A combination of strong communication, teamwork and camaraderie framed within trusting relationships will help achieve remarkable results in times of large-scale change and uncertainty, writes University of Nottingham chief executive Peter Homa.

Effective internal communications have never been so important. An important component of high performing organisations in times like these, of big change and prolonged uncertainty, is a well informed and engaged workforce.

I focus on this important subject as a three month period of staff briefing sessions for colleagues at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, including dedicated sessions for consultants, draws to a close.

We shared with staff the challenges for the NHS as a whole and for Nottingham’s hospitals specifically, outlining what this means for savings, jobs and individuals over the coming years.

It is never pleasant delivering tough news. The main message is that the scale of challenge we face is unprecedented, and so must our response be. We can and will get through this but only by supporting each other and working together.

Amid the multiple challenges there are also opportunities.

Everyone will be affected by the challenges and the impact of the recession. This is experienced by different staff in different ways and at different times. Many have family or friends living through the consequences of the recession.

More than 4,000 staff attended the face to face briefing sessions – a third of our workforce – a level of attendance and engagement we have rarely achieved. This reflected the importance of providing up to date information and having authentic conversation between staff and senior management. As a direct result, we are strengthening our internal communications engine and giving it a renewed focus in response to what our staff tell us matters most to them.

The quality of conversations I have had with staff through these sessions confirms the importance of accurate information and teamwork. Our own staff know our organisation better than anyone. Using ideas from staff and patients helps us to provide better care. The question is not whether the opportunities exist but whether we choose to take them. 

Two years ago at our trust we anticipated the financial challenge – although we hadn’t predicted its scale. We introduced Better for You, a trust-wide change programme that puts the ideas of staff and patients at its centre. Better for You is delivered through frontline staff working in dedicated project teams to research, test, trial, implement and evaluate change; it is genuine bottom-up change with the ideas coming from the “shop floor” enabled by top-down support and leadership.

Teams approach this with the question: “If our service didn’t exist how would we create it?” In not one case have we found existing services incapable of improvement. Now there is no more money it is time to think. 

As well as planning for longer term change, staff (clinical and non-clinical) are empowered to implement changes quickly through a fast-track process called “just do it”.  This puts great ideas into practice within days. The thousands of suggestions include money-saving and environment-friendly ideas and more to improve the experience of patients, visitors, families and staff.

In 2010, Better for You directly involved and engaged more than 8,500 members of staff. Now there are nearly 150 projects up and running. It equips staff with the skills, confidence and tools to deliver transformational change, with training and development plans which put frontline staff in the driving seat of change.

Staff tell us that Better for You “feels different” from anything we’ve tried before and this is truly refreshing to hear.

We are experiencing the biggest reorganisation the NHS has ever seen. The scale of change is significant – with competition and choice becoming new markers of quality. The scale of the challenge we face is unprecedented – and so must be our response.