In my last blog post I shared my new years resolution for 2016, which is to get more love into the workplace. This is part one of my approach.
I’m posting this from a snowy Colorado mountain on Martin Luther King Day; which seems very apt as MLK once said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
MLK was a truly authentic leader who spoke out for what he believed in and empowered people to think and act in a different way.
It’s been a tricky start to 2016. With industrial action from junior doctors and the continued struggle with waiting times and financials; it’s starting to feel as though the old methods just aren’t working for us anymore and a new approach is needed.
It seems to me what is needed is a new leadership approach that moves away from traditional pace-setting, command and control styles that have dominated the NHS for at least the past decade, to a more authentic leadership style – MLK style. One that supports staff with the right tools and techniques to make the changes needed on a day-to-day basis, without the bureaucracy of committees that are – in some cases – far removed from the frontline.
The NHS has a good track record of supporting staff with training in tools and techniques, but what has always been lacking is a systematic way of improving the services and solving problems as they happen. Many healthcare organisations have trained up hundreds of their staff in various quality improvement techniques, though few have managed to leverage the benefits. What has been missing is the infrastructure and governance that allows decisions to be taken quickly, at the frontline, at the time it’s needed.
In the past, managers such as myself were trained to be ‘heroic leaders;’ i.e. it was their job to solve the problems (otherwise what are they doing?); however the time for this has now passed – if it ever really was the right approach – and it’s time to really think differently about how we support our staff.
In my view, there are three steps that leaders could take to become more authentic and to enable more effective decisions to be taken as close to the patients as possible:
Step One admit you don’t know all the answers and place the decision making in the hands of those who do; especially those at the frontline. That is a very big ask in this world of accountability and takes bravery; however it has been proven to yield effective results in healthcare systems elsewhere in the world.
Step Two give the staff the tools and techniques to make the necessary change. Supporting clinical staff by training them in quality improvement techniques; using data effectively and understanding how to manage change has the potential to make more of a difference in two months than a year’s worth of committee meetings.
Step Three take the governance to them. Don’t expect clinicians to navigate the intricacies of the corporate governance that many of us spend our days steeped in. Work with intention and develop a systematic approach that allows decisions to be taken quickly and easily. If needed, schemes of delegation can be drawn up to keep everyone safe. Knowing that the intention behind the decision is to ‘make things better’ for patients and staff whilst supporting clinicians to understand the constraints will unleash their creativity. As the saying goes ‘innovation loves constraint’. A really successful example of this is the Virginia Mason test: ‘What can you do with half the money, half the staff, half the space?’ This has supported them to radically change how they deliver healthcare at the same time as increasing quality and reducing cost – the holy grail.
In my view, these three steps will go a long way to bring about a more authentic leadership approach which will lead to a better engaged and enabled workforce and overall more love and wellbeing into the workplace. The question is, can we do it quickly enough to make the difference? In reality, do we have a choice?
I’ll leave you with the words of Mark Twain; “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”
About the author
Sarah Morgan is the Director of Organisational Development for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust