Clinical Thinking - Lessons in Leadership from Alder Hey

Case Study from Aldermore Bank: Clinical Thinking – Lessons in Leadership from Alder Hey

by Jonny Carberry, Group Talent Manager, Aldermore Bank

Lessons in Leadership from Alder Hey

They say if you come from Liverpool you’re only one person removed from having had the support of Alder Hey. Everybody knows someone who knows someone who’s benefited from their care and support at some point in their life. It’s an institution that carries reverence within the local area and rightly so. It mirrors the same characteristics of the city in which it grew – resilience, compassion and a Scouse humour in times of adversity. Quite simply it’s the best of us.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending some time ‘behind the scenes’ within their Innovation Lab listening to the inspirational Consultant Paediatric Surgeon Iain Hennessey and his fantastic team. As I sat and tried to absorb the remarkable insight shared it was difficult not to wonder quite simply how they balanced such an ethic of care, curiosity and operational excellence with a relentless desire to iterate and improve. Innovation, they framed was a tri-conjugated definition:

“A fresh idea – implemented – to achieve value.”

As this framing appeared on the presentation slide, It struck me that many leaders are happy to note success as the achievement of part one, others conclude ‘mission complete’ at fulfilling parts one and two… but without the third, quantifiable in nature, you haven’t really moved forward.

Iain and his team were clearly obsessive about the connected nature of this positioning and happy to fail & learn in pursuit of value. The whole feel of the place is one of possibility… of finding a way, and it’s genuinely awe-inspiring. I’ve sought to reflect back on my scribbling, frantically captured across an immersive schedule of talks, presentations, plenary discussions and in the afternoon, a navigation of the hospital itself.

It seems such a simple concept that Leaders should learn from Leaders – a idea promoted heavily by Adrian Simpson and the excellent team at Wavelength who helped facilitate our visit. Likewise cross-industry conversation clearly only adds to existing thinking and builds out new perspectives. I’m also minded of the book ‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed who advocates for the cross-pollination of cultures – and particularly the lessons that can be learned from the healthcare profession:

“The idea is to view mistakes not as failures but as valuable feedback mechanisms in the pursuit of progress.”

Towards the end of the visit I took a few moments to capture my top four key takeaways and the lessons I felt sat underneath them.

One – What’s your proximity to the problem?

As leaders, you’re often told to ‘take a step back’ or position yourself to create an ‘umbrella perspective’. Acolytes of mainstream leadership practice will extol the virtues of a removed and distant opinion. That you can’t form an objective view with too much personal investment. However, it was clear that a large part of Alder Hey’s success is in zooming in before you zoomed out. In understanding the granularity of the issue, the mechanics and interdependence of component parts and how this is directly correlated to the value you get when the time is right to take a broader view.

Stopping and assessing your proximity to the issue can be the fast-lane to solving the problem.

Two – Collaborate for action not just awareness.

Often times, leaders receive feedback on their volition to collaborate. For some it is a natural part of their working style and for others it is something that must be consciously enacted. As I listened to some of the stories shared a new distinction started to form in my thinking. It was clear that the team at Alder Hey collaborated for action. Collaboration had a purpose. It was targeted and meaningful. At times I’m sure all of us have ‘collaborated’ for awareness – imparting our work in the consciousness of others on the off chance the objective isn’t met and we can reassure ourselves that ‘at least I looped them in’. I think it’s important to reflect on what’s driving this behaviour. I fear it’s counter-intuitive to the purpose – instead of creating shared accountability, in real terms it can be dissolving it in your minds eye. The team at Alder Hey had clearly moved beyond this, to the point I’d assert collaboration has assumed a new lexical format of ‘co-investment’. They not only had a culture of shared accountability but of increased responsibility to each other in the achievement of the problem in front of them.

Collaboration for action creates co-investment. Collaboration for awareness can dissolve accountability.

Three – Get there early and own the ground

After a coffee break we were given permission to interrupt an in-flight ideation session, with team members of different specialisms assessing a list of submissions from across the hospital and ruminating on which ones could be tackled within the remit of the Innovation Lab. Later on in the day and during a separate presentation the simple but hugely impactful phrase was casually communicated…

“We look to get there early and own the ground.”

This, it was clear, was at the heart of progress and the shaping of acceptable solutions to problems that were still in their infancy (if visible at all). In the corporate world we frequently profess the power of models like McKinsey’s Three Horizons for strategic planning – but this was different, more deliberate and less conceptual. It was the ability to plant a flag in the horizon and say with conviction this is the future and we are going to start to build for it today. It was a remarkable talent and evident in the technology that surrounded us and the stories of product design told by individuals who were core enablers to this ideology.

Conviction shouldn’t be diluted by the fear of failure, but reaffirmed in the pursuit of shaping the future to your own beliefs.

Four – Respect is paramount, no matter the complexity of the issue.

I hadn’t heard about the concept of Patient & Family Centred Care (PFCC) before my visit but in hindsight it is an obvious and ethical approach – simply that the patient should play a core part in their treatment. The importance of dialogue between those that are being cared for and those in a position of care is the foundation of patient centricity – framed through one simple word, ‘respect’. The value placed on this word was significant in the way the team at Alder Hey conducted their duties. Whether that was in the nuanced design of the building (low height doorways opening into high vaulted ceilings to orchestrate the feeling of release for worried young patients), the physical actions of staff who always ensure they go down on one knee to speak with the children (communicating on their level) or the removal of the smell from the cleaning products that made the place shine (so not to leave a lingering memory of trauma through association). Respect was everywhere and it didn’t lessen in the face of complexity – if anything it increased.

It brought a perspective that I think is of significant value to other industries – How many times are we at the risk of changing our behaviour when the pressure is on or the challenge intensifies. The pleasantries can be dropped for affirmative statements and the dissolution of inter-personal relations.

When we’re faced with challenge, dial up the respect.

At the end of the day we were asked to share a one word reflection on the visit by our super facilitator Annette Liebau. Mine? Simply ‘grateful’. Grateful to have seen excellence in action. Grateful to listen to a team that enact with compassion and a clear understanding of the brilliance of each other. Grateful to know there are places like Alder Hey to catch us in the moments we need it most.

N.B I spoke with Iain during our lunch break and sought permission to share my key takeaways, which was granted. In my view it is the least they deserve for the remarkable work that they do.

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