LeadingAge Magazine · March/April 2013 • Volume 03 • Number 02

Creative Change in an Uncertain Time: Innovations Cabinet to Promote New Thinking Among Providers

March 04, 2013 | by Gene Mitchell

A talk with the co-chairs of the LeadingAge Innovations Cabinet about the Cabinet’s priorities and possibilities.

“A culture of innovation is one that, with intentionality, adaptability and discipline, seeks diversity of thought and continuous learning; takes risks and tests ideas; celebrates small, quick wins; is collaborative and experiential; honestly assesses results; and has a degree of discomfort with the status quo.”

That working definition of a “culture of innovation” is one of the products of, and a guide star for, the LeadingAge Innovations Cabinet, a group of members brought together to talk through ways to put the innovations segment of the LeadingAge Leadership Imperatives into action.

The Innovations Cabinet has met several times since August, its most recent meeting in February at LeadingAge headquarters in Washington, DC. LeadingAge took the opportunity to interview the co-chairs, Pat Sprigg, CEO & president of Carol Woods Retirement Community, Chapel Hill, NC, and Roger Myers, president & CEO of Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, Southfield, MI, about the priorities of the Cabinet.

LeadingAge: At your October meeting there was a lot of discussion about innovation as a process. What would you say are the prerequisites for a truly sustainable process within a provider organization?

Pat Sprigg: Leadership is at the core of it, and when I say leadership I’m not necessarily talking about one person, but a sustained vision and buy-in from all staff.

Roger Myers: Another part of it is organizational culture, in terms of readiness to embrace all that innovation represents, whether it’s organizational resources or how to manage risks or change. It’s the culture of the leadership, board or executives and the ability to make a commitment to go forward with confidence even in the face of uncertainty.

LeadingAge: Does this require staff whose jobs are dedicated only to innovation?

Pat Sprigg: I don’t think so. If you’ve got the culture, if you’ve got the elements needed, it becomes the fabric of the organization. It becomes a mindset and a core competency and a core value. I do think you need a little “think-time,” but you can build that into an organization.

I think another thing you need for sustainability is to shine a light on innovation and celebrate successes, whether small or big. That keeps people engaged; it keeps the process evolving and the innovation alive. It’s determining what those destination points are and then applauding when you get there.

Roger Myers: If there is one person who has a lead role or a “champion” role, that can actually work against effective innovation, rather than having it distributed as part of everyone’s responsibility.

Also with regard to the different types of organizations in LeadingAge, in terms of how many people they serve or how many staff and resources they have, we shouldn’t think that innovation is only possible for those that are larger. Because there are a lot of places to point to in the LeadingAge membership where the most innovative things happen at organizations with the fewest resources.

LeadingAge: Any commitment to innovation brings with it an element of risk, and an element of the unknown that can be intimidating. How can a risk-averse organization get beyond that barrier? How have your own organizations gotten past it?

Roger Myers: One Cabinet member said it well: There’s a risk, and in some cases a significant risk, in not being innovative. Staying where you are is fraught with risk. And in terms of the marketplace changing and consumer expectations changing, being in sync with and even a little ahead of what people will want is going to be key. It’s incumbent on all providers to always be looking at the environment and how they can respond.

Pat Sprigg: As Roger said in [today’s] meeting, during the past 150 years members have been incredibly innovative, they just might not have defined it that way. Risk-averse organizations can lean on analysis which tends to be comforting. By being open, yet understanding that mistakes and false starts will happen, they can use analysis to learn from the mistake and build upon what worked rather than being paralyzed by fear. It’s OK not to be first but be open.

LeadingAge: Part of your definition of an innovation culture refers to members having “discomfort with the status quo.” Would it be safe to say that all of our members are uncomfortable with the status quo?

Roger Myers: If they’re not they should be. Things are changing so rapidly, not only what consumers want, but in terms of new realities in finance, public policy, models of care and program delivery.

Pat Sprigg: I echo that, and all you have to look at are the LeadingAge Leadership Imperatives. That’s the handwriting on the wall: demographics, the issues of payment sources, government regulation, mortar and bricks vs. services, and expectations. We’re in a rapidly changing time.

LeadingAge: How long did it take to solidify cultures of innovation in your own organizations?

Roger Myers: For PVM, there were some very strong foundations in place, and through the years it continued to be built upon. Through governance and the whole organization it has become so much a part of our fiber that it would be very hard to turn away from it or get into some status-quo thinking because now, at least as many of the innovative concepts come from governance as from management.

