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Warwick Medical School: their experience of implementing values

How did the idea of implementing a set of values for Warwick Medical School come about?

In 2016 the Medical School (WMS) had undergone a thorough review, and it was felt that a set of local values for staff and students would be key to enable the Medical School to transition from good to great. They wanted staff to genuinely be appreciated for the role they play in WMS and to explore what the right working environment looked and felt like, what governance was needed and what it really meant to work at WMS and importantly what could make it an outstanding place to work.

It was about creating an excellent culture, explicitly defining how all staff wish to be treated and interact with others and creating a set of actions to enable this to happen. It was borne out of respect – for the roles we do and with each other and it’s in that spirit that the values were developed and embedded. As stated in the values “our core values underpin everything we do; they define who we are and how we conduct ourselves. They are key to the success of our School”.

How did you go about this?

Listening:We held a series of focus groups with a wide range of colleagues requesting their thoughts and reflections on the current culture and their thoughts on WMS’s future values. Following the focus groups, we longlisted a set of values and associated value statements and then socialised it prior to agreeing the current values. Improving the WMS culture was an evolutionary process; rather than planning every step, we focused on listening from the start and from this listening, the plan evolved at every stage. The biggest amount of feedback came at the beginning, in fact, the first three years were mainly listening and introducing the most significant missing elements. The consultation was deliberately undertaken with staff from all grades and disciplines, ensuring our amazing workforce were actively listened to and understood the crucial role they play in embedding an excellent culture.

Governance: WMS recognised that having a strong level of governance was essential and three main areas were focussed on research, education, and people.

Having committees with clear remits and an overarching structure of how each committee worked with others was key. It was important to have standing items on agendas for each area of focus and to develop KPIs and milestones for each, including the People agenda. Linking the Athena Swan action plan to this area of focus also helped drive actions forward.

Strategy: We explored the values at the same time as exploring the strategy refresh, with the two being intertwined and essential to each other. WMS’s values underpinned the refreshed strategy.

Data: WMS used the staff survey data, helping to shape conversations with staff so they could bring the data to life and fully understand the barriers that staff were facing and identifying the things that were working well, and opportunities to make Warwick Medical school a great place to work.

Wellbeing: A staff programme for health and wellbeing was set up, the content driven from conversations with staff. There were wellbeing days and specific menopause support put in place.

Empowerment: Where staff did not feel empowered to undertake their roles to the best of their abilities, WMS identified the barriers and the impacts. Conversations were then held with the relevant people across the university and greater autonomy, based on trust, was embedded.

Communication: A two-way communication plan was important. The listening foundation that was built from the beginning helped to develop this culture and WMS continues to espouse the benefits of effectively communicated with our colleagues. Stories were regularly shared about the values in action, encouraging the whole school to celebrate and this inspire others. Now there are story platforms and seminars where people can hear their stories first hand, and not just from staff, from the students too.

Employment cycle: from adverts, job descriptions, interviews, induction, personal development reviews. Values has been embedded into every stage of the employment life cycle.

Make it interesting: for example, they did a competition with the Medical Students to describe what it meant to be a Warwick doctor. This engaging way of consulting with the students worked well and using their words meant it truly resonated with them.

One size does not fit all:

we discussed with staff what each value meant specifically in their own sub department. While overall the values were the same, what it meant in practice was very different, and rather than attempting to find a description that worked for the whole medical school, they facilitated local sub department conversations so wording about the values in action could be personalised based on the purpose of the team and language which the team connected with.

What advice would you give to others embedding values locally?

It is most important to listen and move at the pace that works for your department, people need to feel they are genuinely being listened to before they can move forward.

Two-way communication is key, ensure it’s transparent and staff feel part of what is happening. Share the stories and the statistics, celebrating success and make it visual, you should be able to know what the values are simply by walking into that department.

a photograph of the Warwick Doctor values on the wall of WMS

It’s the small things all coming together that start to bring about the change – how colleagues interact with each other, the language being used in meetings, recruiting to the values and celebrating the impact of the values. It then becomes just the way we do things.

What has been the impact?

The staff survey scores have vastly improved. The feedback from our partners, for example University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire, is extremely positive of the WMS students, they say you can spot a Warwick doctor! We have experienced an increase in the number of applications to study on our courses, we have higher NSS scores and our finances have not just stabilised, they are in a much better place which has enabled us to increase numbers of students on many programmes without a decrease in the quality of the teaching and research. We have made great inroads on our Athena Swan action plan, and everyone is benefiting from this.

A screenshot of a document updating on the progress of WMS Grand Challenge filled with statistics

We didn’t focus on these outcomes, they are a by-product of listening to staff, implementing a set of values which staff believe in, empowering our staff and creating an environment where everyone can thrive.