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on a positive impact

Innovative Leaders Drive the Path to Health

ByBen Davies, EMEA Lead, Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact

In my many years working with organizations trying to solve the world’s toughest health challenges, I’ve found that innovative leaders are the ones who drive the biggest changes and show us that we really can achieve more than we ever thought was possible. In my experience, these leaders stand out because of the following

1. They bring key stakeholders together to co-create solutions
2. They remain agile to respond quickly and thoughtfully to the changes they see happening around them
3. They apply systems thinking to assess all the factors influencing a situation, how they are interconnected, and propose solutions that address the situation as a whole rather than piece by piece

In recognition of the importance we place on investing in innovative health leaders in our programs, we’ve dedicated this month’s 10 Years of Trust campaign theme to exploring this topic. To further uncover the impact of these leadership skills, I connected with two leaders on the front lines of health to find out how Johnson & Johnson leadership programs have helped them develop their innovation skills to rethink their approaches to health.

Stefan Vlachos, Head of the Center for Innovation at Karolinska University Hospital, completed the Innovating Health for Tomorrow course in 2014. Stefan leads an integrated innovation team at Karolinska University Hospital.

BD: In what ways has co-creation added value to your organization?

Stefan: As a leader of innovation work, you have to be the chief “experiment” officer, rather than the chief decision maker, and you can only do that by getting a lot of different eyes on an issue. The people I bring together come from a variety of backgrounds, both inside and outside of healthcare. We are connected with people across the Stockholm County healthcare system, academia, patient organizations, and of course, our patients themselves, and we all bring our different experiences, perspectives, and networks to our work. Any of these relationships can be activated when the need arises.

Jane: I started Beacon of Hope in 2002 to lift up women who have been affected by HIV/AIDS across Kenya. As I continue to grow as a mentor and coach to my employees, I’m learning how to empower my team to co-create, speak up, and share their ideas. For example, as part of our strategic planning this year, I gave all of our employees an opportunity to weigh in. As a group, they decided they wanted to increase our number of yearly medical missions from five to 95, and this past February alone, they conducted seven missions! By challenging my team to collaborate meaningfully and intentionally, they were much more engaged in co-creating new ideas and developed a sense of ownership over programs that are now improving our entire organization and the women we serve. 

BD: In the ever-changing healthcare landscape, why is it important to be agile? How have you changed your leadership approach to reflect this?

Stefan: In the innovation and health technology space, it’s important to be agile because you’re always working under uncertainty. You might not have all your metrics, and you might not even know what to measure. More recently, I’ve learned to be more comfortable embracing the uncertainty. Knowing I don’t know all the answers makes it easier to experiment and say “well, let’s go ahead and try it.” Then we gain knowledge and can make decisions based on tested, real-world experimentation.

Jane: If you don’t change, you perish. If I want to challenge my team to transform our organization and our health system, I, too, need to be flexible and agile. When I visited India, I saw how one hospital used technology to bring care to the community. I wanted to bring their approach back to Beacon of Hope, but it was a very daunting task. Then I attended STICH, where I met so many people who were also employing similar approaches and trying do things differently at their own organization. This gave me the courage and confidence to put together a pilot program using iPads and cellphones to share vital health education with harder-to-reach communities. The Kenyan Ministry of Health has even agreed to be a partner in scaling up this project across our county!

BD: Applying systems thinking, seeing how many factors interact to influence a situation, can seem like a daunting task. When have you introduced systems thinking to your organization and what was the outcome?

Stefan: Systems thinking is absolutely crucial to how we reform health care systems because there are so many partners that need to collaborate to gain the best results for patients. Many people focus just on making changes for their one department, forgetting how this impacts another. For example, when we work with heart failure patients, many different doctors need to get involved, from the heart clinic to the ER. Our innovation team assessed that there was a mismatch between how patients wanted to receive care versus how we were providing care. The departments then created new procedures that enhanced collaboration and adjusted to the patients’ needs. By taking a look at the big picture, we were able to hone in on one issue and implement one change within the heart clinic. As a result, we saw the number of ER heart patients go down by half.

Jane: From the health services provided to the drugs being dispensed, not everything was being captured by our IT management system, and as a result, we had inefficiencies that impacted our ability to deliver the best patient care. Applying systems thinking, our team rethought the flow of our management processes and streamlined our training procedures so we could close these gaps. Now, each of our 15 departments work with each other to conduct routine monitoring and evaluation, and we’re operating more like one true ecosystem.