Presented by Mohan Nair
Senior Vice President & Chief Innovation Officer
Cambia Health Solutions



Recently, members of the Growth Innovation Leadership Council gathered for a Virtual Executive Assembly (VEA) on the topic of Increasing Operational Efficiency and Excellence in Innovation. As noted in the VEA session abstract, while many leaders recognize the innovation imperative facing their organizations, few are satisfied with their innovation performance.  Esteemed council member Mohan Nair, Senior Vice President & Chief Innovation Officer, Cambia Health Solutions, led the discussion. Mohan explored ways to drive a culture of innovation with a structure that is adaptive to corporate goals and encouraged participants to ponder questions such as, “What is your organization’s innovation signature? Is this reflected in the organizational culture?”

The discussion was designed to help participants:

  • Establish a framework to determine how to embrace innovation
  • Get a fresh perspective on the intersection of innovation and company goals
  • Create a blueprint to take action on driving innovation in the organization

To open the discussion, Mohan asked the participants about their challenges around operationalizing innovation. Their responses included:

  • Getting everyone on same thought process page
  • Executing product management with R&D
  • Resistance from operations, and trying to get them into a new ops mode!
  • Letting go of old processes
  • Pushing out of the corporate comfort and success zone to try new things


Mohan also asked, “How do you drive innovation that meets consumer needs? Even needs that they don’t know how to ask for?” These questions proved harder to address. When Mohan asked the first polling question, “What approach to innovation does your organization emphasize?” the most common response was R&D, (as opposed to incubators, accelerators, venture or mergers and acquisitions) prompting him to comment that this was a traditional approach.

Next, Mohan shared a little about Cambia Health Solutions, a nonprofit health care organization based in Portland, Oregon, where he serves as Senior Vice President & Chief Innovation Officer. The company strives to provide human-centered healthcare and is focused on innovation. In the last several years, Cambia has taken its legacy business and pivoted to meet the needs of today’s health care consumers through new partnerships and portfolio offerings.

Throughout his presentation, Mohan shared different theories and practices to help participants answer a critical question: How do you make innovation work? And how do you link it to company goals? As Mohan discussed, many organizations hit an innovation wall and it can be hard to move beyond it. Remedies to moving beyond a stalled organizational innovation mindset include remembering that innovation is a habit, creating a company-wide culture of agility and innovation, and then practicing it every day. Similar to ethics, it’s important to have guidelines in place as well as process training. Think of innovation as a value, not an objective.

Mohan shared the Five Paradoxes of Innovation Culture, as shown below:

He advised participants to look at where their organization is and where they want it to be. Is the organization’s approach to discovery externally or internally focused? Is the comfort level with new ideas represented by chaos and redundancy or consistency and optimization? It is necessary to determine your company’s comfort level with mistakes and missteps, which are so often a part of the innovation process. Are wrong turns acknowledged as part of innovation trial and error? Or do you get “canned?”

Other questions to ask might include: Do we stay in the same market and grow it? Or look for new markets? Is the current combination of organizational behavioral and cultural elements working or not?

Understanding these paradoxes for your organization provides insights into your company’s innovation signature. How might it be improved? For example, if you want to operate like a start-up, you must be structured like one and have a culture that supports that. 


The use of balanced scorecards as a framework to implement and manage innovation strategy was also discussed.  Balanced scorecards can be used to link a vision to strategic objectives and balance financial measures with performance measures throughout the organization. Mohan stated that balanced scorecards can help make strategy more effective and are powerful if used correctly. But, as he noted, you need the right objectives to successfully execute a balanced scorecard strategy. That starts with articulating your strategy and looking at how your activities apply to the balanced scorecard. Mohan recommended aligning your innovation objectives to a balanced scorecard. The challenge of linking innovation to financial and operational goals was also discussed.  To speak to operating units, you need to be able to articulate your innovation strategy using these common lenses.


Introduced by Jim Collins, the flywheel effect reflects a conceptual approach that compares driving a new strategy to getting a huge flywheel into motion. The first revolution is very hard, but once you get momentum going, the wheel continues spinning forward and is very hard to stop. Mohan described the “beauty of creating” and solving real problems that an innovation flywheel can address as a very desirable goal.

Ideally, an organization that wants to be truly innovative has an idea engine, a realization engine, a distribution and scaling engine, and a renewal engine to propel and support ongoing initiatives. Of course, these engines should be powered by the people behind the ideas and a supportive company culture.


As the Virtual Executive Assembly wrapped up, Mohan offered the following insights in response to member questions: A new era of innovation is coming, where transformation won’t always come from the top, in fact “the bottom may change the top.” Leaders’ transformation efforts may be hindered by too much structure, whereas the middle and lower levels of an organization may be more flexible and agile, and thus better positioned to innovate. Mohan observed that great leaders will be the ones who learn to effectively enable innovation throughout the organization, by engaging employees and harnessing their energy to fuel change.

In closing, Mohan encouraged participants to challenge their company’s current innovation identity, creating a culture of innovation that starts with you as a leader.

–Patricia Jacoby
Senior Editor, Marketing
Frost & Sullivan