I have the honour of chairing the work stream ‘Making the NHS the best place to work’, as part of developing the workforce implementation programme for taking forward the promises made in the NHS Long Term Plan. I am excited because improving staff experience is an objective in my appraisal as Chief Executive Officer of East London NHS Foundation Trust. It is also a central promise in our Trust strategy.
I find this stuff hard to do; at times it is uncomfortable. I work at it, I get it wrong and try not to keep doing things that don’t work. I refer to improvement science to guide me. I try to be patient, to celebrate small changes in the right direction. I rely heavily on the support of my thousands of colleagues in ELFT.
For me, the NHS really is the best place to work. The abundance of pride, love and fierce loyalty evident during the 70th birthday celebrations was a welcome reminder of this fact. There is however far too much variation in such feelings and the experience of many staff does not always reflect this.
I believe that there is a lot that can be done right now, within existing resources, to help make the NHS the best place to work. But this will only be possible if the thousands of people who are associated with the NHS make it happen. It will require a different kind of conversation with the wider population we serve. All this will require behaviour change at all levels of leadership.
Is this too much to expect? I don’t think so.
I therefore respectfully request all my leadership colleagues to join me in prioritising compassion, kindness and fairness. I am also asking for colleagues to join me in feeling comfortable with doing the right thing especially by acknowledging when we are wrong. I ask that we strengthen this endeavour by using data, outcomes and metrics to support us. I ask that we are able to seek help when we are struggling and to get the help we need without fear.
Our success as leaders should be measured. I believe CEOs of organisations must take personal responsibility for ensuring continuous improvement in performance for outcomes such as in Workforce Race Equality Standard the NHS staff survey and in dealing with concerns raised via Freedom to Speak Up. By doing so, we can make the NHS the best place to work a reality for all.
I was surprised to see cynics come out in force in response to the NHS Long Term Plan. They expressed eloquent views about why the plan might not be delivered. They reminded us of our failure to deliver previous plans, reviews and policies. I believe these failures can be attributed in part to lack of will, lack of ownership and to systems and processes which we, the leaders create that get in the way. “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets,” someone once said. I can’t get this quote out of my mind.
I am interested in forming a coalition of the willing, of like-minded leaders who want to come together now so we can start making the NHS the best place to work. Are you a leader with authenticity, humility and vulnerability? Are you comfortable with listening to difficult feedback and admitting when you are wrong? Do you think it’s OK to fail? If this is you, please join me.