There’s a belief that people who work in the NHS are poor leaders. I disagree, having worked in it for the past decade. But I do agree that NHS organisations often find it really difficult to identify their clear values and priorities, and to make sure that everybody understands them and where they sit in relation to them.
So our first job was to identify our four priorities. This year we opted for “improving patient safety” and “improving the patient experience”, alongside exceeding our national targets and making a surplus for re-investing. They’re really important because we use these priorities to set all staff’s personal objectives for the year.
With that in mind, we expect anyone carrying out appraisals to focus on those four priorities.
We’ve developed three key initiatives. One is our leaders’ forum, a quarterly early-morning meeting where we talk about leadership expectations.
We’ve also launched a management development programme for all of our frontline leaders which covers behavioural and skills elements. It’s about teaching people to recruit for attitude, conduct good appraisals and coach staff – it’s about making sure our leaders are both engaging and customer-focused.
The members of our leaders’ forum come from right across the organisation. There might be a very junior supervisor there, or a ward manager, which would be the first leadership post for a nurse. Or the chief executive might be there. We thought about dividing people by levels, or by directorate, but decided to go for what we call cross-fertilisation. Junior managers will learn from senior managers, who will benefit from seeing how things really are.
The events are really well attended, but that might partly be because we provide sausage and bacon sandwiches. We have external speakers, too – John Purcell came to our Christmas event, to speak about the importance of leadership engagement and the need for the senior team to work with more junior managers.
We also launched a series of leadership behaviours, which we identified through critical instance interviews with high performing people. We then developed four behaviours, which we shared with all of the leaders who came forward, asking for their feedback. We’ll recruit, appraise and give feedback against these behaviours. We’re now using them to drive everything we do.
Why it worked
- We mixed levels of seniority
- We got feedback
- We embedded behaviours.