Look at any NHS Trust’s digital strategy and it’s likely to highlight the importance of empowering employees and unlocking innovation. But what does this mean in practice and how can Trusts get it right?
Employee experience is critical to NHS Trusts right now. It’s difficult to find an annual report that doesn’t prioritise the idea of empowering employees to innovate. Or, in simple terms, to come up with their own ideas and have the power to see them through.
Of course, against a backdrop of understaffed departments, recruitment problems and poor pay and work conditions, this is often easier said than done.
Last month, an independent review of health and adult social care leadership in the NHS found evidence of bullying, discrimination and blame culture. It noted that some staff in the NHS do not feel comfortable to speak up. In response, health secretary Sajid Javid has promised urgent action and "the biggest shake-up of leadership in decades".
There is undoubtedly a strong need – and will – to empower employees to drive change, but is there the means to do so?
We know that innovation works best when it comes from staff inside an organisation, instead of it being forced upon people from the top down. If people are able to solve their own problems, the solutions are much more likely to be satisfactory.
And often, the best ideas come from people that are living them every day. If you’re on the front line, you experience the problems yourself and you’re in the best position to understand how to fix them.
We’ve seen how powerful this approach is through our work with many NHS Trusts. One of the best examples is the SpeakUp app we developed with University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire (UHCW) Trust .
The app was designed to reduce the barriers for raising workplace concerns, like bullying and discrimination. The idea came from a member of staff who recognised the need for an easy way for employees to speak up about their concerns. They knew it needed to assure confidentiality and offer the option of anonymity, and ultimately encourage a culture where everyone feels at ease to open up.
An app is the obvious solution here as it removes the need for face-to-face interactions and can be completely anonymised. Not only that, but it’s easy to adapt and roll out. Once it’s proven to work in one Trust, others can adapt it to their needs to serve a wider community.
But how can a team with no technical expertise bring the idea to life and make sure it delivers what the end users want?
This is where our no-code solution comes in:
This process works, because once you empower a single employee to make a change, it has a ripple effect.
If people’s ideas are listened to, taken on board and properly considered, it inspires others to come forward too. And if you involve a wider user group in the design process they become invested in it before it launches.
Seeing an idea turn into reality like this helps employees realise that they can solve other big issues in their organisations themselves as well. That might be reducing the referral backlog in the NHS or helping to recruit more people.
Whatever the issue, employees need to see it’s possible to use digital solutions, like automations or apps, to solve them.
Ideally, the employee takes their idea to the innovation team, who help them to round it out, think it through and turn it into a proper service.
For us, this is where design thinking kicks in. This is a methodology that puts users at the heart of product development by defining what users need, creating prototypes to put into their hands and iterating as you go.
It’s a fluid, non-linear process that ultimately works because it requires you to empathise with the end user and stand in their shoes. And who better to do this than the employees who are either experiencing or witnessing the problem themselves?
When you’re building a no-code app, you get the best results when the person whose idea it is – who experiences and understands the challenges on the front line – is present throughout. They know what it needs to do and then they own the results.
Understanding the power of involving employees in innovation is one thing; encouraging them to take time out of their busy lives and get involved is another. Here is our advice on how to do it:
The NHS is facing some big challenges when it comes to workplace culture and staff satisfaction. Developing innovative digital solutions like the SpeakUp app is a great starting point for addressing employee’s unresolved issues.
Anonymous platforms give staff a safe place to confidently open up. By empowering people to come forward with their own ideas, a new workplace culture begins to emerge too. This can be one where innovation grows and people believe that if they have ideas, they can implement them and make a difference.