Lessons From Helsinkii

I’m just returning from 36 hours with the Coalition of Partners for Europe, as part of the World Health Organisation. There were a further 2 days of conversations to occur, but I needed to get back to Morecambe Bay. I have learned so much during my short time with this amazing group of people, some new things and other things learning at a new depth or from a different perspective. I am again bowled over by how using tools from the Art of Hosting can bring a diverse group of people, across languages and cultures together to have really important conversations. Rather than write this in long paragraphs, I’m simply going to bullet my learnings, some of them personal, some more corporate, some amusing, some difficult. One thing is for sure: I know much less than I thought I knew!

1) Finland is 100 years old this year. It has a fascinating history. They also have one of the best Public Health systems in the world and are huge at tackling the social determinants of health. We have much to learn from them and their Scandinavian neighbours.

2) People LOVE the idea of a Culture of Joy! There is a tiredness to the WHO but a recognition across the board that there is a need for cultural change and that culture determines an enormous amount in terms of how well organisations function. Remember a culture of joy is built on good, honest, open, encouraging, kind, approachable and vulnerable leadership, with team members feeling a) that they belong and are loved/valued b) that they are trusted to do their work and c) they share a strong sense of vision.

3) There is wide recognition that Social Movements are vital if we are going to break down health inequalities and see the health and wellbeing of all people improve. We simply cannot come up with ideas in board rooms and ‘do them’ to communities. However, there is also fantastic data and learning available to communtities, which can fuel the social movement. Public Health and Primary care must not sit as separate to or aloof from this emerging movement, but must be a key player and protagonist.

4) When dealing with complex systems, it is good to think of them as gardens instead of machines. To whom does the garden of public health belong? Public Health belongs to the public – it is part of the commons. Therefore communities need to be more involved. There are some great examples of community engagement from across Europe. However, we must move from consultancy to co-production and co-design.

5) Helping people live longer at a poorer quality of life is a pointless goal. The league tables and goals we develop must be co-designed with communities. Our markers of health and wellbeing need some reassessment.

6) People everywhere in the Western world are scared of talking about death and this has huge implications for how we spend money in our health systems.

7)  Our European history is so fragile. This causes its own complexities when European people meet together – it all comes into the room with us and requires grace and kindness as we communicate. The quality of relationships within the coalition is fantastic, but more time is needed to develop this.

8) When trying to drink a yoghurt in a taxi, it is important to seal your lips around it well, otherwise you spill it all down your front and look like an idiot.

9) Public health and Primary Care are the bedrock of any health system. I knew this already, but the evidence from around the World is staggering. If these two foundation stones fail, and the staff who deliver these services are not cared for, the entire system collapses.

10) The UK has some of the best public health systems of anywhere in the world. However, the world is watching the decimation of our public health services with dismay. The vital role of prevention and protection that public health has must never be underestimated. If we do not invest in prevention, the consequences for the health system is devastating. The reorganisation of Public Health into our county councils has seen profound cuts to the budgets, as councils have removed the ring fenced budgets. This will almost certainly have detrimental consequences, especially when it comes to tackling our most difficult health and wellbeing issues.

11) When people tell you that all saunas are naked, this may not actually be true and you might end up feeling pretty awkward!

12)  We have much to learn from other areas and nations. Shared learning is key. We can do this without competition, hierarchy or lording it over each other.

13)  Building good relationships is everything.

14) There is a new generation of leaders emerging who are able to deal with complexity, refusing old silos, borders and hierarchies and finding ways to collaborate through good, honest and vulnerable relationships.

15) We need to learn to hold expertise in one hand and humility in the other. The expertise in epidemiology and the mapping of our health and social issues is vital, if we are going to close the health inequality gaps.

16) Public health is dependent on building partnerships. The wider social determinants of health (poverty, housing, adverse childhood experiences, loneliness, education, environmental issues etc) cannot be tackled by the meagre Public Health budgets. Coalition, collaboration and cooperation across many sectors are necessary for us to begin to tackle these hugely complex social justice issues.

17) Due to public health being underfunded, it leaves it wide open to abuse from those who hold the money strings. Lobbies, donors and national governments hold huge power in determining what does and does not receive funding, often despite the evidence.

18) We need leaders who understand the importance of gift economy and making investments into areas which will not serve their ego nor their profile, but will cause huge benefit to many people.

19) Collecting really good data is important. We need to learn to use it well to shape the conversations and change policy and legislation.

20) Public health holds a hugely important voice in calling governments to account for policy decisions that are to the detriment of a nations health. There is now clear evidence that austerity economics is really bad for people’s physical and mental health and is actually causing people to die. Theory must be challenged hard when evidence does not support it.

21)  The poverty truth commission has so much to teach us. No decision about me, without me is for me. this statement made a profound impact on some of the delegates.

22) Doughnut Economics has caught the attention of the coalition.

23) Fazer chocolate is delicious.

24) One of the most challenging truths I learned is that it is often public health workers and doctors/clinicians working on the front line, who are the biggest barriers to working differently with communities and ironically get in the way of the very thing they would love to see happen. This has more to do with the ways we train people to think and work than anything else.

25) Although my talk went well and was hugely well received, I am learning more about the power of story and how to tell our story more effectively.

