Ideas for Innovation

Ideas for Innovation Podcast

Ideas for Innovation

David Foltz Innovation – Cosmic Soup

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Cynthia: Welcome, everybody, back to Cosmic Soup.

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Cynthia: This is a podcast that covers everything around successful aging, positive aging, and we help provide innovative and interesting ideas for communities who serve the aging population.

Speaking of innovation, I have Randi Saeter, the Vice President of 3rdPlus. She is the Vice President of Health Services. And I also have Dave Foltz, a brand new addition to 3rdPlus. He is also a community coach with a wide variety of disciplines, but I’m calling him the Culture Coach.

Dave and Randi, welcome.

David: Thank you.

Randi: Thank you.

Cynthia: Talking about innovation, I’m an innovation junky. I love new ideas. I love trying things. I love testing.

When it comes to community life, Randi, you’ve played many roles. You’re a registered dietitian. You’ve been an executive director and a licensed health administrator and, not to brag, but you’re also an MBA. So, I’m guessing that you have a lot of experience helping teams to be innovative.

Randi: Well, to a certain extent, yeah, absolutely. I think that we never stop learning, and that’s usually my philosophy is that we always can do something different. We can always do something better. Don’t get stuck in the status quo.

In my experience, I think it was a few years back when most communities started implementing their electronic health record systems, and it was actually fun to be part of an implementation, actually a planning session, evaluating different platforms, and then selecting something that could benefit the community.

It is innovative. Well, at least it was at that time. Trying to come up with something then that can improve the daily, the day-to-day for nursing staff, for all the different departments in terms of entering resident data and documenting everything that was going on with the residents. That was something that I was very excited about and that we were successful in implementing at that time.

Cynthia: Dave, you’ve told me some interesting stories and perspectives, stories around innovation and what can hamper innovation in an organization. Tell us that story.

Granted, forewarning, this has to do with fleas.

David: [Laughter] Yes, you know I guess the way I would put innovation, at least in my belief, is there are those innovative ideas that are grand and glorious like the laptop computer. That was an innovative idea someone came up with because they couldn’t haul around their computer every day. Obviously, it was a grand and glorious innovation to the whole industry.

I’d like to talk a little bit about that culture within an organization about innovation because, if you truly have an organization that is driven by the culture within the organization as an innovative culture, then you can allow people to do even the smallest things. It’s that form you’ve had for years that nobody uses because it doesn’t work really well for you, so somebody grabs it, changes it a little bit, and whoa, low and behold, it is a great tool now to use with a lot of different things.

To me, that’s very similar to the flea training. It’s interesting because, if you look it up, it used to be that there were a lot of flea circuses out there in the early years, and people would train fleas to do acrobatics and so forth. And to train fleas, you need to keep the fleas. So, if you have fleas, everybody knows fleas jump all over the place.

Well, if you have a jar full of fleas, you have them in that jar, and you remove the lid, well, they’re going to jump out. Right? Not necessarily because what happens is if you are training those fleas, you keep that lid on, and those fleas jump as far as that lid goes.

It jumps, and they hit their heads on that lid. And, after a little while, those fleas will jump almost to the lid because who wants to jump up and hit their head on the lid, so they learn not to jump as high as the lid. What’s even more interesting about this whole thing is if those fleas have baby fleas, those baby fleas will not jump any higher than that lid either.

What we do in organizations is we put the lid on. We don’t allow our employees the creativity and the innovation to come up with new ideas because we’ve put the lid on them. We haven’t allowed them to get creative and be better employees and create better systems and create better ideas. Even some of the smallest ideas can metamorphose into a huge, big, new program that can then create great customer satisfaction and great resident satisfaction.

Cynthia: The flea story is so interesting, and I think it’s true. We’ve all worked in organizations where you kind of feel like maybe I can’t share an idea because I might be judged or people don’t want to hear it.

I learned so much from people, especially within organizations, as we go into perform focus groups. We just ask questions. The answers are almost always within the community. The people in the community have the answers, and they have really good ideas about how things can be better.

I think, to me, some of the fear around innovation, like the fear of failure, is probably one of the causes that prevents companies or communities from trying new things. What else might prevent them from doing that?

Randi: I think it’s also the financial aspect, so a lot of times ideas get shut down because there’s a fear of it costing too much. I typically say, “Well, why don’t we propose to see how this can be done, and then let’s worry about the money later on,” because typically then when you brainstorm, you come up with ideas that may not be very costly. So, if you don’t talk about it, if you don’t brainstorm about it, then you’re not going to get anywhere, so I think that’s one of the first steps.

David: I agree, Randi. The money tends to control things in organizations.

But the way I would look at also, too, is this. If you allow the person that comes up with the idea to be a part of that research to see if the money is going to be an issue, then what you’re doing is you’re allowing that person to be creative. They will then put their own limitations on things because they’re learning from you on how much they can spend and whether the resources are going to be there, or whether the idea is going to create enough resources to pay for it.

