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Dr. Michael R. Jaff is the president of Newton-Wellesley Hospital (NWH), a community teaching medical center located in Newton, Massachusetts. In just two years of leadership, Dr. Jaff’s bold, visionary approach has enabled transformative changes to begin to take hold within the organization—changes that rarely gain a foothold in large, traditional institutions.

Through close partnership with IDEO, Jaff has been able to integrate a design thinking approach into the planning and growth of the hospital. His commitment has not only elevated the patient experience and the hospital reputation, but also—and importantly—empowered healthcare providers and personnel to create the kind of institution they’re proud to be a part of. By looking holistically at the big picture of the institution, then zeroing in on key opportunities, NWH has been able to accelerate change in high-impact areas.

Dr. Jaff sat down with IDEO to talk about what motivated him to seek out more innovative leadership strategies.

Jaff

IDEO: When you started in your role as president of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, what change did you envision? What felt most pressing?

Dr. Jaff: Newton-Wellesley is among a sizeable group of world-class healthcare organizations in the Boston metro area, so it was important to emphasize our unique role as a community teaching hospital. I knew that providing an unparalleled patient experience would set us apart from our competitors, but achieving bold differentiation seemed daunting without expert guidance. As for what felt most pressing: The culture and morale of the institution were being challenged, and the future felt uncertain.

What led you to design as a means to activate this transformation?

I’d studied a number of Harvard Business School case studies on IDEO’s work in other industries, and I was convinced that the healthcare industry needed this way of thinking. I came to IDEO looking to transform not only our patient experience, but our employee experience—realizing that if caregivers feel empowered, they can provide the best care to their patients everyday.

Over the last year of working together, where do you see change and growth starting to take hold within your organization? Where do challenges still exist?

Design thinking has been transformational for employees who’ve learned about it. They are much more engaged and empowered to try new approaches, take risks, and envision futures they couldn’t previously imagine. The challenge I see now is planning for how to scale this transformative effect across the entire organization. But wading into uncertain territory is part of what we’ve grown equipped to do through this work, so the process of scaling is just the next step in the journey.

Could you tell us one anecdote from our collaboration that encapsulates the story of our work together?

One of the most dramatic outcomes took place during the pilot in our Women’s Imaging Center. This is a high-profile, high-pressure facility with many veteran care providers. One of our senior staff spoke about the experience with IDEO in front of over 200 leaders and at the end, she thanked me for the privilege of thinking boldly and gaining tools to do work she’d never imagined.

The design thinking process made me realize that there were lots of creative leaders at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, they just needed an opportunity to think differently and approach problems in a more human-centered way. I see it as my responsibility to provide them the support they need to thrive.

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Has the value of design changed for you since first becoming president?

What stands out to me is the empowerment that design thinking can provide to people across the organization. Certainly it’s true that new opportunities emerge from embracing the approach, but what’s thrilling is seeing employees motivated to make change themselves.

If you were to give one piece of advice to other leaders seeking to inspire change and growth within their organizations, what would be it be?

Think boldly, articulate your purpose, and act with speed in order to begin turning “the ship” of your organization. Align yourself with colleagues and changemakers dedicated to this approach.

Last question: You’ve recently passed your two year mark as President. What challenges do you aim to tackle next?

My next target is to become as solid and diligent with our operations as we’ve become with innovation and growth strategies.