A Culture of Listening

Jodie Reichelt, Customer Experience Champion, Optalis

I have worked as an Optalis Customer Experience Champion for the last 3 years and in Health and Social Care for 20 years. My work has been centred around championing the rights of people with disabilities and empowering people with disabilities to have greater control over their lives. For 12 years, I led a local Partnership Board which brought together people to deliver projects and initiatives that addressed local and national issues. My passion is supporting communities to find practical solutions to real problems, in order to generate positive change.

A listening culture is of benefit to everyone. Listening and acting on the feedback we receive results in more relevant, responsive, effective services and leads to better outcomes for individuals.  For staff it’s a more fulfilling way to work, when we are confident in the knowledge that the projects and services developed are meeting the needs of the people we provide a service to.

A listening approach can be thought of as multi-layered. Optalis engage with customers at an individual level, service delivery level and in the context of the wider organisation.

At an individual level, we take a person centred approach by involving people in day-to-day decisions about their own care and support. One of our organisational value messages is to ‘listen to our customers and offer genuine choice tailored to their individual needs.’  We listen to what the person is telling us, through their communication and their behaviour.  We also learn about what’s important to the person, by drawing on the knowledge of their loved ones to enhance our own understanding.

At a service delivery level, customers are partners in shaping what we do. In 2018 we held our first annual Customer Conference, the result of which has been a more customer-led activities programme across our Learning Disability Day Services.

We also work with the people we support to seek their views and input on organisational matters. For instance, Optalis included customers in setting company priorities as part of the development of our three-year business strategy.

Our commitment to engage customers in shaping our organisation is a continual process. The focus for us currently, is how we put our organisational values into action. We have spoken with our customers about what Optalis core values, such as respect, transparency and integrity, mean to them. Their feedback is being used to influence our recruitment process, as we move towards values-based recruitment. Customers have also had an input into our new Behaviours Framework for staff, through an exploration of how they do and don’t like to be treated.

In terms of our co-production work, we have learnt some lessons along the way:

  1. It matters where you meet. The chosen venue needs to meet access requirements and also provide a comfortable environment. It’s best to go to where the people are, rather than invite them to you. We sought invitations to join already established groups and activities, and in these environments, people were confident to speak up about their experiences.
  1. 2. It matters how you meet. When we developed our business strategy we held staff engagement sessions alongside sessions for customers. The staff sessions had a relaxed feel, but the customer sessions were taken down another notch, with a similar focus, but less structure. We took our steer from the customers, who very much guided the conversation.
  1. It matters who is listening. You’ll need to be in a position to take action on what is said. Our CEO was a part of all the strategy setting sessions and was able to hear first-hand about what was working well and what needed to change.

Whilst listening to what people have to say is a good start…what really matters, is showing them that you’ve heard.



Edel Harris





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