But if you don’t involve them, and you don’t allow them to be a part of it, then what you’re doing is you’re just putting the lid on. You’re putting the lid on them and keeping them down there where you can control them in that jar and not allowing them to go any farther.

Cynthia: Yeah. I think that there’s a lot of generosity in leaders who open up leadership to involve the whole team and allow team members to have the good ideas or great ideas. And I think saying the word yes is such a positive thing, so if people have an idea, say, “Yeah, let’s explore that. Let’s go deeper with that. Let’s talk about it.”

Having sessions that are dedicated to brainstorming with employees. I think employees appreciate it. They feel heard. It allows them to be creative.

There’s certainly a distinction. There’s a quote, I think, that says creativity is thinking up new things, so be creative. Innovation is doing them, so it’s completely safe to brainstorm and be creative, realizing that you may never do all of those things. But then you can determine what are the things that you want to try and do.

David: Yeah, I would agree. I think a company that comes to mind for me that is very, very innovative and that’s 3M. You know they require each employee to spend a certain percentage of their day on thinking about and trying to create new items.

That is just setting the culture. That’s designing the culture of innovation, and what it does, it creates different things.

You see all the new products come out from 3M all the time. That’s where they come from. They come from that clerk or that person that’s really working towards that other task.

Cynthia: I love that.

Dave, here’s a question. Let’s say that there’s a community out there and maybe, over time, they’ve kind of gotten into a rut. People don’t feel very involved. There’s not a lot of creativity or innovation going on. Kind of following that “It’s always been done this way” kind of mentality. How would you help them to shift? What could they do to change that direction?

David: Well, I think the key part of that is going to be the fact that it can’t happen overnight, but it’s got to be a total dedication of upper management (wherever that upper management is, whether it’s in the organization or whether it’s in the communities itself). It’s got to be a dedication to allowing staff to have input and allowing staff to come up with creative things.

If you buy into some of those things, even if maybe at first some of those aren’t going to be as profitable as you would want but they’re a good idea, then slowly it’ll create the environment and the culture of innovation.

Innovation takes a long time to get through and to really build within an organization. But it also takes a very short time to squelch it because all you have to do is put the lid on.

Cynthia: Yeah. Randi, what about you? In health services, say, as a licensed administrator – and you go into different health service environments – what have you seen that was innovative or not innovative, and how have you seen change affected to the positive?

Randi: Well, I think that a lot of it has to do recently with COVID and how some companies just accepted the fact that they needed to upgrade their technology. They needed to upgrade and improve on systems. Anywhere from having a disinfectant type of a machine, to protocols being updated to the check-in being improved in order then to make everything safe, number one. But also, to make it easier for staff and residents.

That’s what I’ve recently seen, and it’s just that level of acceptance from leadership that they’re not going to just sit and wait for instructions. They take it head-on, they go with it, and they make change ASAP. I think that’s really impressive, and I think that’s what needs to be done in order then to just maintain the level of service for those that they serve.

Cynthia: Yeah. COVID was a huge lesson. [Laughter]

David: Well, I think that’s a great, great point. COVID really brought out either those organizations were innovative or they weren’t. Those that weren’t are now suffering with large vacancies, and those that were are not.

The reason for that is those that were innovative created new and innovative ways to deal with the things they had to deal with. There were new things every single day coming down from the state. But it was the way we dealt with them and the innovative styles that we dealt with those kinds of things that created the positive feelings from our staff and from our residents and from our future residents.

It’s the innovation that keeps people excited and keeps things fresh. With COVID coming, oh, that had a tremendous, tremendous negative approach on some of those organizations out there that were not very innovative.

Cynthia: Yeah. Just on the marketing side (when COVID first happened), as a team at the agency, we immediately huddled. We were like, “Okay. This is a big deal,” because a lot of our marketing depends on events that are in person, so that’s how we generate qualified leads. Not only that, but community living, as we all know, got stigmatized through the beginning of the pandemic.

What I noticed is some of our clients were really excited when we showed them some new ideas, like, “Okay, well, we can’t have events anymore. What else can we do to convert traffic to leads and get interest and have tours?”

They adopted it, and they, despite COVID, were filling up and became full during the pandemic. Now, they’re building their waiting lists.

Now, on the other side of that, there were some organizations who would have an attitude that, “No, nobody is going to attend a webinar. That’s just not going to happen,” or they just were not willing to go out on a limb and trying things.

Of course, they didn’t convert residents because we needed to think differently. That is absolutely true that COVID was a huge lesson on innovation and the value of it.

How about each of us give two of our ideas? If we had a community, and we wanted it to be more innovative, what are two things that each of us would do if we were the leader of that organization? Let’s start with you, Randi.

Randi: Well, I think that we have to be more innovative when it comes to workforce. I think that we really, really need to look at not just how to recruit new staff but how can we work a lot more smarter, too, within our communities and what we have in terms of staffing.

I think, in a lot of places, we just think we don’t have the bandwidth, but we actually do (if we just look into it more closely). I think that’s what I would do in a community today is to get everyone together and to brainstorm and collaborate on how we can make things work with what we already have.

