Continuously Learning Health Systems


Learning requires humility. It requires us to accept that we don’t know everything, that we get it wrong sometimes, make mistakes and need to own up to them so that we don’t do the same thing again. Learning is a vital part of all we do in health and social care, if we are to create truly safe, sustainable, compassionate and excellent services. But humility, although vital, is not enough on its own. There are things we need to put in place to ensure our organisations are continually learning, and not only so but that we actually implement our learning and incorporating it into new ways of working so that we change as a result.

The IHI and Allan Frankel have come up with a really helpful and pretty straight forward framework which enables us to do this. It requires 3 basic ingredients:

 

1) Leadership commitment

2) Individual responsibility

3) A shared learning culture for quality and safety

 

Leadership is absolutely vital in setting the right structures and support in place for learning to take place. It requires:

 

-transparency with the public, patients and staff

-vulnerability about weaknesses

-openness about what is being learned and what is changing as a result

-ensuring we are learning with and from our patients not just within our clinically teams. (Some of the most powerful learning we have done in Morecambe Bay has been from women using our maternity services. Our attitudes, communication skills and expertise have all improved dramatically as a result).

-commitment to the psychological safety of staff in developing a culture in which no question is too stupid and no concern is dismissed

-genuine care for each member of staff, creating a culture in which every person can be mentored, coached and encouraged

-time given and protected in which learning can be fostered

 

Personal Responsibility

Who are you?

In my role as a coach/mentor or trainer I have found that we have become far too obsessed with ensuring that people have the right skills but not necessarily paying too much attention to who people are, what their character is like, what their strengths and weaknesses are and how they are developing as a human being. Our medical/nursing and other clinical schools are filled with people eager to learn but who often have no idea about who they are and who, not what they would like to become. Knowing who you are as a person, hugely affects your clinical practice and we do not give it any way near enough attention. I am personally a huge fan of the Enneagram. For me it has been transformational to understand as a type 7, not only what my root need is (to avoid pain) what my root struggle is (gluttony) how I do under stress (become a falsely happy control freak) but also, what my invitation is (towards sober joy and deeper understanding), how to become a more healthy version of me and therefore a better gift to my family, my team and all the people I’m trying to serve. It has helped me to recognise when I’m doing well and when I’m not and to understand how to bring my core strengths to the fore whilst also recognising where I need discipline and boundaries to function from a more healed place. We each have a responsibility not just to be good at stuff, but to be good at being us. And  being us is more than just knowing how we function (e.g. ENFP in Myers-Briggs) but to get below the surface to the core of what makes us tick, that makes us human. Knowing who we truly are enables us to be better, kinder, more humble, genuine, compassionate people, who put aside the need to beat others down and learn to appreciate them so much more. When you really know the team you are working with, they become your friends, you understand the little idiosyncratic things about them with a whole lot more patience and you can also challenge them when they are not behaving in a way that is conducive to good care and you can also receive that challenge back when you are out of line. I wish that we were more interested in caring about who we are rather than only in what we can do. This has got to be a part of the culture of joy I have blogged about previously.

How are you?

Personal responsibility beckons us to be more honest with ourselves and others about how we’re doing emotionally/physically/mentally. It has been a transformational practice in our team to simply check-in with each other and talk about where we’re at. In this way, we can carry each other when needed and treat each other with kindness and compassion. But our individual agency, must also cause us to recognise when we are at a wall/ceiling/limit personally or professionally. We must simply own up when we don’t know something or are out of our depth or need help. We cannot pretend to be able to have a competency that we don’t have. We need to be self-aware and humble enough to accept when we don’t know something or have become unwell and ensure that we take it upon ourselves to find out or get the help we need. This is learning to have an internal, rather than an external locus of control. An external locus, always looks elsewhere for the answer. An internal locus takes responsibility to find out and keep learning. We need to develop a core value, that learning is really really important and we will prioritise ensuring that we keep making time to do so, through whatever form that takes, especially reflective practice. Yes there is some dependency on supportive structures and time being given, but there is also that sense of motivation that comes from within that we take ourselves and our roles seriously. It’s one of the reasons why I’m such a fan of a combination of problem-based learning and a solutions-focussed approach. If we do this ourselves and foster it in our teams, the care we provide will be beyond stellar!

