needed, exactly what we found was missing – and the biggest selling point was the ability to have the app on your phone. It means that in real time a physician could walk out of the OR and think, “You know what, something could have been better about that, I think we should do something differently” and they could pull out their phone and submit an idea in less than a minute.’

‘When you give people an opportunity to come together and bring ideas forward, that’s where you’re going to get projects or ideas that you’d have never thought of otherwise.’ Empowering people to contribute not only solves problems but helps teams feel invested and therefore rewarded.

‘You might have somebody who works in administrative support but they come up with a feasible and impactful idea that will really help on many fronts in regard to care delivery. You may never have thought that they would come up with an idea that would be in an area that they weren’t directly working in, but they see it from a different angle.’


The results

It wasn’t long before significant change was witnessed. ‘We’ve really noticed a positive shift in our team’s engagement since implementing the ImproveWell programme. I didn’t realise it at first, it wasn’t until I started to get the raw numbers that it became an insightful moment. Scores relating to how staff feel about solving our greatest challenges through innovative ideas had increased in some teams by 50% from one year to the next.

‘Having this solution-based mindset really empowers employees to get involved and participate in quality improvement. Our teams are feeling like their voice matters, our teams are feeling like their leaders want to know what can be solved.

‘And then they continue to submit more ideas, because once they know that their ideas are being heard, considered, assessed and collaborated on then they start looking for more things to submit, and they continue that solution-based way of thinking where when a problem arises they don’t just complain about it, they try to find an answer and then they let us know.

‘It’s not an easy thing to change. Culture doesn’t change overnight. And it’s hard to measure it, so when we find examples of data that proves it’s working, then it’s really valuable and it tells us that we’re on the right track.’ And it’s not just about capturing ideas. ImproveWell’s three-pronged approach has two more important strands – a ‘sentiment tracker’ to record mood and wellbeing, and a pulse survey functionality that enables leaders to quickly and efficiently poll staff. ‘We’ve continued to do a lot of surveying, really probing our team, especially now since coronavirus when everybody from the administrative support team is working remotely from home. We continue to ask them how they’re doing, do they have enough resources, do they have enough support, do they have what they need to do their job effectively, are they feeling engaged, are they finding joy in work?’

 ‘I think the change in our whole mindset – that whole culture change – has been profound.’

‘What we have found is that most of our ideas come from frontline staff, and most of the ideas fall into two commonly used themes. One is workplace culture and the other is care delivery. That’s in line with our strategic goals, as a department and as a university, so that lends itself to having leadership support to advancing those ideas that come in.’

The transformative power of sharing ideas and feedback has not been lost on Joy Harkin. ‘ImproveWell allows me to hear from everyone in the department, regardless of their role, about what aspects of our work needs to be improved, what matters to them, and suggestions and solutions for how we can best improve those aspects.’

‘Someone will submit an idea and, nearly every time I’ll think to myself “Oh my goodness, that’s such a great idea” no matter how big or small, how complex or how simplistic it is. I get excited every time I get a notification that another idea has been submitted because I think “Maybe it’s a simple idea that I can implement quickly and I can bring some positive change to a group of people”.


Read more about Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Minnesota

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