By Cathy McGrane

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of folks debate the merits of strategic versus tactical approaches to success in the federal health care market. I have strong opinions on the topic, based on my experience. I believe there is a balance between having a “living” strategy and dovetailing that with current agency needs. To be successful, you must have the ability to think strategically, be flexible, and move tactically – a tall order! I believe one of the most neglected, but most important ingredient that successful healthcare leaders must embrace is having an “idea culture.”

No one would argue with the fact that health care and health care IT are changing at an accelerated pace, and those changes impact the Federal Health market. Think about some of the very large federal programs that influence the greater U.S. health care market (and vice versa!) – DHMSM, Affordable Care Act, or the potential VA E.H.R. modernization; and all the surrounding opportunities. We have seen changes in VA, HHS, and Defense Health that no one would have predicted even two years ago.

It can feel very difficult to have a “strategy” in a Federal health care environment where quick turn IDIQs like VA T4NG are the norm and political pressures drive action. The work required to be prepared for quick turn IDIQs, to submit winning proposals, to react to agency legislative pressures and changes, to perform well, and to “make the numbers” can be all consuming. It is far too easy to become reactive and not proactive.

Health care is a very exciting market with disruptive technologies and advancements happening every single day. Influences come from the greater health care market: both in the U.S. and globally. Ideas do not have to be grand, sweeping ones, such as acquisitions of companies and I.P., which can be very expensive and sometimes risky. Ideas come from a culture that encourages them, solicits them, and rewards them. Ideas become integral to your funnel; typically about a third of them will produce results, but you must keep them coming. Ideas might come from an interest a client has expressed; a way to enhance a program or engagement you may already be performing on. Ideas might come from your employees as they see a new way to solve an old problem.

Who develops a culture that nurtures ideas?

You can sit down with your client, in contracts that are flexible enough to permit it, and brainstorm about ways to do things differently; new, more efficient, and creative ways to advance the clients’ mission. Take the time to really look outside of your own organization. What are your competitors doing? What technologies and focus areas are emerging? Which organizations have won awards for Innovation and how did they do it? What “contests” might be relevant, such as the VA Blue Button or Health care industry articles can spur new ideas as well. One that I read recently was in the December 2016 Harvard Business Review titled, “Health Care Needs Real Competition” (Leemore S. Dafny and Thomas H. Lee, MD), and it referenced the challenges government and private healthcare leaders must address. How could your team solve some of those challenges?

It is far too easy to become reactive and not proactive.

It has to start at the top, with healthcare leaders who recognize (and are open to) the value this type of culture brings to clients. Often a company depends on the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to be their “Chief of Ideas”. Sometimes, however, the CTO, especially in a large company, has duties that include fixing program challenges or promoting existing offerings and their time for new ideas is limited. Successful leaders in Federal health care find a way to create a culture of ideas – even if that means establishing an ad hoc team that meets regularly about Ideation.

You can use employees, consultants, contests, and outreach to other parts of your own organization to find teams that are doing something great for their health care clients. The key is frequent communication around Ideation and finding a way to incorporate that into your culture to keep the ideas moving. Incorporating ideation into your culture will change it. Your employees will be more engaged, you will attract talent to your organization, and your clients will begin to see you as a better partner.

Finally, let’s not forget the competitive advantages either. When an organization has been shaping ideas with a client and those develop into a need, it can be very difficult for competitors to “catch up”. This is how you can differentiate yourself and save your organization from being a follower; a commodity provider. It also makes work a lot more fun. Make your “Chief(s) of Ideas” an official part of your organization, and watch it grow.


About the Author: Cathy McGrane, formerly the Sales Leader of HP Enterprise Services Federal Healthcare team, is the “Chief of Ideas” at Scout Concepts, who believes organizations must “connect the dots” and take advantage of technological and industry innovation to differentiate in a large, mature market such as Federal Healthcare.

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