Dear PPMA friends

This week Karen was at the HPMA Wales Annual Conference talking about #outoftheshadows. In this week’s post she shares her experiences and also updates us on campaign progress. Enjoy the read.

Respect and Resolution – the perspective from Wales

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog on our #outoftheshadows campaign and it’s more than time for an update.

On Wednesday I attended HPMA Wales Annual Conference. HPMA Wales Vice-President Claire Vaughan, is a really passionate warm and supportive professional. Her day job is Director of Workforce and OD, Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust and she’s built an award-winning team there and a stellar HPMA Wales team too.

Clare and I met at the HPMA Annual Conference in June this year and she was kind enough to express an early interest in #outoftheshadows. So, I was delighted to receive an invite to the Wales Annual Conference with it’s ‘Respect and Resolution’ agenda. And God knows we could all do with a lot more of that at the moment.

I’d been doing some research in pulling my presentation together and making sure I reflected on that fact that our #outoftheshadows survey is now available for completion. More on that in a bit.  In my prep, I’d been thinking very much about the stories people have shared with me since we launched our campaign in May. And I’d been reading again about Mr Amin Abdullah who had committed suicide in February 2016 following his experience of being unfairly dismissed from Charing Cross Hospital.

For those of us who have lived the experience of bullying in particular, reading stories like this is particularly affecting. It’s even more moving knowing that instances of bullying are still happening day in and out.

After not much sleep, a long drive down to Cardiff and an open hearted and generous welcome, it turned out I had a deeply moving and meaningful day. My session time had to be reduced so it was slides out of the window time and sharing stories time. Ironically, sharing the stories that had led me to the launch of #outoftheshadows is always much more impactful than anything else.

After the session I spoke to a number of people who shared tears, deeply moving stories and offers of help. Not for the first time, my heart has ached and sung at the same time when talking about this issue. There are some profoundly decent people around wanting to make a real difference in our workplaces.

One of those – Dr Chris Turner – was our keynote speaker for the afternoon. Chris was kind enough to come and see me after my session and I felt a kindred spirit in him in terms of some of his experiences. Chris is an Emergency Medical consultant at University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire. Hat tip, if you are ever going to need emergency treatment have your accident close by.

We are not made equal – and character matters

Helen Keller said “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved”.

Personally, I’d bet Chris was always extraordinary but his experiences at Mid-Staffs have contributed to shaping him. It’s worth reading a little bit more here. Together with medical colleagues he created and champions the Civility Saves Lives campaign – and he is the GMC lead for Civility. (Just think about that, isn’t that amazing?).

One of the drivers behind #outoftheshadows for me is the most soul destroying one. And it’s this – bullying and how we deal with it isn’t actually new. There is a body of evidence on the subject, there are policy and best practice pronouncements and any time there is a death there is always a worthy inquiry and report.

But still…… it continues to happen.

Undoubtedly there is a legitimate conversation to be had about what bullying is, how we can consistently recognise it and call it out. And leadership is absolutely at the heart of this. But our efforts to tackle it to date are held back in my view, because it’s such a very emotive issue. It’s devastating to be bullied but it is also devastating to be accused of bullying. And for organisations, it’s devastating to think that this can happen in our places. In far far too many cases, we respond to this through a lens that is fear based. And fear is never a good place from which to react.

I’m increasingly passionate about brain science and hopeful that it offers all of us (but particularly HR & OD professionals) a way to address the issue. And this is where Dr Chris comes in.

It’s the Amygdala – stupid!

The amygdala is a (relatively) tiny part of deep within the temporal lobe of the human brain. Ok, so what, I hear you say?

Well as Chris shared with us, this amazing part of our brain is known to perform a primary (and therefore critical) role in the processing of memory, decision-making and emotional responses.  For our purposes those emotional responses include fear, anxiety and aggression.

Practically I bet very few of us think about the anatomical make up of our bodies. But we really should. Understanding what happens to our bodies physically when we are being bullied is a window into a whole new set of solutions for preventing and addressing the issues #outoftheshadows is tackling. PPMA colleagues will already be aware of neuroscience research that indicates our brains freeze when we feel under threat. So, when we might be interpreting someone as being uncommunicative, difficult or both – the actual lived experience is that they cannot function effectively. 

Professor Michael West’s work on Compassionate Leadership in the NHS in iconic and broader public services can learn a lot from that. Chris shared with us that in some of West’s work, NHS teams were found to be 40% effective only. If you focused on increasing that effectiveness to 65% say, the extrapolated impact would be 12,000 lives saved a year. That still leaves a hell of an opportunity to grasp. Under any set of circumstances, the consequences of cognitive impairment won’t be good, but think about this from the perspective of a patient or a child in care, or an elderly patient struggling to live independently.

Just let that sink in.

Let this sink in too:

Data also shows us that there is even an impact of incivility – of being rude. And for many us rudeness doesn’t correspond even remotely to our lived experience of bullying.

  • 80% of recipients of rudeness lose time worrying about the rudeness
  • 38% reduce the quality of their work
  • 48% reduce their time at work, and
  • 25% take it out on service users……

Going back to the amazing little Amygdala for a moment then, understanding that there is a cognitive impairment helps us also understand that the memories our brains create from such experiences will be pervasive. For many of us they pervade for a very long time – particularly without the tools to understand what is happening and compassion and support to change them.

Another set of numbers to think about…….

  • Between 1996 and 2001, only 26 scientific papers were published that looked at the impact of behaviour on patient outcomes
  • Between 2001 and 2016, that number had risen to 1700.

So, there’s clearly something to this science thing then. I’ll be writing more on this over the next couple of months and posting some updated research on our campaign research pages.

In the meantime, I beg you to please read up on Professor West’s work and Dr Chris Turner’s work. And please please please participate in our research survey. You can access it here.