Is innovation an activity or impact? Atrium's innovation chief on driving organizational culture

Todd Dunn, vice president of innovation at Atrium Health in Charlotte, N.C., joined the Becker's Healthcare Podcast to discuss his role as an innovation leader and best advice for up-and-coming executives. Mr. Dunn joined Atrium in February after spending more than seven years as an innovation leader at Salt Lake City, Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare.

Here is an excerpt of Mr. Dunn's conversation with Becker's Healthcare Publisher Scott Becker in the podcast. Download the full episode and subscribe to the podcast here.

Q: What would you tell your three children and wife if they asked what innovation means?

Todd Dunn: Really the heart of who we are and the way Gene Woods, our CEO talks about it, is health, hope and healing for all. My role is to develop a system for innovation or ideas that make it easier for someone to experience and deliver healthcare and to make it better. I see innovation as a servant role in the company and I'm here to bring those new ways of thinking and behaving to lift all boats, whether you are a patient or a clinician. I am in a position that makes that work well for everyone.

Q: What are the top three priorities you look at currently?

TD: One of my most important priorities is clarifying the focus of our innovation effort. I don't believe you need a massive innovation team to create a culture of innovation; I think you need one that is extremely focused. The second one is to put a system in place that can drive the culture to be far more consumer-centric and evidence-based throughout innovation. The third one, scaling. The mindset and skillset and tool set of innovation.

Q: What advice do you have for a new chief innovation officer?

TD: Two key pieces of advice; one is in approach. The way I approached it, I had good mentors that helped me think through this, is to truly go understand what the history of innovation has been in your system. What are the good things, what are the bad things, and where do those key alliances in the company fit in their opinions of what Act I looked like. Then interview at least 50 people and ask them the questions: 'How would you describe Act I? How would you describe Act II?'

The reasons I believe that is important is that you'll get a good sense of the impact of innovation, its history and where people are willing to commit going forward and what they want.

The second piece of advice I would say is sit back and ask the question: 'Is innovation an activity in your company or is it an impact in your company and how do you know?' Put a system in place if you don't already have one that creates a scalable language and toolset and behavior expectation and mindset to drive the culture of innovation, much like some of the great consumer organizations do. Act II, in my opinion, needs to ring down the halls; what is your system for driving evidence-based decisions around the time and money we spend toward innovation.

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