Sir Ian Carruthers’ (2011) report for the Department of Health entitled ‘Innovation, Health and Wealth’ highlighted a pressing need for the NHS to improve its capacity for innovation to deal with growing demand and shrinking/static budgets, a challenge the sector struggles to meet. This study examines the role leadership learning can play in facilitating a climate supportive of the innovation needed. A study conducted between 2012-2017 amongst 148 participants attending leadership development programmes and leading innovations in the health sector, used mixed methods to assess the climate for innovation and leadership learning, alongside the everyday experience of senior managers trying to make innovation happen. A follow-up survey and interviews explored the sustainability of learning.
The study demonstrates the impact of leadership learning on the climate for innovation, amongst participants, their teams and service users. It adds depth and richness to extant research on the dimensions influencing the climate for innovation and contextualises them in the health sector in England.
In the follow-up survey, up to 3 years after the programme had finished, 45% of respondents claimed the influence of their leadership learning remained “about the same”, while 42% said it had “snowballed”. Our findings highlight the important role embodied leadership learning and the space for reflection play in encouraging participants to: reconnect with purpose; create protected time and space; embrace constructive challenge; foster diversity of thinking; grow peer networks; encourage appropriate risk-taking and a sense of ‘playfulness’ in making innovation happen.
We conclude by suggesting that a well-designed, leadership development programme can have a positive impact on releasing innovation potential through the programme team’s role modelling of the positive factors listed above, generating a very healthy return on investment for individual and organisation alike.
Jarvis, C., Kars-Unluoglu, S., & Sheffield, R. (2017). Healthy returns: Leadership learning and innovation climate in the UK health sector