This blog is part of a 7-part series about Mental Health in England. Check out the links below to read other blogs in this series.

Do We Have What It Takes?

As a result of an inquiry into the failings of hospitals in the area, Derbyshire Health Trust in the UK invested significantly in what they term: “Compassionately designed services”. During my visit to the organization a mock interview was scheduled to demonstrate this investment.

The mock interview demonstrated the organization’s standard hiring process, where all applicants undergo a values interview before being forwarded on to a regular skills-based interview. This values interview consists of standardized case example, standardized ratings scale, a professional actor, as part of normal procedure, a team of observers, and a job applicant. From psychiatrists through to nursing staff, all applicants are processed in this fashion. If an applicant fails the values interview, they fail the job application.

By using this hiring process Derbyshire Health Trust is not only ensuring that they are recruiting and retaining staff whose values align with their organization. They are also demonstrating to staff the significant role that values play within the organization.

Implications For Niagara

In mental health and addictions, the value perspective, we hold regarding our clients is absolutely essential to their recovery. In fact “Recovery” is held up as “the” value perspective in mental health. We know the adage “skills can be trained but values cannot”. However, how much time and energy do we spend on values during our hiring processes? My guess is that it’s usually an afterthought for most of us, concentrating most of the applicant review on skills assessment. Derbyshire Health Trust has not reversed this but they have re-balanced the equation. Perhaps we should as well?

Community Addiction Services of Niagara (CASON) and CMHA Niagara, recognizing the importance of specific, measurable, attitudes and values need to perform effectively, have both adopted Competencies for Canada’s Substance Abuse Workforce. This Made-in-Canada resource for hiring and evaluating staff based on validated competencies, provides the necessary template for upgrading our personnel practices not just in addictions but across the broader spectrum of services.

I recently had a long discussion with one of the developers of the Competencies for Canada’s Substance Abuse Workforce. A director of a large provincial substance abuse service, he commented that over 60% of an employee’s success is related to core competencies rather than skills. However, he further elaborated that, we persist on focusing on the skills elements for interviewing and development of staff. In a poignant example, despite his expertise as a developer of the tool, he is not permitted to apply it within his organization.

Within mental health and addictions and the broader human service sector, we are serving the same community and in many cases the same individuals. For us to engage and maintain the Niagara Mental Health and Addictions Charter and in particular signatories’ commitment #1 we need to “Provide leadership within our policies, resources and implementation strategies that support the “Common Agenda”

Are we committed enough to change our hiring practices for relevant core competencies? Do we have the flexibility of supporting the common agenda by changing our personnel evaluations for relevant core competencies? … and here is where it gets personal….As leaders in the community do we have what it takes, to assess our own values and competencies openly, as declaration of our commitment to the Charter and its Common Agenda ?

George Kurzawa
Executive Director
Canadian Mental Health Assocation, Niagara Branch

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