The 5 NIATx Principles: Principle #4 — Get ideas from outside the organization or field

Mat Roosa, LCSW-R
NIATx Coach

When a substance use disorder clinic is struggling to engage and retain clients, we might understand why they would reach out to a more successful clinic for assistance.

But what about asking a hotel or an amusement park?

Many industries, especially in the health and human service sector, have remained highly isolated, with limited opportunities to consider applying the innovations of other sectors. With its roots in process engineering, NIATx was founded on some of the core process improvement methodologies that drove the rapid advancements in manufacturing following WWII. As NIATx began to work with behavioral health providers, this encouragement to look beyond familiar territory opened up a whole new world of improvement for the early adopters of NIATx.

The Venn diagram below offers a means of considering ideas from outside. Ideas from within the smallest circle of providers who offer the same service are the most familiar and easiest to understand and implement. At the other extreme are services provided in different industries. These are the least familiar and often the most challenging to understand.

So why not just stick with familiar territory and explore improvements by learning about the best practices of successful peers who provide the same service?

While there may be plenty to learn from those who provide the same service, those services represented by the larger circles allow us to reframe how we see things, and consider ideas that we would never have considered otherwise. It makes sense to try to think outside of the circle of the familiar.

The table below offers another perspective on this spectrum of services from more to less familiar. As we move farther away from the familiar, the corresponding questions in the right column allow us to consider new ideas. These broader questions can spark new and creative visions. In departing from the familiar, our questions focus less on improving what we do now and more on doing something new.

Consider the actions of a fine hotel determined to make you a loyal customer. Hotel staff greet you with warmth, carry your bags, offer you courtesy beverages and snacks, and thank you for staying with them. Fine hotels ensure that the environment is attractive and that every customer’s encounter with staff results in a pleasant experience and a positive outcome.

Now imagine if an SUD clinic sought to maintain this same standard of customer service. What would be the costs and the return on investment related to such an effort? How might this approach improve client engagement and retention? How can we do what they do?

Exploring and acting on these questions will uncover valuable opportunities. Ideas from outside shine a light upon new paths of action, leading to innovations with powerful results.

Has your organization tried out ideas from other organizations or industries? What were the results? Share your story in the comment section below.

About our Guest Blogger
Mat Roosa was a founding member of NIATx and has been a NIATx coach for a wide range of projects. He works as a consultant in the areas of quality improvement, organizational development and planning, evidence-based practice implementation, and also serves as a local government planner in behavioral health in New York State. His experience includes direct clinical practice in mental health and substance use services, teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and human service agency administration.
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