Why Leaders Are Encouraging More Risk Taking and Accountability


During the Health Innovation Summit Closing Capstone, speakers from Intermountain, Northwestern, and Oak HC/FT talked about the need for leaders to take risks and be willing to learn from missteps.

Oliver Wyman Health

2 min read

There’s no shortage of trends reshaping healthcare—the ongoing pandemic, workforce shortages, an aging population, increased competition, evolving payment and care models, consumerism, the digitalization of the industry, and more. But each of these also represents an opportunity for leaders to dramatically overhaul their organizations and, ultimately, the industry.

Capturing these opportunities will take bold and decisive action. Leaders can’t be afraid of taking risks and must be willing to learn from missteps. “People’s lives and livelihoods are at risk. Bad on us if we don’t take it seriously,” Intermountain Healthcare President and CEO Marc Harrison said during the Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit Closing Capstone.

That sentiment was echoed by other speakers at the Closing Capstone, as well as during Digging Deeper sessions that took place over the last seven weeks. As they take action to retool business models and organizational strategies, leaders can’t lose sight of how they lead.

“There is a piece of service that we often miss—How do we serve each other as an industry?” said Sam Glick, Global Leader of Health and Life Sciences at Oliver Wyman, adding that leaders and co-workers need to not only challenge each other, but support each other as the industry continues to take on these opportunities and challenges.

Closing Capstone speakers homed in on these messages:

‘We Need to Change’

Leaders need to ask themselves some very hard questions if the industry is going to change, starting with, “Is it okay for the care we provide to bankrupt someone?” Harrison said. Speaking to his colleagues who still rely heavily on a volume-based, fee-for-service model, Harrison said it was time to “wake up.” They are too expensive and not nimble, he said, adding that if they don’t change, new entrants and other consumer-centric providers will pull away market share.  It’s up to leaders to make the hard choices, he said. As an example, he noted how Intermountain closed more than 20 community pharmacies earlier this year because they were losing roughly $11 million a year. Intermountain hopes to use that money more efficiently and “make healthcare more affordable,” Harrison said. Making these decisions with intention is critical to ensuring that patients stay at the center.

Being Accountable

Being intentional about risk taking was something that Bernie Banks, Ret. US Army Brigadier General and Associate Dean for Leadership Development and Inclusion, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, also addressed. There’s a difference between taking smart risks and dumb risks. The former is all about trying something and being able to absorb lessons from success and failure. Taking a dumb risk means “betting the farm” on something and not learning from that experience. He said leaders should encourage their teams to embark on small but smart experiments. Intertwined with that is creating a culture of accountability where people not only know their role in helping the organization achieve its mission but are given the right tools to be successful.

The Next Frontier

There is a readiness to accept a different kind of system that wasn’t around five years ago, said Annie Lamont, Co-founder and Managing Partner, Oak HC/FT. Broad acceptance of digital platforms, including telehealth, have spurred “massive” behavior change among consumers, as well as many providers. This is enabling more care to be pushed into the home, which she pointed to as the next frontier where significant change will occur over the next five years. Opportunities also exist for payviders to continue to disrupt the system, especially those that are built around primary care as opposed to pushing patients to the high-cost settings. New pay models have largely struggled to reshape the industry when they’ve been driven by hospitals and health systems. As capital continues to flow into the industry, it will be important to zero in on solutions that can be scaled, as well as those that are addressing special needs, which often go underserved. She noted that Oak HC/FT, for instance, is backing companies that serve patients with substance-use disorder.

Although the 2021 Health Innovation Summit has concluded, this is not the end of the conversation. We’ll continue to dig into these topics in upcoming Oliver Wyman Health articles, videos, and podcasts.

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