Two years ago, starting in the Midwest of Ireland, a bottom up social movement, ‘Values in Action’, started to shape the culture of the Irish Health Service (HSE) . On top of their day jobs, employees joined in to create a system of peer-to-peer interactions and joint commitments to make nine behaviours live and multiplied,. They were conscious that behaviours create culture. No more words on papers, real behaviours in real life.
They trusted each other. They trusted our external help. The Leadership trusted everybody. Staff nominated the peers that they thought should lead the initial work as champions. There were all hierarchical grades involved. These hierarchical differences, traditionally very strong in any health care system, did not count here. They all had in common their love for the Service and the shaping of a collective future. They had a sense of higher purpose and grabbed the opportunity.
They did all this on top of long hours and the often stressful situations of the day to day health care delivery. They beat the cynical and the defeatist. Some media was skeptical, even mocking (‘workshops on caring’) but nobody stopped. Some outsiders may have thought that culture was not a priority. These employees thought exactly the opposite. So did the leadership of the HSE.
Staff surprised managers and colleagues. They surprised themselves. They started to change their work place and told their kids about it with pride. When, by year two, many initiatives in any large organizations are gone or fading, Values in Action can show quantifiable advances that have changed the ethos of the place.
The job is not done yet. Culture will never be ‘done’. Values in Action is going exponential. This model is today replicated in other parts of the country. The social movement continues. Nothing will stop these HSE employees from continuing to take charge of the shaping of the culture for the future. They simply say ‘if not us, who?’ Agency at its best. Changes in structures and process may take place as any evolving public service may require, but this grassroots movement seems determined to continue its often silent growth to ensure a behavioural fabric where anything good can grow.
As a lead of the small external team helping the movement, providing the Viral Change™ Mobilizing Platform, I am following this evolution with a sense of enormous privilege. One thing is for sure: I am not surprised in the slightest about its success. It’s hard to find any other place where employees are so committed to their work with a sense of purpose. They often see themselves on the front page of newspapers when something is wrong. They don’t often see themselves making the news when their 24/7 commitment changes or saves the lives of patients. They may not see their Values in Action social movement as front-page-able. But no one will lose sleep about that. Their children, their families, their patient’s children, won’t thank them because of the front pages, but because of the collective place and space of pride, hope and service.
The leadership of the Service has often been in the media as a focus of criticism. Public servants know that this is part of the job. My experience of the local leaders involved who support the Values in Action grassroots is that they have been exemplary. The top leadership of the Service, past and present, has made exceptional efforts to support the grassroots culture movement without dictating or interfering. Not a bit. Clear and simple, the past Director General made culture a priority and then trusted all of us. Many local hospital and community care top leaders have done the same.
We have not seen anything yet.
In unsettling global times, the sight of people taking charge and shaping their destiny, is as good as it gets. After all, if not them, who? If not now, when?
Details are in the public domain