The sum of a company's parts is much more than the product or service it delivers. Staff are the very DNA of a business and the culture in which your people operate drives behaviours and outcomes.
At Wrexham's Healthcare Matters – which supplies products such as stairlifts, specialist mattresses and a range of bespoke healthcare products – this truth became apparent as the COVID-19 pandemic rolled on. With a curious and open approach, the company has embraced a new ethos, encouraging more collaboration and innovation. This is all thanks to the Lean programme, which implements a more collegiate working environment.
Through this journey, Healthcare Matters has been supported through the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme (AGP). The AGP provides targeted support for ambitious growing firms. The programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.
Here, Adam Spiby, Director of Healthcare Matters, explains how the business has developed to create a culture characterised by embracing change.
Tell us about Healthcare Matters
We're very much a family business, and it's because of that ethos that we've been able to grow with a loyal team who are part of the fabric of our company.
As a business, we recognise that our people are our biggest asset, and we've been working hard to ensure staff are empowered to be collaborative and innovative. More of which later. We love our local community, are proud to be based in Wrexham, and now have 46 staff.
What do we do? We offer repairs, rentals, servicing, and supply of equipment, including specialist seating and beds, alternating and foam mattresses, slings, stand aids, hoists, ceiling tracks, stairlifts and more.
Our healthcare products enable people to live fuller, independent lives. We provide products and services to the NHS, councils, care homes, and individuals.
Although our staff have always been important to us, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how much we rely on our skilled and talented people.
Following the pandemic's peak in 2020, we conducted an anonymous staff survey. Employees here worked hard through the pandemic, taking daily LFTs and wearing full PPE. It was a gruelling period for people.
Sometimes, it would mean dealing with complex and sensitive situations and demanding workloads. As we predicted, the survey results were not good; staff felt there was a lack of communication, recognition and engagement. They felt that team spirit was flagging and didn't feel supported by management. We already had disciplinary issues and were aware of mental health concerns with some staff.
We knew there must be a better way, so our management team began to explore Lean – in particular, 2 Second Lean. The underlying principles of 2 Second Lean are those of respect and collaboration.
Rather than an authoritarian management style, this approach encourages staff to air their frustrations by asking, "What is bugging you?". It shines a light on inefficiencies and wasted resources within the business. This approach engages and empowers staff, as well as benefiting the company.
That's because removing barriers for your staff is aligned with increasing efficiency and productivity. This, of course, is a significant cultural change, which takes time and persistence to implement. Our mantra was, "it's hard work to make everything easy".
Has the process of culture change been difficult? Yes. Has it been worthwhile? Most definitely. We're still a work in progress, but the business has seen such improvements already. I firmly believe that this kind of collaborative culture is the way forward in a world that is changing with such speed.
What are your proudest moments in business so far?
Healthcare Matters is undergoing a complete cultural transformation, which has already been hugely rewarding.
Seeing significant improvements in all metrics (job satisfaction, team spirit, support from management) in our staff satisfaction survey has been gratifying. The individual development of team members has also been so satisfying.
Seeing the resulting improvements in mental health, self-esteem and confidence is gratifying. We've seen formerly shy staff members leading our morning all-staff meetings. We're proud of everyone in the business and applaud them for the way they have embraced change.
What challenges have you faced in business?
We faced challenges through the pandemic in terms of delivering our products and services when the rest of the country had shut down. Working through that time illustrated how capable our employees are. But it also pushed them to their limits.
Now, as we bring through change – a change embraced by everybody in the business – we are challenging ourselves as individuals and, more broadly, as a company. It's both challenging and hugely fulfilling.
If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
We tried to implement 2 Second Lean without conducting enough research into the best ways of implementing the methodology. In hindsight, we'd have taken a different approach and learned from other businesses that had undergone a similar transformation.
How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
We have been lucky enough to be part of the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme for a few years now and have benefitted from a range of support. Our relationship manager has been able to support us with a variety of work packages delivered by experts in their respective fields.
This has supported us with strategic growth planning, sales, PR, supply chains and procurement, process improvements, and support with ISO accreditation.
The support has been vital during a period of significant growth and change.
What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?
- Lean is not a consultant or an event; it is a process. Someone once told us it is like healthy eating – it needs to be planned and maintained!
- To be successful, you need a strategically aligned management team and the right people in the right seats.
- Have a roadmap for implementation – and follow it.
- Lean tours are essential! You can't learn Lean from a PowerPoint, so try and find examples of companies in different sectors that have embraced this methodology to drive continuous improvement.
To learn more about Healthcare Matters, visit here.
Further information on the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme
The Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme is a pan-Wales programme part funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.