Getting Better All the Time—Reflection, Learning, and Experiments

It was the end of the day, after our recruitment workshop in Thurrock. We were at the Community House—the local community centre—and the room that we were using was festooned with bunting. There were flowers on the table, and a large map of the local area hung on the wall. At the end of each recruitment workshop, the recruitment team sits in a circle and does two speaking rounds before deciding on candidates. This begins our process of reflection and learning. In the first round we answer the question, “What went well about the workshop?”. Then, we ask the second question, “What didn’t work?”, and we start thinking about what we would improve the next time.
At about the same time in our office, Claire is sending the anonymous SurveyMonkey to all of the candidates who attended the workshop. In the SurveyMonkey, we essentially ask the same questions. We ask candidates to give us feedback on what went well, what did not go well, and how we could improve for each stage of their recruitment experience. Here, we are demonstrating our value of curiosity about how we did and of continuous learning about how we can improve. It is our growth mindset in action.
However, we start with being clear about what the non-negotiables are for each recruitment experience: what you cannot experiment with versus when you can use judgment and adjust your approach. We realised that we needed to do this after getting it wrong.
Starting with clear expectations
In one of our early teams, the team coach supported the team to recruit a second team.
She essentially started with a blank piece of paper and asked the team how they wanted to do values-based recruitment. Some consultants approach introducing self-management this way: by letting the team decide how they want to organise themselves. However, this disregards the learning and thinking that has already happened around values-based recruitment and self-management. 
I realised that we had not been clear about what had already been thought about, tried, and learned. Repeating the same mistakes we had made with earlier teams did not make sense at all. This led us to developing the recruitment handbook—Finding Great Colleagues—which describes the processes and roles in detail.
Job done, I thought.
But it wasn’t.
When the new Wellbeing Leader in Oxfordshire was recruiting a new team, I asked her if she wanted me to text candidates who were going forward to the workshop. She explained that she had not been sending texts to candidates. I realised that our handbook was not clear about the expectations, the ‘must-dos’, for each recruitment, and it could be read as simply guidance. To address this, we now have a recruitment ‘doughnut’ as part of the recruitment handbook, which clarifies what we expect through every recruitment and the scope for experimentation and learning.
Our recruitment doughnut
In our recruitment process, we use a doughnut, which was originally developed by Charles Handy. This person-centred practice describes what is core to a role or task and when people can use their creativity and judgement. The core components ensure that we are reflecting our values (and employment laws) which must not be altered. This would include, for example, following the criminal checks process, having a full work history for each candidate, and working with a Co-production Partner or someone with lived experience. In the next section of the doughnut is where you can use creativity and judgement; this is where we would expect there to be experimentation. We do not expect all experiments to work, and that is OK. We have added evaluation and metrics to our doughnut so that we know what data we are gathering, which will help inform what we experiment with next. 
Recruitment Doughnut
What is core—has to be in every recruitment
Where creativity can be used—experiments to keep improving.
Evaluation and metrics 
Decision-making is made by people who will be directly involved with the team and a Co-production Partner. 
There is a decision-making agreement that clearly shows what decisions are made through the process and how people are involved.
Experimenting with different ways of clarifying decision-making with Co-production Partners (e.g. decision-making agreements).
Having a ‘deputy’ Co-production Partner if the person can’t make it.
What the Co-production Partner said worked and did not work about their involvement and role.
Was the decision-making agreement followed?
There are a range of ways to help prospective candidates get good insight into the role before they apply. This always includes:
  • Role description 
  • Could this be you?
  • Something we are testing
We are always testing out other ways of sharing information—an experiment based on analyses of earlier experiments. 
We always use social media to advertise.
Experimenting with:
  • A week in the life of
  • A day in the life of
  • Films of people’s experience in the role
  • Task list for the role
Using different social media and recruitment platforms.
We collect data on the clicks/views of different ways of sharing information (FB clicks, website clicks, YouTube, etc.).
We ask candidates where they heard about us during the initial conversation and record this data.
We always use a recruitment workshop format, even if there are only 2–3 candidates.
Experimenting with different ways of demonstrating values and skills within the recruitment workshop.
The recruitment team completes a 4 plus 1 (person-centred thinking tool for reflection described later in this blog) about the recruitment workshop.
We solicit feedback from candidates.
We do not take CVs as part of the recruitment process.
