Leadership from the top combined with the harnessing of the workforce’s emotional intelligence can create great change on sustainability, write Mick Collins, Jill Jepson and Sonia Roschnik

The drive to ensure that health and social care in the UK is integrated and sustainable is a critical issue, particularly as climate change is recognised as the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.

The Sustainable Development Unit, which is funded by, and accountable to, NHS England and Public Health England, has a clear vision and strategy to promote health and wellbeing in the population, as well as reducing the burden of disease, and inspiring organisations to reduce their sizeable environmental impacts.

One of the five recommendations in the document Fit for the Future encourages leadership roles that promote radical change to existing working practices, in an effort to make services sustainable at every level, socially, environmentally and economically.

The Sustainable Development Strategy could have far reaching benefits in the way that individuals and communities are encouraged and empowered to make positive health choices.

For example, when appropriate, GPs could point out to patients the benefits of walking for health. Systemic transformation is reliant on innovation, and it is encouraging to note that positive changes are already happening in a variety of organisations, such as those that were showcased at a Sustainability Day on 26 March 2015.

The event demonstrated how sustainable transformation could occur through collaboration and networking as noted in the service improvement examples below:

  • Nottingham Hospitals are seeking to procure locally grown seasonal food, which has resulted in local initiatives that are fostering common goals, shared intelligence, and understanding.
  • A behavioural change programme at Bart’s Health inspired ward staff to improve energy efficiencies and patient experiences by switching off lights and computers at night, which resulted in patients sleeping better.
  • Following the floods in Cockermouth, co-located community services were set up for the elderly in a centre for the third age, which aimed to improve people’s access, support, independence and wellbeing.

Sustainable intelligence

The initiatives outlined above reflect some of the ways that intelligent and sustainable solutions can be generated and realised by staff in integrated ways.

However, a key question remains, how can organisations tap into the intelligence that exists within the workforce?

Interestingly, the root meaning of the word intelligence (euphyia) means to “grow well” and research by Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner has identified the importance of multiple intelligences – linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial and bodily kinaesthetic – outlining the diverse ways that human talents are expressed, which go beyond the limitations of IQ tests.

In addition, the work of Daniel Goleman has shown the importance of emotional and social intelligence in high-performing teams, and how a “collective emotional intelligence” can be established through effective collaboration and cooperation.

The more recent theory of ecological intelligence was also developed by Goleman, who recognised that humanity needs to evolve a more empathic relationship with the natural world, and be more sustainable.

In this way, organisations could harness the emotional, social and ecological intelligences of staff, which enables them to engage their transformative potentials. The development of systemic and sustainable intelligences could be realised through service improvement initiatives.

Service improvement

Service improvement opportunities promote a can-do attitude to tackling problems and finding solutions, where initiatives that facilitate systemic change are recognised as an integral part of organisational culture, enabling innovation, empowerment and transformation.

Research has identified the role of transformational leaders who can influence positive emotions and pro-environmental behaviours in the workforce, inspiring and motivating staff, as well as encouraging innovative working practices, and effective working relationships.

Leadership qualities that are designed to facilitate pro-environmental changes in the workforce could be enhanced by service improvement opportunities, ensuring that bottom-up initiatives are complementary to those generated from the top-down.

Thus, transformational leadership initiatives, coupled to service improvement opportunities, could be powerful drivers for sustainable change within organisations. The following points outline how service improvement initiatives can link to staff’s social assets, intelligences, and potential:

  • Organisational cultures need to value human potential within workforce developments, encouraging staff to engage in processes of change, using creativity, innovation and collaboration.
  • Organisations need to recognise diverse intelligences (multiple, emotional, social and ecological), providing opportunities for staff to actualise their talents in relation to service improvement initiatives.
  • Tools such as Process Mapping could help teams identify service improvement ideas, understanding barriers and enablers to sustainable working practices, and motivating staff to work for the greater good.
  • Models such as the Plan, Do, Study, Act cycle could enable teams to engage systemic transformations, incorporating reflection and action, where new ideas could be tested, and possibly implemented.

Sustainable intelligence is based on the notion that human beings have assets, such as intelligence, resourcefulness, adaptability and cooperation, all of which can be engaged to bring about radical change within organisations. In this way, sustainable and systemic transformations enacted through service improvement initiatives, could lead to new ways of working that benefit individuals, society and the planet.

Dr Mick Collins is independent occupational therapist and coach. mick_collinsot@yahoo.com.

Jill Jepson is senior lecturer in occupational therapy j.jepson@uea.ac.uk

Sonia Roschnik is a sustainable health consultant