Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust win HPMA Award

The HPMA Excellence in HRM Awards have been recognising and rewarding outstanding work in healthcare human resource management for over twenty years. Winning projects, large and small, have made a real difference to patient care and influenced HR practice in healthcare and beyond. This year’s awards ceremony was held at The Brewery in central London on 26 June 2014.

NHS Professionals sponsored the Overall Winner category for the 4th year running, with the winner being selected by the judges from among the category winners. The judge panel comprised: Rachel Moench, Executive Director of OD & Workforce, West London MH NHS Trust; Joanna Marshall, Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development, The University of Bradford; Sally Storey, Director of Human Resources, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust; Ann McConnell, Assistant Director of HR, Workforce Development & Performance, Western HSC Trust; Dawn Jarvis, Director of People and Organisational Development, Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation; and David Holmes, Vice President of HPMA, West Midlands.

This year’s overall winner is Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) who has implemented an extremely successful strategy to improve staff engagement called ‘Staff Engagement the WWL Way’. We spoke to Nicole Ferguson, Staff Engagement Lead, to find out more about their award-winning programme.

What does it mean to the WWL NHS Foundation Trust to win this award?

This really is a fantastic achievement for the Trust and great recognition for us in terms of what we have already achieved and what we have put in place. This award will give us the confidence to move forward with what we are doing and will push us to keep building on it.

How did you find out about the HPMA Awards and what made you enter them?

As HPMA members, our HR director was informed about the awards a few months ago. The opportunity popped up at exactly the right time as our improvements in staff engagement were becoming really clear. ‘WWL Way’ was developed as an innovative approach towards staff engagement. We even had interest from other trusts who were keen to know how we achieved these results. The HPMA Awards are a great opportunity to share this learning with others, but also to learn from others within our category.

What do you mean by the ‘WWL Way’?

Over the last couple of years we have developed what the ‘WWL Way’ looks like. It has become a framework for understanding, implementing and embedding sustainable staff engagement through continuous improvement. Our Trust carries out continuous temperature checks throughout the year to identify what issues need addressing. Even though our action is data-led we have made the information very accessible to all the staff so they can diagnose what is going on within their team.

How would you best describe your staff engagement project?

I wouldn’t describe it as a project because we want to continue practising in this way and continue improving staff engagement. We have created a measurable framework around staff engagement and have used this to collect data every quarter. We measure what engagement looks like in terms of behaviour but also how engaged our staff feel at work. It is important to measure cultural conditions like working relationships and the level of influence and trust the staff have. From this we’ve created a good picture of what is and isn’t working for staff so we can find ways to improve. In terms of communication, we developed an animated video simplifying staff engagement and explaining our pathway model. We made sure that it was created at a level that everyone can relate to and we now use it as a tool to get staff thinking about how they can engage with each other as well.

What are the benefits of the programme / how has it improved patient care?

Overall, we have seen dramatic reductions in patient mortality rates as well as improvements in infection control, patient satisfaction and other similar measurables. We have also seen improvements over the last three annual staff engagement surveys. Managers are asking all the right questions such as, ‘have we listened to staff?’, and ‘have we involved them in decision-making and influencing?’ Leaders are also starting to see this as an opportunity to achieve their goals. At our monthly meeting communication is always on the agenda. It is constantly reiterated that staff engagement is a priority especially as our results show that keeping our staff engaged improves patient care.

What were the challenges and how were they overcome?

I think the main challenges when trying to improve staff engagement are keeping up momentum, acting at scale and avoiding the “one size fits all” approach.

We have introduced large-scale staff listening events, led by Chief Executive, Andrew Foster and other Directors where staff are asked what works well, what needs to improve, and what are the barriers to improvement. These are a great way to engage with staff as they allow them to get more involved and have more influence in the organisation. It is really important that they have clarity within their teams and understand what is going on. The only problem is that you can’t just run a one-off, large scale listening event as not everyone will attend. You can’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach as some may feel uncomfortable with raising concerns or ideas. It also may be the case that some people are not engaged by these events.

We have to constantly come up with new ideas and new innovative ways of engaging people. Different things work for different people. Just last week we ran a World Cup event where we had 22 teams taking part in five-aside games, which we linked with our Inclusion and Diversity Group. Our team works hard to come up with new ways to keep staff engaged and ensure that they actually enjoy the work they do at the Trust.

Why was there a need to improve staff engagement?

Our 2011 staff survey results catalysed the need for improvement. They weren’t as good as we would have hoped and made the Trust realise that we really need to try and re-energise staff engagement. Six months to a year of embedding this new approach definitely helped kick-start things into action.

How best could this learning be shared?

Earlier this year we had quite a lot of interest from about four or five other Trusts who were curious to find out what we were doing to achieve such good results. Because of this we ran a ‘Staff Engagement Masterclass’ in March where we invited these Trusts to come along and give us the opportunity to share our learning. However, after NHS Employers advertised it, we ended up having more than 40 Trusts coming along, so it was a really great event. We used this to explain our programme, explain why we invested in it and why we believe in the return on investment.

Masterclasses are a great way to share learning but case studies are also extremely effective and we are currently producing one with NHS Employers. Collaborating with other Trusts is also a great way to share learning. We have just started a partnership with Stockport NHS Foundation Trust who also achieve great engagement results so this partnership will allow us to help each build on staff engagement by sharing our practices.

What makes this project different from other staff engagement programmes?

I don’t think that any other Trusts are doing what we are doing; we have a measureable framework that is based on evidence from our results. It’s a scientific way of understanding engagement but is translated into something that is very practical that everybody can access and understand. It’s not just accessible to staff within the trust, but also those in other Trusts as well.

Do you have any future plans for the programme?

We are currently developing an IT platform that will conduct our diagnostic surveys automatically. At the moment we run them manually so this will definitely improve accuracy and efficiency. When this system is available we want to open it up to a North West network to find out what others are getting in their results and what approaches are working well for them. We will to continue to share best practice with other Trusts in order to build on our programme.

At Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust we want to continue to do what we are doing but also integrate staff engagement with wellbeing. It is very important to us that our staff are engaged but also that they can sustain that engagement without burning out. We will do as much as we can to see patient care improve because at the end of the day this is the most important factor.

About the author

NHS Professionals administrator

NHS Professionals manages the temporary staffing needs of around 66 NHS Trusts across England. An integral part of the NHS, it aims to reduce Trusts’ spending on flexible workers without compromising quality, by providing greater transparency of demand and supplying bank staff at the best possible rate. Its bank of more than 40,000 flexible workers comprises general and specialist nurses, doctors, midwives, admin/clerical , allied health professionals, healthcare scientists, support services among other healthcare professionals.

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