Why are you Here?

We talk about the law of two feet in our team. You are responsible to know why you are here, or if you need to be somewhere else. That might even mean a job change, but more often than not it means having some good boundaries, knowing whether or not you really need to be at a certain meeting or somewhere else, if you should be doing what you are or if you need to ensure other things get the right focus. And what about yourself? Have you taken time to eat well, stay well hydrated, exercise, sleep well, maintain health in your relationships? In teams that care for each other we need to help each other to know why we are there and why we are important.

 

A Shared Learning Culture

 

It’s amazing to me that so many of our learning environments are still so teacher-based. Adult education is so much more empowering than this and it’s high time our clinical learning environments (both preclinical and in every day life) reflect this. They should also be more inclusive and we should be learning with and from our patients far more than we do. Although the above graphic applies to classroom settings, it contains many lessons for us.

 

With leadership and personal agency holding true, a culture then develops in which continuous learning is the norm. Learning environments, fuelled by kenotic power create a space in which an organisation can begin to truly flourish. It creates a net of accountability, teamwork, improvement and measurement, making the entire system more reliable. It is vital that we create this as one of the core principles upon which we build our future health and social care systems.

 

 

 

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We Have a Power Problem!

NHS – we have a problem! This blog forms a hiatus in the middle of a 4 blog mini-series about what I call the four rings of leadership (in the context of healthcare). I have been musing on some statements made at the IHI conference in London, Quality 2017, and before I go any further, I want to take a pause to reflect on the notion of power. Helen Bevan says that the number one issue facing our health care system is the issue of power. I would suggest that unless we seriously reflect on power and how it manifests itself in our systems and in us as individuals, then we will never be able to co-create health and well-being in our society.

 

In my last blog, I mentioned an excellent talk that I heard Derek Feeley of IHI and Jason Leitch, the CMO of Scotland, give together about our need to “cede” power, if we are to build safe, high quality, economically sustainable health systems. They contend that we need to move from keeping power, to sharing power and then ceding power. To cede power, means to transfer/surrender/concede/allow or yield power to others. I do believe this is correct. I believe that true leadership is absolutely about being able to ’empty out’ positions or seats of power, so that all are empowered to effect positive change and build a society of positive peace. However, my contention is this: ceding power is not helpful unless we first deal with the very nature of power. Once we have dealt with its very substance can we truly cede it through our organisations and systems to bring increased well-being for all.

 

I have talked many times over the dinner table with my great friends Roger and Sue Mitchell about the nature of sovereignty and power. Sovereignty is a dominant theme within our political discourse at the moment, at a national and international level. It is worth reflecting that sovereignty (the right to self-govern) is utterly intertwined with our understanding of power, and we need to pull the two apart if we are ever to cede the kind of power that can transform the future. If we do not recognise (have a full awareness/deeply know) this, we will continue to inadvertently create hierarchical dominance and systems that become the antithesis of what they are created to be.

 

 

We see the issue of sovereign power at work every day in the NHS. We see it in terms of power edicts from on high, without understanding the local context or issues worked through in a relational way. We see it in the way these edicts are then outworked through leadership and management styles, which are very top-down and hierarchical in nature, eating up people like bread in the process – what Foucault calls “Biopower”. We see it in the way wards are managed and in the way GP surgeries are run. Sovereign power says “I’m in charge around here” and “we’re going to do things my way”. We see it in individuals who choose to practice autonomously without thinking about the wider implications on the system, prescribing however they would like to, without thinking about the cost implications. We see it in the attitude of some patients, when it becomes about “my rights” with an unbearable or unaffordable pressure put onto the system. If we multiply sovereign power, we simply end up with lots of  kings and queens who defend their own castle, creating more barriers, walls and division in the process. Sovereign power is defunct and dangerous and it is this which is currently destroying our ecosystems and wider society. The “I did it my way” approach is rooted in self preservation and ambition and does nothing to help us build health and well-being in society. Sovereign power stands in the way the very social movements we need to see, because Sovereign power is based on fear.

