How KAI Helped a Hospital

Several years ago, a KAI Practitioner ran a leadership development programme which was attended by senior figures across various industries and organisations.

One of the attendees was ‘Ted’, the Speciality Lead for the Emergency department of a large hospital trust in the South of England (Note that this story took place pre-Covid19).

Ted’s department has approximately 300 staff, which is a mix of:

  • Consultants
  • Junior doctors
  • Nurses
  • Other staff

The department deals with about 95,000 patients every year.

On the leadership programme, Ted completed the KAI Inventory and received a score of 82 (highly adaptive). He also learned about the basic principles of problem-solving style, and Adaption-Innovation theory.

Managing patient flow throughout the hospital

Ted’s Emergency department was dealing with patient flow. They wanted to keep the department safe for patients, but they often had more patients needing to come in than beds available.

To let patients leave the Emergency department (and therefore manage patient flow), the hospital staff had to do one of two things:

  1. Let them go home, if they were well enough. Or
  2. Put them into another ward in the hospital

The second option required waiting for other wards to say that they had space for someone new to come in. It was unpredictable when this would happen – meanwhile, more and more patients were being wheeled through the Emergency department door.

This was a significant challenge for Ted’s department.

Embracing the idea of an innovator

While Ted identified himself (following the KAI programme) as a strong Adaptor, he also identified that his colleague, Jo, was an Innovator.

Jo soon approached Ted with her proposed solution: to convince each hospital ward to take one extra patient. This would help to:

  • Spread the risk throughout the hospital
  • Share the load of new patients
  • Make conditions and spaces better for all patients

Ted liked the idea but was uncertain whether other wards would agree to it – it was quite a drastic change for the hospital. Anyway, Jo took the idea and started exploring the idea with people from other wards in the hospital.

Ted used his much more adaptive approach to get the right people together and officially give his support to Jo’s idea, within formalised structures. As an adaptor, he played to his strengths and focused on:

  • Building consensus
  • Reassuring people
  • Giving Jo’s idea more senior support

Ted also gave Jo official work time to develop her idea.

It was significant that Ted learned about Adaption-Innovation on the KAI Consultants programme, because it enabled him to apply his knowledge to this context.

It gave him a new way of thinking, and therefore resulted in a fundamental improvement in his approach towards problem-solving style.

Successfully spreading the risk and the load

The effect of the change was astonishing. The hospital:

  • Routinely spread the risk across different wards
  • Shared the load of patients throughout the hospital
  • Embedded Jo’s idea into policy

In a winter following this event where Emergency departments across the country dealt with many patients who had slipped and fallen in the cold conditions, Ted was asked by colleagues from other hospitals for advice on how his department was so successful.

As a result, Jo made the biggest change to patient flow possible for the hospital. This was achieved because Ted acted as an ‘acceptable’ senior face to represent the idea, providing a ‘pragmatic’ view that considered all perspectives from the different wards.

What Ted said:

“I’m not an innovator, but I try to help people who are innovators. It’s nice for me to know that someone is different and can run away with something (an idea) and that it’s not a weakness in me. Someone can do it and I can’t, but I can support them.

That’s the most important thing I learned from the KAI course: that my weakness doesn’t mean I’m a bad leader. I just need to play to my strengths, and that’s OK.”

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