Just four months into the year-long Listening into Action programme, Phil Morley of Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust says unlocking the potential of staff has been an inspirational experience that is gaining momentum

It was an easy and instinctive decision for Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust to become a national pioneer on staff engagement and empowerment. I had heard about the fantastic results that the Listening into Action approach had helped other trusts to deliver across the country, and felt excited about having a vehicle for raising the bar and putting control back into the hands of our staff. After all, they are the people who are closest to our patients.

I have the great privilege of working with some amazing staff – people who inspire me on a daily basis. Whenever I ask them if they are proud to work here, they say they are.

But like so many other big organisations, they also tell us that we don’t communicate well with them, we don’t listen to what they have to say, and that they don’t feel valued by the trust. We needed to understand this properly, and to galvanise ourselves around the opportunity to radically change this.

Delivering vision

Our vision is “great staff, great care, great future”. I believe, passionately, that our ability to deliver this vision depends on how we invest in our staff, and that this must start with us engaging them, giving them “permission” to make positive changes happen, getting obstacles out of their way, and valuing them for the jobs they do and the contribution they make.

Four months into the initial 12-month journey, I am amazed at what we have achieved, and truly excited about where we are going next. There are many different ways of listening to people, but if you want your staff to feel valued and to unlock their potential, then passive listening is not enough.

We called our engagement process “HEY, it’s in our hands” (HEY being Hull and East Yorkshire) – to make it personal to us and to build local pride. More than 300 staff from across all levels and roles came to our initial round of LiA staff conversations, and an astonishing 2,200 responded to our staff pulse check.

This was at times an incredibly moving experience – difficult for me to hear, difficult for them to say

I listened as staff poured their hearts out about their frustrations at work, telling us what everyday things get in the way of them achieving their goals. This was at times an incredibly moving experience – difficult for me to hear, difficult for them to say. Some staff cried as they told me how undervalued they felt, how frustrated they were at the mountain of policies and procedures we have put in place over the years – all in good faith, but with a cumulative effect that is disabling.

Quick wins

As well as the catharsis this offered, the LiA conversations were an inspiration. I was so proud of the staff who came and offered their suggestions and innovations for improving our services – and with hardly a mention of car parking.

And so we have heard about what matters to our staff loud and clear, perhaps for the first time properly and in a way that resonates for them. As well as the obvious platform this gives us from which to make changes, the staff themselves found it hugely valuable to listen to their colleagues, and, most importantly, they felt listened to and valued.

Within a week of our last LiA staff conversation, we announced several quick wins based on their ideas. For example, to help improve communication, we launched a network of “link listeners” – 100 colleagues on lower salary bands who receive a direct briefing session from me once a month and then communicate this on to their teams.

To help overcome frustrations caused by their inability to access small amounts of money for incidental purchases, such as power sockets, stationery or kettles, we set up a “Make It Happen” fund of £1,000 per month that staff can apply for. Simple ideas I know, but it’s what they want and need.

LiA pioneers

The quick wins will continue every month, and there are also bigger, accelerated Enabling Our People schemes which will tackle seemingly intractable, much-needed improvements at a corporate level, importantly with contingents of staff directly involved.

But the biggest impact of all has been through our advert for wards, departments, pathways and other service areas to put themselves forward to be one of the ‘First 10’ teams that will pioneer adoption of LiA on the ground. There has been a lot of noise already across the trust – I doubt there are many people who haven’t heard about it now – and a number of teams responded to this call for pioneers. They have pitched for a place in the First 10 and been selected based on their enthusiasm and “case for change”.

As James Bertrand said: “Once we rid ourselves of traditional thinking we can get on with creating the future”

We will learn with these pioneering teams over the next four months, and hold them up as shining examples for what they achieve. Then, as they move forward to their next round of changes, new teams will hit the ground running. This is the beginning of our movement.

As James Bertrand said: “Once we rid ourselves of traditional thinking we can get on with creating the future.” I hope that through this new way of working we will start to see a change in the way our staff feel. If we can enable them to believe that the future is truly in their hands, that we will trust and support them to make change happen, and that their contribution really matters, we will go a long way in a short time.  

Phil Morley is chief executive of Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust

Turning concerns into positive outcomes