 

Sovereign power has its roots in certain streams of theology and philosophy which have in turn laid the foundation for a way of doing politics and economics based on the supremacy of the state and within that the individual. However, the damaging effects of this are seen on our environment and on community, with utterly staggering levels of inequality, injustice and damage to the world in which we live.

 

If we are to truly cede a power that is effectual in changing the world, then it is not enough to simply reconfigure (rearrange) it, or reconstitute it ( i.e. give it a new structure/share it). First of all, we must revoke it! In other words, we must look ‘Sovereign power’ straight in the eyes and reject it, cancelling it’s toxic effects on our own selves and on that of others. We must change our minds about it and embrace instead a wholly different kind of power. Sovereign power has not changed the world for the better so far, and I hold no hope of it doing so in the future. No, we don’t need Sovereign power and we certainly don’t want to cede it. Instead, we need kenotic power. Kenotic power is based in self-giving, others empowering love (Thomas Jay Oord). It empowers others, not to live like mini-dictators, but to also dance to a very different beat.

 

I used to play the card game bridge, with my Grandpa (he was an amazing man, who invented Fairy Liquid!). In bridge, to revoke something is to fail to follow suit, despite being able to do so. Kenotic power refuses to play the game of Sovereign power. It embraces an entirely different approach. And as many through the ages have found, this kind of power is truly costly, and can even cost you your career or life; but it is the only kind of power that truly changes the world for good. Jesus, Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Gandhi, MLK, Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, Florence Nightingale and Mother Theresa are just some, who have embraced this ‘self-giving, others empowering love-based power.’ This is the kind of power we need now. We need it in healthcare and in every other part of our society.

 

Kenotic power is vulnerable but it is not about being a door mat. It is like a beautiful martial art, in which we can say “I won’t fight you and you can’t knock me down, unless I let you” In other words, we lay down our rights and power freely, they are not taken from us by force. So, even when energetic attacks are launched against us, this kind of power allows us to move out of the way, allow the attack to pass through and then to come along side the person and help them see another point of view. Switching to this kind of power is far more creative, less combative and far more fruitful in creating a way ahead full of possibilities without the need for making enemies in the process. We must challenge the deep structural belief that our political and economic systems must be built on and can only be held together by Sovereign power. What if we developed systems based on love, trust, joy and kindness, aiming for the peace and wellbeing of all (including the environment?) – what might such a health system be like? It will take a social movement for us to get this shift, and as I wrote in my previous blog: You might call this a re-humanisation of our systems based on love, trust and the hope of a positive peace for all. But this social movement is not aiming for some kind of hippy experience in which we are all sat round camp fires, singing kum-ba-yah! This social movement is looking to cause our communities to flourish with a sense of health and wellbeing, to have a health and social care movement that is safe, sustainable, socially just and truly excellent, serving the needs of the wider community to grow stronger with individuals learning, growing and developing in their capacity to live well.

 

 

I agree wholeheartedly that the most important role of leaders is to cede their power, so that all can truly flourish, where there is a far greater sense of cooperative and collaborative agency within our (health) systems. But if we do not examine the nature of this power, we will only perpetuate our problems.

 
Martin Luther-King said these famous words – they are seriously worthy of our reflection:

 

Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

 

 

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Joy!

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Turning To Each Other

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Just to be Clear – This is a Social Justice Issue

Tweet Following on from my blog earlier this week, I want to be really clear in what I am saying! The funding formula used in health and social care is weighted towards the wealthy and the well…therefore the north is worse off compared to the south… We are already at a major deficit in terms of health outcomes, [Continue Reading …]