President's Message - Baby Steps

by Charlene Hope, PharmD, MS, BCPS, ICHP President
December 12, 2016

Mathieu Mottrie, CEO at CREAX, an innovation consulting and research firm, defines innovation as making changes that add business value, in terms of either revenue growth or increased operational efficiency. This value can be created in four ways: introducing new products; optimizing operational processes; launching new business models; and entering new markets. Based on this definition, hospital/health-system pharmacies are constantly innovating whether it is adding a new drug to the hospital formulary, optimizing the automating dispensing units stocking process, starting a new ambulatory care service or expanding a specialty pharmacy program. To me, there is one word in his definition that is the “innovation-limiting step” – change. And maybe it is more like the fear of change.

“Baby Steps” is a mantra that I often use usually at the time I sense the fear of change starting to makes its way into a team discussion and usually after the team has participated and agreed with moving forward with a process change. It is fairly easy to detect fearful questions because they usually start with what if..? and end with numerous potential unforeseen situations that may or may not be under the control of the team. This is also known as Analysis Paralysis (AP) – overanalyzing a situation to the point where a decision or action is never taken and is thereby “paralyzed” or halted. Our ability to analyze is one of our core strengths and while striving for finding the perfect solution to a problem, we are especially prone to succumbing to AP as pharmacists. But I have found that responding to the what ifs? with my mantra “Baby Steps” often helps break the spell. I still acknowledge the concerns and potential barriers that are expressed by the team; however, I do not allow it to prevent us from taking the first step since it is the first small step that matters. As I was thinking about when I started using this mantra, I realized that there were more connections to be made between baby steps and leading change to innovation.

I am fortunate to be a member of very large extended family. My mom is one of the oldest of nine children and my dad, one of the oldest of a family of eleven. With over 40 first cousins, I have had my share of playing with baby cousins as they were learning how to walk. There is something about the process of learning how to walk. From rolling over, to crawling, standing up, holding on to the nearest chair or couch, to finally taking those first few wobbly independent steps. I think about along the way how parents, siblings and other family members or friends celebrate this journey to the first baby step wins along the way. We don’t wait until the baby is finally walking to cheer them on and shower them with hugs and kisses. It occurs over time by building the baby’s confidence throughout each phase of the process. Contrary to popular belief, innovation is not a once in lifetime light bulb moment. Innovating is about making small informed changes over time, building on small wins until successfully achieving the intended goal.

Most babies also do not walk long distances the first time. It starts with a series of a few confident wobbly steps and falling down over and over again. The most important thing babies do is get back up, and do it again. How many times do we give up on a new process change or project at the first signs of things going south – then abandon it all together? The truth is numerous attempts may be needed over time, addressing issues or barriers as they arise while building confidence. What do parents, siblings and family members do after baby falls down? Check for injuries, calm the crying baby and say a few soothing words of encouragement (slow down, you’re okay, etc.). Being innovative means being resilient and managing the fear associated with change one step at a time.

The next time you want to try an idea at work, consider running a pilot, which can be conducted with one patient, in one nursing area, over one hour, one shift, or one day. Take the baby step; if successful, celebrate and take the next step. Take the next baby step and perhaps this time there may be a wobble or a fall. Identify what went well, address and fix what did not (+/- crying), take a deep breath and take the next step. Who knew that learning to walk could teach us about change and innovation? So, the next time you or your team starts to feel the paralysis of fear creeping in…don’t forget, and repeat after me, “Baby Steps.”

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