26) I am grateful that the coalition of partners does not depend on membership of the EU but I am more aware of the pain that Brexit is causing both for me personally and for many friends across Europe.
I understand that Brexit is happening, but day by day it feels to be one of the worst decisions we have ever made as a nation. It is going to cost us over £50 billion to leave, cause untold issues for our ability to trade, decimate the 3rd sector (which btw is the only thing right now stopping our public services from completely collapsing), undo so much great work built through the partnership of our nations and not deliver on any of the false promises made around extra money for our health system or solve our ‘migration issue’. Yes, the EU needs to change, but we have made a monumental error in leaving, rather than reforming it and I still feel we should just apologise and rebuild our bridges rather than burn them.

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Creating a Great Culture – Part 2

In the last blog, reflecting on the book “Legacy”, by James Kerr, I started to explore how the All Blacks have managed to create such an excellent culture; reflecting on what we can learn from it in the health and social care system (or indeed any environment).

 

Of the 15 principles outlined, I looked at the first 8 (the pack) and now I will look at the back 7.

 

9) Stay Focussed under Pressure – The eighth principle is to practice under pressure and learn to keep a cool head. This ninth one is about individuals and the team keeping their focus and attention on the task in front of them when the pressure comes. There are times when the stress is on. We are hard pressed from every side. The powers are breathing down our necks, the crisis is in front of us, we feel under resourced, over stretched and at the end of ourselves. Keeping our heads, and not losing them at such times, is the mark of a team who know how to manage themselves and take care of each other. This is really about learning to be mindful, to be present in the moment and to centre ourselves well. At times of real pressure, psychologists recommend three key things: 1) Slow your breathing down and focus on the breath flowing in and out of your body – this calms the mind and brings you into the present. 2) Find a repetitive action, like tapping your foot, scrunching your toes or clicking your fingers to help your body connect to the moment you are in. 3) Rehearse some mantras, which you can repeat back to yourself, over and over, to remind you of the basic things you need to do. That is what we use ABCDEF for in resuscitation – it’s why we need the automatic pilot. It also makes us far less likely to snap at team players and hurt relationships when the proverbial hits the fan.

 

10) Authenticity – the best leaders stay true to their deepest values, no matter what situation they find themselves in. Honesty = Integrity = Authenticity = Resilience = Performance. Be taken at your word. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be true to who you are, no matter where you are. To be lovely at work and a terrible person to your spouse or family lacks integrity and authenticity. Good people make good leaders.

 

11) Sacrifice – now, I would offer a word of caution here. We work in environments in which sometimes we sacrifice our own wellbeing or our own marriages/families due to the pressures and expectations that we put ourselves under, because we are good hearted people who often have the need to be needed or the need to be heroes. However, there is definitely a balance, because without some sacrifice and having the kind of love, which as Thomas Jay Oord puts it, is “self-emptying and others empowering” we will lack something vital in our culture.  Buckminster Fuller says we must wrestle with these questions: ‘What is my job on the planet? What needs doing, that I know something about, that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it? What extra mile will make us extraordinary?’

 

12) Language – Sing your world into existence. I hosted a conversation  in Morecambe recently, in which I shared that I often sing to places as I drive or walk through the streets (weird, I know!). But I asked everyone there, that if they were to sing a song to Morecambe, what that song would be. There was nobody without a song! Leaders are storytellers. All great organisations are born from a compelling story. Words and values really matter. Organisations need their own vocabulary, mottos, mantras and metaphors. The food of a leader is knowledge and communication. In Morecambe Bay, we are beginning to develop a language and a narrative around ‘The Bay Way.’ We want our vocabulary and our dialect to reflect the vision, values, culture and behaviours here.

 

13) Ritual – now, it might be pretty awkward if we all started to try and do the Haka at the start of our meetings! Not only would be awkward but it would make little cultural sense! Even for the All Blacks, the Haka has had to change. The team is no longer predominantly Maori, but a mixture of many cultures. They have had to go on a journey together of how to keeep and adapt a ritual that really means something and connects the team together. Ritual makes the intangible real. It can take many different forms, but it really is vital. It might be a daily team check in, but my sense is that it takes some bravery to establish and continue. In the West, we are so much more detached from our sense of corporate history and identity. Perhaps we feel embarrassed about it or no longer know what it means for us now. What might ritual look like in our work places and teams now? There is a Maori phrase which says: “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” This is why I am so keen for our teams to experience things together, like the Art of Hosting. It is in the partaking, the encountering of the ‘other’, the immersion in the experience in which we find ourselves changed.

 

14) Whakapapa – this is the principle of being a good ancestor. What are you sowing into those around you. The All Blacks make it really clear that becoming an All Black is a privilege not to be taken lightly. When you receive the jersey, it comes with a weight of history and a responsibility that you take it to the next level. The challenge is not to aim for something nice to be written on your grave stone, but for your fingerprints to be left in the lives of those around you, so that the thread of your story is continued. Here are some good words: Care for the land, care for the people. Go forward. Grow and branch forth for the days of your world.

 

15) Legacy – This is your time. What will you do with it? What will your legacy be?

 

There is so much to reflect on in the chapters of this book. We are in danger of rearranging the systems in which we work, without dealing with the issues of the heart. I will keep on saying this: Culture is vital. If we do not get our values and our culture right, we build on very shaky foundations and our house will not stand. Taking the time to reflect and build our culture together will enable us to create a legacy for the future that will be beautiful and life giving.

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