Haidee Davis is the general manager of Ko Awatea. She has an extensive background in nursing and leadership as a charge nurse at Waikato Hospital, and further developed her leadership skills through undertaking a number of critical roles within the Waikato District Health Board, including forming their Programme Management Office. This article is the third in a series of her reflections on leadership in healthcare transformation.
Staff morale is important in any organisation, but in the healthcare sector it’s crucial.
People work in healthcare because they have an intrinsic set of values that lead them to care about helping others. As leaders, our job is to create an environment which promotes the expression of those values so staff can perform at their peak.
This value proposition allows healthcare to compete with the salaries on offer in the private sector to attract, retain and develop good people.
We must also be aware that the healthcare environment can be testing. Staff carry huge workloads and must deal with conflicting priorities and emotionally difficult circumstances. In such an environment, the way we look after our staff has a direct impact on their wellbeing and performance.
A culture that supports morale
What does a culture that supports good staff morale look like?
• Leaders are honest and transparent.
• There is a focus on identifying opportunities for improvement from a system perspective, rather than a punitive culture that focuses on individuals.
• Staff are encouraged to explore new ways of working to foster innovation.
• The environment builds capability and stretches people’s thinking. If external experts need to be brought in, staff are encouraged to work alongside them to learn and develop professionally.
• Patients and staff are listened to and actively engaged in creating solutions to challenges.
• Policies and attitudes are family-friendly and interested in what matters to staff and who they are outside work.
• Staff feel connected at a ‘human’ level. For example, sharing work and personal experiences, stories and creative expression helps to bind people together.
• Attitudes, behaviours, policies and activities are firmly rooted in agreed values.
The role of the leader
Leaders must create an environment based on values. Connection to values is the basis for creating and maintaining a culture that supports staff morale.
The first step is to decide what matters to the organisation at a strategic level. What are the core values that drive the organisation? How do these values translate into behaviours? By working through these questions with your team, you will arrive at a shared understanding of how you want to be perceived by yourself and others, and the behaviours and attitudes you expect as an organisation. These agreed values shape the culture of the organisation.
The role of the leader is then to ensure that these values are demonstrated, both in their own attitudes and behaviours and in the course the organisation takes. While the pressures of day-to-day operation can make it difficult to hold to the organisation’s ‘true north’, failing to do so risks disrupting the desired culture and breaking the chain that holds the team together. The skill required of a leader is to lift their gaze above day-to-day operations, observe when the organisation is veering off-track and correct its course.