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6. Recruiting and interviewing staff

Encouraging staff to get involved is all about winning hearts and minds by presenting compelling arguments, identifying influential colleagues, and carrying out sensitive interviewing.

Once you have carried out observations, the next task is to recruit staff – including clinical, administrative and others – to take part in the programme. People may be suspicious about the agenda, uncomfortable about criticising their workplace or worried about receiving criticism from patients. You need to address these fears and build trust. You then need to present the project clearly to the entire group, explaining what the project is for, how it will benefit staff and patients, and what sort of commitment is required, to allay any fears.

The staff you interview may work in various teams across the patient pathway, rather than within one particular team. Ask your key contact for insights into who to interview (in other words, those staff best able to give an informed view of different aspects of the service), and to provide introductions, in order to ‘open doors’. Make sure the interviewees are drawn from roles across the entire patient pathway, giving a diversity of views and roles. Include people who may be sceptical, as well as those who are enthusiastic.

Once you have selected people, you may need to contact potential participants several times to finalise appointments. People often feel more able to be completely honest and open in one-to-one interviews – preferably face-to-face, but otherwise by phone. Informal, impromptu interviews during observations can be useful for catching key people who are particularly busy.

Key points

  • Enlist key support from an influential member of the team (not necessarily the most senior) and from those who commissioned the work in the first place, to explain the reasons for undertaking the project.
  • Make sure the project is genuinely participative, and not something that is being ‘done to’ the staff.
  • For any staff event, agree dates well in advance, at a time when people tend to be able to meet.
  • Make sure everyone has all the information they need, so that no one can claim not to have known about it.
  • Explain that the process does not imply anything negative about the service – but emphasise that there is always room for improvement. The approach ensures that staff members genuinely get a say in how their service should be improved.
  • Staff often find it easier if interviews take place after the researchers have observed the workplace and gained initial insights. Some need encouragement to explore their own needs as well as those of the patients.
  • When staff are pressed for time, help them focus on what they feel are the most important issues. Sending through the interview questions in advance will give them time to prepare, see example interview script and questions here
  • Often, even those who are initially reluctant to be interviewed feel that it is cathartic and a valuable use of their time. People often feed back that it is very good to feel listened to, and to think that things might change as a result.