Pat Sprigg:
The elements of innovation were always there. When I came there we already had the blueprints for a neighborhood-design skilled nursing community, which you didn’t see much in the early ‘90s. One thing that took us some time to develop was to build a culture where all voices are heard, to give equal weight to all voices, and to allow people to make mistakes. There’s no blame or shame. You make a mistake, you learn from it. We figure out what worked and what didn’t, and how to build upon that. Giving up control, giving up perfectionism, making sure all the voices and the vehicles to hear the voices were in place, took time.

Each year, LeadingAge recognizes aging-services excellence with national awards in nine categories. One of those awards honors Innovation in Care and Services.


This award recognizes LeadingAge member organizations for creating programs and services that are models of innovation and excellence and that contribute significantly to the quality of life of the individuals served. Candidates for the award must demonstrate:

  • Philosophy and operations that foster innovative thinking and openness to change
  • Willingness to embrace new ideas, take risks and honestly test results
  • Openness to collaboration and continuous learning
  • Creation of a new reality and/or positive benefit for the organization and those it serves
  • The innovation’s potential for application to the needs of other aging-services organizations

For more about this and other 2013 LeadingAge national awards, click here. Applications are due April 30, 2013.

LeadingAge: Since even a great process cannot guarantee positive outcomes in every case, it seems that self-evaluation must be taken very seriously. Could you talk about what makes a good self-evaluation process and what might hinder it?

Roger Myers: we spent some time today talking about development of some measurement tools, or criteria that could be adopted. It may only be three things that we’ll measure now, and then again in a few years. We’d like to be able to objectively say we’ve gone from this level of innovation as an association to hopefully a significant increase.

Pat Sprigg: One thing that may be a challenge for members is that we all have a to-do list, but I have found the “stop-doing” list more important. When you talk about disruptive innovation you should be asking what are you willing to stop doing? We also talked about assessment tools in order to look at the readiness for innovation, but it’s equally important to identify what your true organizational culture is, and what components of that culture support innovation and what components hinder it. What kinds of things come out of our mouths on a daily basis that thwart innovation?

LeadingAge: What can the Cabinet do to help members build a culture of innovation, and help eliminate barriers to innovation?

Roger Myers: We will communicate, shining a bright light on the good things already being done by our members, and provide motivation and encouragement. For people who lift up barriers to innovation—and we brainstormed about them back in August—one thing the Cabinet can do is try to help overcome that and provide examples and strategies and tools to overcome those barriers.

Pat Sprigg: We talked about shining a spotlight on those doing innovative things, case studies, and recipients of Innovations Fund grants. We have got great ideas in terms of videos, social media, and what we can do at LeadingAge conferences. We talked a lot about the elements of what the stories need to be, and talked about the media we could use to make them come alive. The Cabinet will help create a framework and help to get people to be intentional about innovation, but the other thing to come out of this will be a sustainable process for evolving this as things go forward, not just a manual that gathers dust, but a process we keep alive.

Roger Myers: Some of [our] engagement strategies will be related to how this gets knit together with state organizations, with other LeadingAge committees and the Leadership Academy, so it’s really a part of everything that’s happening nationally and in the states.


Roger L. Myers
President & CEO
Presbyterian Villages of Michigan

Pat E. Sprigg
CEO & President
Carol Woods Retirement Community


Kathleen Blake Curry
Vice President, Planning and Program Development

Rebecca L. Donato
VP Business Development
North Hill

Jeffrey Freimark
President and CEO
Miami Jewish Health Systems

Joanne Handy
LeadingAge California

Steve Hess
VP of Home & Community Based Services

Igal Jellinek
Executive Director
Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York City

Lynette M. Killen
Chandler Hall Health Services

Laura Landwirth
President & CEO
LeadingAge Colorado

Donna Lazartic
Chief Resource Officer
Francis E. Parker Memorial Home

Mary Leary
Mather LifeWays

Roberto Muniz
Francis E. Parker Memorial Home

Kari Olson
Front Porch

Denise B. Rabidoux
President & CEO
Evangelical Homes of Michigan

Kathryn Roberts
President & CEO

Keith R. Seeloff
Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP

David Turner
Masonic Health System of Massachusetts

Christopher Kasmark
Vice President, Information Technology

William L. Minnix, Jr., D. Min.
President & CEO

Melissa L. Radford
Vice President, Member Relations & Board Development

Katrinka S. Sloan
Chief Operating Officer, Senior Vice President