At the same time, of course, we always need to hire staff. But then let’s look at ways to be a little bit more smart when it comes to recruitment too. That’s what I would do.

Cynthia: Great. How about you, Dave?

David: Well, I think that the balance right now is – for those organizations that, occupancy-wise, are struggling, the balance is—

Everybody always looks at, “Okay, how can we cut expenses because we don’t have the occupancy and we have these high FTE rates and so forth?” I think what you have to do, more than anything, is look at all aspects of it.

I’ve always been one that has been a push from the executive director level that you put together a good marketing plan. Put together a good plan for operations. Then you work your plan.

Don’t let the little things that happen every single day – that person that then decides, “No, I don’t want to move into your building,” or whatever – you don’t let those things affect you. You continue to work your plan. I think if you set up innovation as the culture of your organization, then you’re going to end up with a lot of different ideas and things that you can try to just either cut cost, cut FTEs, or to move people in.

I’ll give you an example of a marketing director that I had that she said, “Hey, wait a minute. You know we can’t do tours. We can’t bring people into the building. We can’t do all of this stuff. How am I going to get people to the building and see the building with COVID going on?”

Well, it was very simple to her. If they could come to the building and at least drive by and have her shake their hand and tell them how much she was glad to see them, then that was great. So, what she did was she decided that she was going to hand out pizzas, and pizzas was what it was all about.

She’d take out an empty pizza box to all of her referral sources and to some of those residents that were thinking about moving in. And then, on their way home (on a particular night), they came by and they got that pizza box filled.

We gave them a you-bake pizza that then they could come. They got the opportunity to come to the building, but they also had the opportunity to see us, to meet us, to know what kind of people we were. Even though we were hidden behind masks, we were out there having fun with her and those people that drove by to get their pizzas.

It’s an innovative idea that creates the culture of innovation, and everybody was behind it. You have to do that.

Staffing is important, and it’s a great struggle that we’re dealing with right now, so be innovative about it.

Cost control is the same way, so you have to be innovative about how to do it. And marketing, so you have to use innovation to make you successful.

Cynthia: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, my idea is, here at the agency at 3rdPlus, we have 3rdsty Thursday. It’s a time when somebody has the lead. They can talk about anything they want to talk about.

We used to, when we were in person, have cocktails, but now we work remotely, so we’re not together as much anymore. It’s just a time when we all share ideas, and we talk about them, and we spend some informal time.

Derek, our creative director, is an improv actor, and he has really taught us all the “Yes, and” method of when you’re talking and you’re brainstorming. The word no doesn’t go into a brainstorming session. It’s always “Yes, and…” or “Yes, and maybe this,” or “Yes, and maybe that.”

I think that getting teams and groups together for informal brainstorming and then unstructured brainstorming is really, really positive.

When both of you were talking, I thought of this book. I really want to read it. Frankly, I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard a review on it: The Messy Middle: Find Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture.

Dave, when you were talking about if you’re trying something new in marketing and somebody decides they don’t want to move into your building, don’t get hung up on it. Keep moving forward.

What I think is really helpful for organizations to remember is you could possibly be in the messy middle because when people look at really successful companies like Apple, there was a bunch of mess in the middle before they became one of the most successful companies in our history, but nobody really talks about that as much. They only see the success.

Just realize if you’re struggling with occupancy or workforce or culinary – whatever it is – you’re probably just in the messy middle and you’re going to come out on the other end. But you just have to stay focused and keep going forward every day, every day, every day. Don’t get hung up on the little things that are going to pop up.

Is there anything else about innovation that we want to wrap up this episode with, Randi and Dave?

David: I think that, just to wrap up from my standpoint, is that you can’t operate a business without it. You’ve got to create some way to make innovation a part of your culture because, if you are, then you’re always going to be doing things the same way.

There’s an old line in a movie, “We’ve done it this way for a thousand years. We’ll do it for a thousand more.” Let me tell you; you cannot operate a business that way. You have to be creative, and you have to be innovative.

Randi: I’d like to echo the same thing. The saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is not a good saying because you have to continue to move forward with innovation.

Like you said with Apple, too. There’s going to be failure, and that’s okay. You pick yourself up, and you move forward. You’ll be so glad that you did (in the future when your organization is aligned and is top-notch because of it).

I totally agree. You must not have fear. You must have a passion for making things better and for being, again, top-notch.

Cynthia: Amen. Let’s just have wrap up. Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, he said, “The heart and soul of the company is creativity and innovation,” and I think the heart and soul of every community should be creativity and innovation, along with care.

All of you out there, senior living communities, we’re behind you. Give us a call if you need anything. We’re happy just to talk. We love what you’re doing, and kudos to all of you for providing our elders with better lives.

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Cynthia: Randi and Dave, thank you so much for being here today. I really respect your professional knowledge. I love you both as people. I really appreciate you talking about innovation with the audience.

David: Thank you for inviting us.

Randi: Yes. Thank you so much for having us today.

Cynthia: There we go, another episode of Cosmic Soup.

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