One-page profiles are used in every recruitment process, and we build on these in induction and probation.
Experimenting with different ways of helping people develop one-page profiles and using them in the recruitment process
We can show how our recruitment design is based on demonstrating the values of the organisation. We check that experiments align with our values.
Can we show what experiment we were doing during each recruitment, and how we did against the success indicators for this?
Recruitment, induction and probation are led by the same people, offering continuity of experience.
Using a marketing approach, rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’, approach to thinking about who we want to recruit. Therefore, there will be different recruitment ads specifically targeting different people.
We ask three questions that reflect what could attract people to the role or address what their fears may be. We don’t use “do you want to make a difference?”
We recognise that people have family and other commitments and do not give people a time to talk but rather find one that works for them and us (calls available evenings and weekends).
Experimenting with different formats of personas and where to look for people.
Experimenting with different images that reflect the local community.
Testing questions.
Using Calendly or an equivalent tool to arrange a mutual time to talk. 
We track metrics around how different adverts/posts based on personas are working.
Everyone is a recruiter, and there are a range of people with recruitment in their roles alongside their other roles. There is a Recruitment Coordinator role.
We give people referral cards during induction.
We never give incentives for referring people, but we give appreciation to those who do.
Inviting team members to map their relationships to see if any friends or family could be potential team members.
Using the app Care Friends or an equivalent tool.
Experimenting with different ways of appreciating team members who recommend us to their friends and family.
Experimenting with different ways of introducing ‘everyone is a recruiter’ in induction.
We track how many candidates come from referral from team members or others.
The process is intentionally time consuming to enable both the person and the team/organisation to determine whether there is a good fit. Within this, it is still as efficient as possible, with target lengths of time for each phase of recruitment.
We track the length of time from placing advertisements to people being told that they were successful.
Everyone involved in recruitment, including candidates, is involved in reviewing the process and identifying what to try next and what experiment is needed to test out ideas for improvement.
We always use a SurveyMonkey or equivalent tool with candidates before they get feedback.
There is a 4 plus 1 completed by the recruitment team.
The recruitment team reviews the metrics from each recruitment as part of their review. The review results in suggestions about what to experiment with next.
Experimenting with different ways of getting feedback during the workshop and at other times.
4 plus 1
SurveyMonkey data
Metric review is included as part of 4 plus 1.
We show the results of the experiment we were trying for each recruitment.
Future experiments are identified at the end of each recruitment with evaluation—e.g. what would success look like?
We create ‘wow’ moments.
A senior member of the organisation writes a personal text to each candidate after they are put through to a workshop.
We ‘set the stage’ of the recruitment workshop physically—e.g. welcome desk, music.
We always aim to experiment or improve at creating ‘wow’ moments throughout the candidates’ experience.
Testing out ways of creating ‘wow’ over Zoom and of offering a warm welcome.
Reflecting on the process using the 4 plus 1 questions
At the end of each recruitment process, a core requirement is that the people involved and the recruitment team complete another person-centred thinking practice called the ‘Four Plus One’ questions. This is a reflection process which asks four questions looking back, plus one looking forward:
  • What did we try?
  • What did we learn?
  • What were we pleased about?
  • What were we concerned about?
  • Based on this, what do we want to do or try next?
This information is compiled alongside information from an online survey and other metrics.
The SurveyMonkey gives us an overall score for each recruitment drive, and we can see if there are any differences in experience across different teams and learn from that. 
We expect that during each subsequent recruitment process, we will be testing out something new, experimenting, or applying some insight that came from the previous process so that we can keep learning and developing. In the last recruitment process, we successfully used Zoom instead of face-to-face strategies due to Covid restrictions. 
Collecting and using data in recruitment
It is important to reflect and learn from each recruitment, but there are also longer term sources of data to collect and review. These relate to recruitment sources, recruitment efficiency, and job tenure. This was all new to me until I met and worked with Neil Eastwood, author of Saving Social Care. This is my go-to book on recruitment generally, and we worked together on a series of blogs when we were recruiting for our first Wellbeing Team roles. What follows is what I have learned from Neil, in his words, taken from our earlier blogs.
