If you look after your staff, they will look after the people you support. Having learnt this from a fantastic boss, I have subscribed to this simple formula as a leader in social care for the past twenty years.
From recent experience, I would go further to suggest that values-based leadership drives staff engagement and fully engaged staff are far more likely to deliver higher quality services.
The importance of values-based leadership
Recently I realised, having been asked several times to explain the concept, that I had taken it for granted that people understood what values-based leadership actually meant. Perhaps it’s because the word ‘values’ is so amorphous and that there is no such thing as absolute values – it means different things to different people – or it may be that the concept is bandied around so much it has lost its ‘value’.
I suspect many people recognise the absence of values-based leadership, when they experience toxic work cultures, bullying, poor management etc. It’s the default question I ask every time I see on the news or read about abuse in care institutions – what were the values that the leaders of these organisations inculcating?
However important systems, policies and procedures are, they are not going to protect vulnerable older people behind closed doors in their care home bedroom or adults with learning disabilities in closed institutions. Only authentic values-based cultures, in which staff feel positive about themselves and the organisations they work in, can give us that assurance. I also speak as a parent of an adult with a severe learning disability and in anticipation that I will have to trust the values of the organisation with my daughter’s life.
We don’t have to go further than look at the travesty of justice unravelling at the Post Office to ask similar questions. What was most important to its leaders? I wonder what values underpinned their leadership behaviour; what was the personal example they set to their workforce; what type of organisational culture had they created? Were they fair, honest, guided by ethical principles (integrity): or insightful, candid, reflective, willing to admit their mistakes (humility), or caring, compassionate (humanity)?
Values based leadership in practice: Lessons from Langdon
As a new leadership team at Langdon, we decided we wanted to understand how the levels of staff engagement connected to the low morale within the workforce and in what ways did this impact on the quality of services provided.
Using Agenda Consulting’s staff engagement survey we were not surprised to discover that in many domains the organisation was failing its workforce. Three years later, and despite the pandemic, we undertook the same survey, and demonstrated an exponential improvement in our results in nearly all domains. We also outshone our peers, most significantly as to the level of staff engagement (hopefully those that know me will attest to such a lack of humility as being out of character, but I share it to make a more important point).
What did we do as a leadership team to affect the change?
We simply focused on being values led. We focused on being consistent, trustworthy and trusting, honest, and worked hard at being candid, open and transparent. We listened actively and became more self-reflective regarding our practice. We embraced complaints, treated an increase in complaints as a positive KPI and admitted and learnt from our mistakes. Most significantly we were always thinking as to how we could improve as a team or as individuals – we were still action planning after receiving the second set of results.
In terms of the impact on services – sickness absence and turnover fell, compliments/complaints ratio was very positive, and the recent Local Authority rated our London services as outstanding. While all this was reassuring, we are yet to work out in an evidential way whether we are successfully supporting our clients to achieve the outcomes they wish for themselves- this should be the next step.
Applying values-based leadership to social care organisations
I suspect a values-based approach has its detractors who see it as ‘woolly’ management that does not create high performing organisations – it’s far too ‘caring’. And from my experiences it would have been a fair critique to suggest that excellence was compromised on the altar of being too caring. However, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Or, for example, in her book Radical Candour Kim Scott advocates the essential importance of positive relationships in the workplace underpinned by compassionate candour in creating the most productive organisations.
I only wish I had been aware of both these approaches earlier as we could have achieved so much more.
Values means very different things to different people – you only have to google values-based leadership to appreciate the range of definitions. Are there a fundamental set of values that capture the essence of values-based leadership? From my experience being a social care leader, it will always boil down to the fundamentals of integrity, humility and humanity. In the absence of an authentic demonstration of these values, why on earth would you expect your workforce to feel valued and be empowered and engaged and how could you possibly expect them to enable the people they support and care for to live their best lives?
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