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This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Dr. Peter Pisters, appointed president and CEO of University Health Network (UNH), as interviewed by Karen Christensen:

In your first few months as CEO, you encouraged employees to tell you what they liked – and didn't like – about working there. What did they tell you?

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The thing that really stood out was that so many of them talked about how much they loved their teams – the people they work with each and every day. Enthusiasm and respect for team members came through uniformly–which is great, because if you think about how healthcare is practised, we provide clinical care in teams, we do research in teams and we provide support services like human resources in teams. What people told me they don't like about their work is the high degree of complexity – and that is to be expected in an organization of this size and scope. Many of them told me that there are ways in which we could simplify things in order to optimize productivity.

One of the key challenges for any healthcare organization is to translate new innovation and learning into day-to-day practice. How do you go about this?

This is absolutely critical in just about every industry, but particularly in healthcare, so we created an in-house innovation centre. Our OpenLab is dedicated to finding creative solutions that transform the way healthcare is delivered and experienced by taking the customer's perspective and uncovering user needs – both expressed and unexpressed. The Lab is particularly focused on finding low cost solutions. The fact is, innovation doesn't have to be expensive. This group is working on 15-20 projects at any given time, across three labs: our Complex Care Lab is reinventing care for people with chronic disease; the Experience Lab is finding ways to dramatically improve how people experience care; and the X-Lab is coming up with fresh ideas and perspectives on the future of our health system.

We also implement the principles of 'lean' throughout our organization. While it is best known as a systematic method for eliminating waste within a manufacturing setting, lean also takes into account waste created through over-burden and unevenness in workloads. When you bring lean into the workplace and embed it within the fabric of an organization as we do, it results in valuable incremental change and enhances teamwork by bringing stakeholders together around common problems.

Workplace wellness is a big focus at UHN. Tell us why you've made it such a priority.

In a broader sense, one of the key things I am bringing to this organization is a focus on quality and safety. We think about safety not just in the context of patient safety, but also employee and workplace safety. As an organization, UHN's most valuable asset is our people, so we focus on health and wellness in the workforce and encourage safe practices. We want to build a culture where people can focus on their primary role–which is to take care of other human beings, and to do that optimally, we also have to take care of ourselves and our work mates.

Our vision is: Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Organization. The goal is to decrease chronic disease risks factors by promoting healthy behaviours to move those employees who are ready to change into action. The wellness team brings different techniques for coping with stress right to our front-line workers, to help them deal with day-to-day challenges. We also give free courses about the importance of a healthy diet, exercise and sleep–things that are important to all of us. As health care providers, when we practice what we preach, everyone is better off.

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You have said that the best thing about Canadian healthcare is its social contract for universal care. Which aspect of the system is its greatest challenge?

In a setting where we embrace universal access, we also have to accept the reality of waiting lists. This won't change for as long as the system is based on global budgeting, but it is slowly moving towards pay-for-performance – or 'value-based purchasing'– so we will see a transition occurring over time. But at the moment, long wait times have become accepted by the population in exchange for universal care, which they really value.

You have said that 'amazing things' are going to happen in healthcare over the next 10 years. Please explain.

One of the biggest changes we will see is the integration of genomic information into healthcare. In the very near future, we will be collecting a blood sample from every patient who comes into the hospital – as well as from every newborn child. From this, we will be able to derive whole-body sequencing data, which will allow us to deliver targeted, individualized care.

Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2016 edition of Rotman Management, published by the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

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