Posted by: ayrshirehealth | May 22, 2013

A Warm and Sunny Lesson From Aesop by @suzi_hannah

Power in gentleness

The North Wind boasted of great strength. The Sun argued that there was great power in gentleness. “We shall have a contest,” said the Sun. Far below, a man travelled a winding road. He was wearing a warm winter coat. “As a test of strength,” said the Sun, “Let us see which of us can take the coat off of that man.” “It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat,” bragged the Wind. Aesop 1The Wind blew so hard, the birds clung to the trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves. But the harder the wind blew down the road, the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat.

Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud. Sun warmed the air and the frosty ground. Aesop 2The man on the road unbuttoned his coat.

The sun grew slowly brighter and brighter. Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot. “How did you do that?” said the Wind. “It was easy,” said the Sun, “I lit the day. Through gentleness I got my way.”

Improvement science

I came across this ancient fable recently and it made me reflect on experiences of influencing change and improvement in a range of clinical settings. As an Improvement Advisor, you become equipped with a broad range of tools and techniques that are known to support delivery of change for sustainable improvement. SPSPWe know that when these methods are applied the results can be impressive. NHS Scotland has shown how effective a collaborative model and application of Improvement Science can be through the success stories of the Scottish Patient Safety Programme.

However, as I reflect on my experience of facilitating and supporting this work with individuals and teams, it is important to acknowledge that it takes a more considerate approach than simply providing people with knowledge of the tools and informing them how they should change to perform better.

Improvement science methodology provides the means to develop, test and implement changes; an essential process for any organisation that wants to achieve reliable processes and deliver continuous improvement. However the true success stories that I have observed in the recent past have come down to the style of leadership that exists within an area and the approach of the improvement facilitator supporting the change. It is the personal qualities displayed by these key influencers that truly enables the improvement journey to be owned and taken forward by a team to achieve lasting outcomes.

Resistance, resentment or undervalued

This, I believe, describes the difference between knowing ‘What’ we need to do better and  ‘How’ it is applied in practice. In the patient safety programme there is clear evidence of improved outcomes when specific processes are put in place. Leaders and improvement facilitators have a clear understanding of the organisation’s objectives and where priorities need to be addressed, and this can bring about a temptation to come up with the solutions independently and then expect full engagement of the team in the application of these ideas, but this could be without providing them the opportunity to contribute their own ideas. Responses from a team in this situation can range from varying degrees of resistance, to resentment, or feelings of being undervalued and viewed as not capable of contributing to the planning and testing with ideas based on their experience and knowledge.

Supporting improvement

teachingThere surely can be little long term benefit gained from dictating to a team how best to apply a change for improvement in their daily work, however the organisation reaps huge benefits from enabling and empowering people to generate ideas and test new ways of working; they are after all, the people who carry out the work every day and understand what is most likely to have a positive impact and the best chance of success.

Improvement advisors and facilitators play a key role in supporting the organisation’s Leaders to build capacity and capability for improvement among teams, and through supporting them and their teams to apply the methodology, while guiding them through the process of applying techniques as they progress an improvement initiative.

I do believe that it is important for Leaders to have influence on the activity, by positively supporting the efforts of the team and offering suggestions where it would be beneficial. Their continuous observation and influence on the progress and pace of the improvement work is vital, ensuring that support is available and accessible.

Shining like the sun

But, rather than blowing like the wind in Aesop’s fable, I believe that an organisation can observe great achievements by shining like the sun, influencing teams to improve practice in an engaging way and with gentle persuasion, thus ensuring that ultimately, it gets its way.

This week’s blogger is @suzi_hannah is an Improvement Advisor in the Scottish Government.


  1. If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
    The NHS change management culture always seems too full of task assignments, and not enough longing!
    Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  2. […] A Warm and Sunny Lesson From Aesop by Susan Hannah on the Ayrshire Health blog. […]

  3. […] A Warm and Sunny Lesson From Aesop by Susan Hannah on the Ayrshire Health blog. […]

  4. […] A regular Ayrshirehealth blogger, @suzi_hannah gave us “A warm and sunny lesson from Aesop” sharing her reflection on her experiences of influencing change and improvement in a range of […]

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