There's plenty to learn from Humanitas Deventer about innovation in aged care services, part 2/3

Student Jurrien Mentink catchung up with fellow resident Mrs van Beek

Student Jurrien Mentink catchung up with fellow resident Mrs van Beek

I recently visited Humanitas Deventer where they’ve introduced a great intergenerational innovation into their aged care home. It ‘s received a lot of exposure in global media outlets as well as shares on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Clearly it’s captured people’s imagination about different living models where young and old are brought together.

I love the impactful, yet simplistic elegance of the model and am sharing my reflections on what makes it work, in the hope that it will be an inspiration to explore the possibilities of harnessing the possibilities of inter-generational connections in your organisation.

During my visit I spoke with Anyta Brouwer, Manager Quality and Innovation, who generously shared the story and answered my flurry of questions. In the first blog I reflected on how “daring to imagine opens the door to innovation” and in this second one I’ll talk about the critical roles of organisational agility and experimentation in innovation.

Humanitas Deventer is part of the larger Humanitas brand, but is in fact a stand-alone, independent organisation. This means the team has strategic and operational autonomy. If there are new ideas and plans, like the intergenerational living model, they go ahead and action these. They don’t have the constraints that many innovators experience in large organisations. We often think the slowness organisations experience is symptomatic of being large. I don’t actually think size matters as I have also seen plenty of small organisations struggle with innovation and change. What matters is a willingness to create the space for teams to move, so that they can be flexible and fast and move with ease as they consider and adopt new initiatives. Rather than feeling heavy and cumbersome, they are agile. When referring to “agile” I don’t mean the IT development methodology used in a lot of start-up speak. I am simply referring to the nimbleness trait of an organisation to take an idea and “run with it”.  

Being able to run with it, means there is space for experimentation. Without knowing definitively whether the intergenerational concept was going to be a success, the team at Humanitas Deventer went ahead with it. After some internal consultation with the client committee as well as staff, they set some high level principles and starting to action the idea. The first student moved in and after a few months, there was a review with residents, the student and staff to understand how everyone experienced the experiment. “So far, so good…” and the second student moved in and this continued until the last sixth and last student took up residence in 2015.

The team at Humanitas Deventer wasn’t sure how the concept was going to work and didn’t know how “successful” it was going to be. Off course they didn’t! After all, they were trying something new. It was an innovation and quite a significant one at that. It was an innovation that changed how they do things and changed the living experience of residents.

The beauty of this is that despite the possible risks to reputation and brand, they went ahead with it. The result has been phenomenal and is being talked about around the world.

As a leader it’s worthwhile asking ourselves what we are doing to give people space to experiment and enable organisational agility. How are you thinking about teams, groups and departments as small stand-alone entities that can be agile and are free to experiment? To try and fail(no!) learn. To experiment, experience, learn, iterate, try again, learn more and succeed?

In the next, and final blog in this series, I will reflect on the how Humanitas Deventer successfully implemented their innovation and how they are thinking about next steps.