NHS secondment to HSBC – fourth blog post

Rhona Galt was on a six-month internship to a non-NHS industry sponsored by NHS Improvement and supported by The Whitehall & Industry Group. The internship was aimed at female leaders looking to develop their leadership style and effectiveness, preparing for executive director roles in the future. During her time on secondment, she is working at HSBC UK. This is the last in a series of blog posts in which Rhona shared her thoughts and insights to inspire discussion.

Blog #4

I’ve now completed my 6-month secondment to HSBC UK and have returned to the NHS.  One month on I have had time to reflect on what I’ve learned. Here are my three key lessons.

1. Wellbeing works

One of the first things I noticed at HSBC was the importance of checking in with your team and understanding more about one another as people rather than just employees. In my earlier blogs, I wrote about the opportunities I had to participate in activities such as mindfulness or financial skills workshops. I also mentioned the fantastic staff concierge desk I spotted at First Direct, which has already inspired one NHS Trust to introduce their own version. Lots of NHS Trusts are working hard to improve the wellbeing of their staff, but really improving wellbeing will require changing long established cultures within the workplace.

At HSBC I was most struck by the idea of Core Leave, an insistence that two weeks of your annual leave must be taken as a block, and during this break, you can’t access work systems, send emails or take phone calls.  It was something that really got me thinking. I’ll admit to once being so attached to my work emails that I replied to a message during a Beyoncé concert!!

One of the best and worst things about working in the NHS is that it never shuts, it’s a 24/7/365 business and it can be both exhilarating and exhausting. There are no ‘office hours’ and the temptation to dip in and out of work during holidays is always there. We all know people who have become so indispensable that they struggle to even use all of their leave. I’ve thought a lot about the place of wellbeing at work since being at HSBC, and believe that as a senior leader there is a responsibility to role model good practice and be aware of the impact your (unhealthy) habits can have on the people around you. 

2. The power of storytelling

What impressed me most about the leadership at HSBC was their ability to connect people through a story. Storytelling is an important tool in the armoury of an HSBC leader, and sharing your own story as a person, employee and leader is how you demonstrate your authenticity at work. Powerful symbols were used to reiterate key messages. A popular story was about looking after yourself before taking on the role of caring for your team: an oxygen mask on a flight was a smart way of reminding us of this. Remembering to prioritise family time and avoid carrying stress home was imagined as ‘blowing on your key’ before you walk through the door at night.

The strategy and priorities of the bank were easily understood and repeated often by all levels of staff I met; it seemed easy to link your own role to the purpose of the organisation. I often reflected on how lucky we are in the NHS to have such a clear and obvious purpose, but wondered if we are as successful at linking this to each of our individual contributions? The work Brian Dolan has led on ‘PJ Paralysis’ is a great reminder of the importance and power of storytelling in the NHS, and no matter how obvious the message may seem, reinforcing key messages in an engaging way will help to galvanise teams behind it.

3. Connected communication

Effective communication in large and complex organisations will always be a challenge. At HSBC I was a huge fan of the participative approach taken towards employee communications. There was an interactive app where you could upload photos, stories and videos from work or home which can be shared across the organisation. Themes and topics were posted every month asking for our thoughts and views. Watching a video of clips from colleagues across the globe all talking about a common issue was inspiring. Apps were again used for news bulletins and mandatory training modules. Recorded video messages, podcasts and traditional news stories were all used to communicate with staff who are not traditionally desk based or can only dip into their PC for a few minutes between customers.

This pick and mix approach meant that most people I came across had a good understanding of the company’s priorities and issues. I hope to bring back some of these ideas to the NHS and champion the cause of employee-led communication, having seen first-hand how powerful it can be in creating a sense of pride at work.


Thank you

One month on I am happy to have returned to the NHS and do so with a new enthusiasm and drive. I would like to thank Ed Smith, NHS Improvement, The Whitehall & Indsutry Group, North Bristol NHS Trust and HSBC UK for making this secondment possible. I would highly recommend the experience to NHS colleagues and hope my learning continues to provide value to the health service in the coming months and years.