Neil writes:
Where did you hear about this role? Recruitment sources
“The source of every applicant should be captured. Sounds easy, but there are some complexities. For example, an applicant coming via your website was directed there by some other stimulus. That’s really what we want to know. What drove the initial interest and approach. Was it a redirect from an internet job board, or a word-of-mouth referral? So, asking website applicants how they heard of you is also important. All advertisers (and that’s what we are in this case) face a further challenge. Which and how many triggers or contacts contributed to an eventual application? For example, an eventual applicant via your website might have seen several Facebook posts, looked at your website, and finally met a Team Member at an outreach event. I would ask applicants (certainly at interview) what touch-points with the organisation they can recall.”
Recruitment efficiency
“The responsiveness of your organisation to job enquiries is now a real differentiator. We need to measure the time from initial enquiry to response and the time to job offer or rejection. Then, time from offer to commencing work. There are over 150 different Applicant Tracking software applications. If you wanted to start with an excel spreadsheet, as we did, you could use two sheets.
“The first sheet would record the applicant name, date, primary source, and any secondary source or influencer—including a referrer, for example—and the job role, area, date responded, outcome, and so on through the recruitment stages and even flagging that they reached three months and twelve months of employment. You could use colours and also use a campaign code so this can be tallied with any advertising cost.
“A second sheet could pull key data from this primary sheet to produce a count and percentage success rate by source by month; for example, Facebook delivered twenty applications, with eight invited to a workshop, seven attending and so on.”
Job Tenure/Performance
“Returning to important stats to capture, one of the most valuable of all is understanding which sources of staff deliver the longest tenure and highest performing employees.
The danger of ‘vanity metrics’ is that they make volume look good at the beginning. Even though electronic notice boards can create a lot of applications, they do not get turned into new colleagues.”
Where are Wellbeing Teams now?
The experiments that we are working on right now are based on making full use of the capacity of Zoom when we have to do recruitment workshops online. We are also experimenting with how we recruit Co-production Partners and then create clear decision-making agreements with them. Our Finding Great Colleagues workbook is being updated to reflect our learning from the last six months as we have moved from face-to-face to virtual recruitment workshops as a result of the Covid pandemic.
Since Wellbeing Teams started four years ago, we have been delighted to win several awards for our approach to recruitment: the Guardian Public Services Award, the Laing Bussion award for recruiters, being one of the Observer/Nesta’s 50 New Radicals, and a Skills for Care Award for innovation in recruitment.
Does this approach make a difference? We worked in partnership with Thurrock Council to establish two Wellbeing Teams, and there are plans to roll this approach out across Thurrock.
After eighteen months, the teams were evaluated by the then-Director of Public Health, and these are the findings:
It was a small sample of two teams; however, against the national averages in home care and social care, the teams in Thurrock had only one-third of the sickness and significantly higher team member retention. As there were council home care teams working in other parts of Thurrock, it was also possible to compare how likely people were to go into hospital, and data suggests clients of Wellbeing Teams were significantly less likely to be hospitalized compared to their counterparts being supported by other teams.
There is a phrase in Buddhism called having a ‘beginner’s mind’. I think that captures my thinking about recruitment; we have been learning and developing our approach, and yet I still feel right at the beginning. There is so much more to test and learn.
Developing our approach to values-based recruitment has been one of the highlights of my experience with Wellbeing Teams, and I am excited to keep learning, experimenting, and supporting others to use it.
Thank you for sticking with me to the end of this blog series, and thanks to my guest commentators. 


Oonagh Smyth
CEO, Skills for Care
Our approach to recruiting people and whether they stay is grounded in the way we find them and what we do to keep them. What the work in Thurrock shows me is that the time we put into supporting, explaining, and learning from how we recruit people is key. It’s not a one off do it relationship. If we want to keep people, we need to put energy into the beginning, middle and end of any recruitment and retention process.
For my organisation, I see lots of links between the work in Thurrock, our values-based recruitment programme, and our work on supporting the workforce to work confidently in their local communities. For example, in our community programme one organisation used our work to redesign people’s jobs so their own interests were matched with people they were going to support. By doing this one of the impacts was less sickness and people feeling much more positive about their jobs. At Skills for Care, we want to share the learning from Thurrock and other areas and support you to find the personalised approaches to finding and keeping workers that make a difference for everyone. For the sector we know that personalisation makes a difference to how people are supported. Have we put enough time into how we personalise the way we support workers – that’s something I think comes across in this work that it would be good to test out across social care.


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