Innovation and real culture change at HHS in Washington

Health and Human Services is the federal department that plays an increasing role in our lives regarding better and better healthcare.

They're a large organization, over 68,000 people, a lot like any big company, needing to change their culture, the way they work. The theme is that the rank and file knows what's going on and how to work better, and now we have the technology to get all that and make it real.

The hard part is making this the normal and usual way the organziation works. After smart suggestions are made, the boss needs to commit to making the improvements happen, and then ... the organization must repeat the listening and action cycle forever.

The big culture change is that this becomes the expected and normal way of doing things. (It's the organizational version of "rinse, lather, repeat.") (Yes, I'm not as funny as I think I am.)

I'm not doing this justice, but it's really a big step toward fixing Washington by learning from the private sector.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is also a really big deal in this regard, and has already been successful, with more to come.

HHS is focusing a little differently, being very explicit at telling its teams that this is real and the way things are going to happen. Even better, the deal is to find proven innovation and to replicate and scale it up.

HHSinnovates is an awards program that helps recognize and reward new approaches to fulfilling our mission that are developed by HHS employees. Equally important, it provides a platform for sharing innovations across the 300-plus programs in our Department. It recognizes successful innovations - and it’s even meant to recognize innovative ideas that don't quite work out as expected, but that help move the ball forward.

Our first cycle of HHSinnovates, conducted earlier this year, was a significant success:

-Over 100 innovations were nominated last spring, with entrants coming
from every Operating Division as well as other offices of the Department.
-Nearly 50 semi-finalists were placed on the HHSinnovates intranet site.
-All employees were then invited to vote for their selections.
-Almost 10,000 votes were cast.
-In August, Secretary Sebelius recognized the top six vote winners, and made her own pick of the top three innovations.

HHSinnovates says to every employee: "Innovation is welcome! In fact, it's a key part of your job!"

Here's Todd Park, the CTO at HHS, explaining this way better than I have:

Disclaimer: You've seen Todd and me announcing this, where we conclusively demonstrate our mutual nerdliness, and you probably remember I'm also helping the Veterans Affairs folks with their innovation efforts, though my contributions are microscopic.