A new year’s resolution for every leader who wants to achieve financial balance in 2016? Actually listen to your staff. By Peter Thomond

Pete thomond 2016

Peter Thomond

Sickness, absence, disengagement. These cost the NHS £5.7bn per year – this is equivalent to £37m for each NHS acute trust.

Of course, not all this cost is preventable, but it is a big prize to pay for.

Estimates from Public Health England put the cost to the NHS of staff absence at £2.4bn a year and the government says agency staff bills cost the NHS a further £3.3 billion in 2014.

The human angle

There is, of course, a human story to this too. Last week, I received a personal email from a nurse at Pennine Acute Trust to say how much she was looking forward to getting back to work after the Christmas break.

The person’s email ended: “My advice to all leaders: listen to and act upon staff voice. They’ll love you for it and will perform better”.

Making assumptions that staff will just follow unquestioningly wherever leaders take them is dangerous

Simon Stevens and Jeremy Hunt appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet on the importance of “taking staff on a journey” to ensure the NHS can achieve better patient care with fewer resources in 2016. But the ongoing junior doctor battles are just the latest example that making assumptions that staff will just follow unquestioningly wherever leaders take them is dangerous.

At the end of last year, NHS England set out a list of nine “must-dos” for every local health system in 2016. These are said to help deliver the Five Year Forward View vision by 2020.

With a focus on greater financial sustainability and improved quality and outcomes, they are crucial steps in the evolution of the NHS.

Without an engaged workforce, these “must-dos” will surely become “can’t-dos”.

Disengagement isn’t just some buzzword. It’s a massive problem that’s clearly causing the NHS to haemorrhage cash.

The incredible work undertaken in health and care can be stressful; there’s no getting away from this fact. But we should never succumb to the notion that stress and demoralisation are inevitable parts of health professionals’ lives.

Engagement is key

My team and I at Clever Together have been privileged to work with a wide number of NHS leaders to help them co-create strategies and plans through staff and stakeholder engagement. These have delivered meaningful institutional change, enabled through a platform of mass engagement supported by our tailored crowdsourcing methods.

In these types of projects, thousands of opinions are gathered and peer-assessed in days to create collective strategies, ambitions and plans with mass buy-in.

At Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, this has seen the co-creation of an entirely new strategic ethos permeating the organisation known as the “Leeds Way”. With a palpable shift arising, chief executive, Julian Hartley, recently supported divisional teams to embed our crowdsourcing enabled engagement methods to delve deeper into his trust’s collective wisdom.

With no planned meetings they’ve since garnered over 100,000 viewpoints, in 47 internal engagements, that aim to achieve even more ambitious outcomes and excellent patient care with sustainable use of resources.

Meanwhile, our work with Gillian Fairfield, was shortlisted for a 2015 HSJ staff engagement award. When she arrived as new chief executive of Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust, over 3,000 staff shared over 70,000 ideas, comments and votes in our crowdsourcing enabled process.

First, they co-created a new five year plan and then delved into why people take a lot of unplanned leave and what can be done about it. The trust faced up to its problems with strategic clarity and staff absence and is doing something about it – at scale.

What these projects share is that they’re tackling one of the biggest problems that can undermine productivity – a feeling of powerlessness in the face of traditional top-down leadership styles or political diktats.

By feeling that their opinions really matter, people develop a stronger, organisation-wide team spirit

Give people a real voice in reforming and driving strategy and plans and what we find time and again, as a consequence, is that people feel an enhanced sense of status in their role, more certainty and fairness, and a boost in their feelings of “relatedness” to others. In other words, by feeling that their opinions really matter and are acted upon, people develop a stronger, organisation-wide team spirit that leads to higher productivity, more resourcefulness and eventually less sickness and absenteeism.

As our nursing colleague said: let’s listen to and act upon staff voice. They will love you for it and will perform better.

Surely, this is a fantastic New Year’s resolution that really could bring us closer to a clinically excellent and financially sustainable NHS.

Peter Thomond is managing director at Clever Together