Feb/March 2014 Profile: Kate Lee

Profile: Kate Lee, CEO, Myton Hospices

Jack Russell leadership

Kate Lee turned around her charity to boost its income, service satisfaction rates and staff morale. She is a Jack Russell of the charity CEO world, she tells Andrew Holt

Innovative leadership is one of the key factors that will see some sector organisations stand out in a new changing sector epoch. Kate Lee, who won the 2013 Charity Times Awards Rising CEO Star Award, showed innovation, a clear vision, strategic thinking and passion in spades leading Myton Hospices, which offers specialist palliative and end of life care for the people of Coventry and Warwickshire. Kate, who joined as CEO of the charityin 2010 from the British Red Cross where she was director of strategy, has overseen a boost in income to £9.2m last year up from £4.1m in 2009, partly down to legacies. “I am not sure I can take the credit for it,” she says modestly. “My director of income generation won the IOF Fundraiser of the Year Award last year — she probably has something to do with it.”

But her tenure started tough. Just before Kate arrived at Myton several senior staff had departed: all at the same time. This left a big gap in management, particularly in its nursing and care services. This led to several new initiatives failing to deliver. A huge amount of organisation had gone into opening a new Coventry Hospice, which, was perceived as being at the detriment of the rest of the organisation. And adding to all of this, investment in leadership development had been exceptionally low, or non-existent. “I found an organisation where everyone could clearly articulate what was wrong with the culture, but not what the right culture should look like,” she says.

So Kate focused on introducing strategic thinking and strong leadership to Myton. The first thing she embarked upon was to undertake a strategic review to develop some real consensus and realism, including with the Board, around where the organisation was going. Next, she asked everyone if, as an organisation, they were going to exceed the strategy targets over the next three years: what would the culture need to be like? This engaged the entire organisation in the process of agreeing the key values and then started a programme of helping middle managers embed them.

One of the four values she instigated is: ‘One Myton’; ensuring every team, from fundraisers to house keepers, wherever they are based across its 23 sites, know they are essential to ensuring its patients get the best care. “I want people to realise in-fighting drains energy and capacity that we didn’t have spare,” says Kate, revealing something of the early problems she faced. “I have been amazed about how clearly articulating the need to operate as one team and actively challenging practices that segregate the organisation has started to change behaviour and build new teams.”

Strengthening services
The benefits started to come: as well as income, service satisfaction rates and staff and volunteer morale all increased during her short time at the helm. As a leader, she has an interesting self-analysis of her approach: “I have lots and lots and lots of energy, I love having fun and I am very tenacious — I am the Jack Russell of chief executives.”

Kate has been particularly passionate about strengthening Myton’s Community Services and has been successful, even in the current environment, in securing new NHS funding to deliver new Hospice at Home Services in Warwick, Leamington and Rugby.

“In the terms of service delivery, I have focussed on strengthening Myton’s community services because the strategist in me feels that the UK’s aging population and increasing death rates are the Hospices biggest challenge. We need to do what we currently do at significantly greater scale, but that is extremely costly.

“Providing greater choice for patients and families, including to have Myton quality care at home, is better for them and means we can also manage the use of our specialist care beds to ensure they are available for the most complex cases.”

In addition she has supported her teams in delivery new services for bereaved teenagers, people with Motor Neurone Disease and bariatric patients. Each of these programmes has increased access to palliative care for people who have found it hard to access traditional services. She has also lobbied the local hospitals to strengthen their palliative care delivery, resulting in significant investment by University Hospital Coventry and Warwick into a joint training initiative with the hospice for senior ward staff.

She is also Clore Social Leadership Fellow, something that helped shape her leadership outlook. “As part of my Clore Social Leadership programme we did an assessment of leadership preferences. I think that if our whole sector had a leadership preference it would be social (relationship-based) rather than analytical, structural or conceptual.

“The whole sector works on who you know and how you interact and that makes it a very small world. Its strength is its relationships and its passionate people, but there are lots of egos to navigate.” She then adds an interesting insight: “A general rule I live by is never be unreasonable with anyone as you will probably be interviewed by them for your next job.”

She is also involved in other sector organisations, such as a trustee of the charity Coppafeel!, of which she says: “CoppaFeel!is a tiny organisation and I have sat at the Board of British Red Cross — the conversations are different, but the intent is the same — how do we make the world better and fairer.”

Her expertise has come from a culmination of working with infrastructure organisations like the Institute of Fundraising through to national charities such as Help the Hospices and The Children’s Society. What does she take from these experiences? “Nothing about my life has been planned,” she admits. “The variety of what I have done has given me a huge breadth of knowledge on how different parts of the sector work, which I feel makes me a strong negotiator and collaborator. I understand what life is like for other organisations."

She is also a member of ACEVO’s Impact Coalition: what can charities do to improve their transparency in order to improve accountability? “Talk about it,” she says. “It drives me crackers how many Boards have never even discussed how transparent they want to be, how they feel about it and what they fear.

“I try to run Myton by imagining the Freedom of Information Act applies and constantly ask teams ‘what wouldn’t you want donors or patients to find out?’ I also try to be proactive with putting our information out there in easily accessible ways. I do get frustrated when I hear people say transparency is just about donors and the external environment. True accountability and sustainability comes from strong, confident leadership acting in a way that creates a culture of ‘no secrets’; surely that is infinitely more important internally.”

Next challenges
For all her success, Kate has her sights on her next set of big challenges. “I feel the changes in the NHS have put innovation in hospice care back years. My sense of our local NHS clinical commissioning group’s attitude to End of Life Care is that the ‘spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’. My next biggest challenge therefore is to invigorate them into seeing that even some small changes in the way end of life care works across Coventry and Warwickshire could reap massive rewards. But, if our only discussions are about top slicing budgets or patient postcodes then we just all disappear into a pit of despair.”

And within Myton, she says the organisation must strengthen its evidence base: “Particularly around proving the difference we make — not for donors, funders or commissioner, but because it will make us even stronger.” She says she is someone who is personally shaped by the causes she works for. “I have been very privileged to work for Myton Hospices, and the one thing it has taught me is that life really is too short: making it brilliant is helped by other people, but ultimately it is down to you.”

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