Thursday 8 January 2015

Outstanding leadership development at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

Recently, I have been contributing some input around stress management and resilience to a leadership development programme called "Aspire" at Imperial NHS. I play a very small part, contributing a workshop for each cohort around what NHS leaders can do to maintain resilience and promote wellbeing in what is undoubtedly a highly pressurized working environment. I talk to delegates about two sides of resilience: what they can do to deal with the bad, stressful, stuff (especially around stress prevention and if-then planning), and what they can do to promote the good stuff (where we discuss positive psychology approaches).

My limited involvement has given me an insight into what is an outstanding leadership development programme, developed by the Head of Leadership there, Beverley Aylott. On the days I go along, the delegates are nearing the end of the programme. They make presentations on team projects they have undertaken over a few months to apply what they have learned to real-life (and stressful!) work problems facing colleagues and patients. They explain what their team chose to look at, how they approached the challenge, how they applied what they had learned, and how what they had done made a difference.

The presentations have all been excellent, inspiring in fact, especially in the ways that delegates worked together to apply aspects of their learning. One project that demonstrated this in spades was SMILE, developed by managers Di Dunn, Stephanie Harrison-White and Sue Newton. The background to their project was that Imperial hadn't shown up too well in a 2013 survey of cancer patient experience. Di, Steph and Sue wanted to change this in a sustainable and meaningful way and their answer was SMILE.

SMILE stands for:
  • Support groups;  
  • My name your name; 
  • Information;  
  • Link to Clinical Nurse Specialist, and;
  • Encourage family/friend. 
Di, Steph and Sue identified these 5 areas as all critically important to patient experience and they set about making a real difference in all areas.

They did.

They developed new resources for all the areas. They worked with colleagues and with patients to get involvement, feedback and buy in. They developed training materials and delivered training. Then they piloted everything and got extensive feedback from colleagues and patients, so that they could make improvements and refinements.

Two particularly impressive outcomes were the development of a toolkit, so the approach can be easily and widely disseminated, and a new format for name badges which is now being widely adopted.

It all warmed the heart of a business psychologist I can tell you! They applied psychology to different aspects of their project such as their leadership roles, their working as a team and how they delivered their project. A couple of aspects stood out for me. Firstly, Di, Steph and Sue discussed how they applied principles authentic leadership. They found that they could be better leaders by being themselves and giving their best, not by trying to be something they weren't. They also described how they found that they had different but complementary strengths and how playing to those strengths enabled them to achieve much more (and enjoy the process along the way).

The psychology around what they did to improve patient experience was interesting too. Support acts as a buffer against the negative effects of stress and SMILE boosts 3 aspects of support: access to support structures, staff support and social support from family and friends. Simple easy-to-understand, accessible information related to conditions also makes a huge difference, and not just for patients. It reduces uncertainty about what's happening and why, and boosts a sense of control, which promotes resilience. And this is boosted by clarity about who is there to help clinically and how they can be contacted. Perhaps most important of all, SMILE improves the relationships between the patients and those who care for them.

Ultimately, relationships probably make the biggest difference of all to wellbeing and quality of life, including at work.

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