Leadership and culture: innovation 101

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Think about the size and complexity of Queensland Health. Not even the whole system, maybe just your hospital or your work unit.

Healthcare has two important decision-making systems at work: a clinical process relying on multi-disciplinary professional expertise where decisions about patient care are made, and a bureaucratic process where decisions need to be made about resourcing, strategy, policy, and performance. This complexity creates a potential for disconnects - between peers, between the frontline and management, between staff and patients. Not to mention how hard it can be at times for patients to navigate their way through this complexity. Healthcare also has some special challenges in terms of demographics, demand, workforce, technology and so on. Making improvement and innovation happen in this context requires skill and focus.

That's why we're handing over to Jan Phillips, Executive Director of CEQ’s Centre for Leadership Excellence (pictured below), to shed some light on how to foster innovation in healthcare:

jan phillips

"In the words of Peter Drucker, 'culture eats strategy for breakfast'. But it can also eat evidence. Safe patient-focussed care can be lost in a toxic workplace culture.

There is now much research evidence that leadership behaviour is the main driver of culture, and that a great culture leads to improved patient care and higher levels of innovation. Culture is everything and a negative culture is a common warning sign that things aren’t going well for patients. Two inquiries into the failings at Stafford Hospital in the UK in 2008 for example, identified that key factors such as disengaged leadership, ineffective communication up and down the chain, and a heavy focus on financial targets at the expense of other patient-focussed information and feedback, were major contributors to the demise of the hospital in its capacity to deliver safe, quality care. And comments from other health crises are highly consistent about the incredible impact leadership has on culture and performance.

In fact, The Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett, following his review of Victoria’s Bacchus Marsh Hospital crisis, expressed his view that the most important thing clinical leaders do is to safely manage the culture. Culture is enduring and can be difficult to change – but when it does, the impact is profound. And that’s where leadership comes in. In healthcare, the first line leader has the most influence over culture.

Good leaders create an engaged workforce with high morale. Employees work better together, deliver a better patient experience and clinical outcomes. Employees in these types of workplaces and are also far more likely to put in discretionary effort; that extra mile most people will go when they feel appreciated and supported. And it’s in that extra 10 per cent of effort where innovation and improvement can thrive.

If you’d like to find out how to be the type of leader that creates a great culture, check out our great range of leadership programs."


Mid Staffordshire scandal highlights NHS cultural crisis. Accessed 17 June 2019.

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Last updated: 25 June 2019