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What keeps me awake at night… Julia Clinton, Sonnet Care Homes

Julia Clinton, Chief Executive, Sonnet Care Homes

As CEO of Sonnet Care Homes, I am responsible for up to 180 vulnerable adults and a team of around 265 people. Based on a single site in Essex we enjoy extensive grounds, historical buildings, and spacious, well-designed interiors. I am also privileged to be supported by a dedicated and highly skilled team who care passionately about the welfare of our residents.

Therefore, when considering what keeps me awake at night, I reflected carefully on where we are now versus the previous challenges we have overcome, and concluded that for me it boils down to the two key questions I regularly ask myself:

How do we know each member of the team is getting it right all of the time?

If something is not right, will we find out about it quickly?

The answers have their origins back in 2014 when we identified the need to transform the culture within our organisation. At that time, I had been in post for a matter of weeks when we were hit by a media expose into unacceptable care practices in care homes. It was an extremely difficult period for all concerned, and during the months that followed it would be fair to say that it was the nights when I did sleep well that were the exception!

It quickly became clear that good people had either known, or suspected, that something was wrong but felt unable to speak out, or if they had, were not listened to and had given up. Combined with a top heavy and task orientated approach, people were demotivated, mistrustful of management, and quite simply unable to function at their best. This in turn resulted in a downward spiral in terms of outcomes for residents, their loved ones, and the team itself.

In order to transform this culture, we designed and operationalised a set of values that we could all believe in. The ambition being to get everybody pulling in the same direction towards the same set of goals.

Determined to keep it straightforward, we called our values Kindness, Comfort and Respect (KCR) and, with help from the team, agreed what these three words really meant to us. What does KCR look like in action? How do we know when we are getting it right?

We also agreed fundamental principles:

  • The resident is always at the very heart of everything we do
  • Good is not good enough, we always aim to be outstanding
  • Zero tolerance for behaviours which do not embody KCR

Unsurprisingly the greatest challenge was convincing a weary and embattled team that we meant business, that ‘KCR’ was not just the latest fad, and that we would stand by them shoulder to shoulder to make the vision a reality. We have been asked many times to define how we achieved this, and we respond by explaining the ‘mission critical’ principles, still very much a part of our culture today, as:

  • Close any board to floor gap, listen carefully to people on the frontline
  • Openness, no defensiveness
  • Relentless communication, repeat, repeat, repeat
  • Actively demonstrate honesty and credibility
  • Be down to earth

Though there will always be day to day challenges, we have been in a pretty good place for several years now with sleepless nights being the exception. That said, the need to seek out ways to continuously develop, whilst also checking that care and support is safe, loving and dignified, will always be central to the way we work. This is because we know first hand what can happen if focus on what really matters is lost.


Edel Harris





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