Dr Anas Nader is the Co-Founder and CEO of Patchwork Health, a digital solution that connects NHS organisations to an increasing number of healthcare workers, reducing dependency on locum agencies and improving the experience of flexible working in the NHS. The startup has grown to a strong team of over 100 people, and Anas shares his insights into building a powerful team.
Vinay is joined by Anas in the latest episode of 15 Minutes With The Doctor. The company arose from the mission of two doctors to harness the power of flexible working to address the healthcare staffing shortages. Patchwork Health is a healthcare workforce management application. It offers digital tools for rota creation, e-rostering, employee engagement, management of temporary staffing banks and collaborative staff banks. In episode 47, learn about Anas’s career journey, which he currently describes as three acts in a theatre show, why he left medicine, how they built and tested their tech at a large hospital and some massive learning points on their digital health start-up journey so far. In this special article, Anas reveals his view on building a team and culture, how they maintain it and he discusses the term, cultural architect:
… You’ve grown your team to, what, 100 people now? You’re doing things right, obviously, to get to that size. What culture do you build in your team?
Yes. Well, the question of culture is often interesting to me because I think it means different things to different people. To us in the business, to me personally, culture is about day-to-day actions. You know that you have built the right culture when your team can make their own discretionary decisions in the absence of the leadership, primarily the founders sometimes, but still make that decision that is in line with the culture. So, it’s not about values written on walls. It’s not about nice statements. It’s really about what guides every single action, every single day, whether these actions are within the business or with external stakeholders, like customers.
I think we’ve tried to build a culture that is both quite empathetic to the end user, being a clinician or a hospital manager, and are quite ambitious in trying to truly solve the problem rather than just ship pixels on a screen, like sometimes what has happened in the past by other software companies. So, it was about the fact that we are founded by clinicians. Quite a lot of our team are ex-clinicians and ex-managers in the NHS. The last time we counted, it’s roughly 20 or 25% of the team. And therefore, there’s naturally a strong sense of camaraderie with the people we’re working with.
We built that kind of genuine empathy with the nuance of the challenge and the true pain points of their workflows so that our products are not just addressing issues satisfactorily, but really dig deep into the nuance of these workflows and address it to its maximum. And, I think that comes from genuine empathy. And obviously, it’s a strong knowledge of the problem. And the ambitious piece, we want to hire only the best of the best for our business. So, we wanted to hire people who don’t necessarily view this as a nine to five job, and are genuinely in ‘here’ and with their colleagues in the company, to make a meaningful and lasting change in an industry.
To do that, one must be ambitious. Must ask the question, “why can’t it be done better? Why can’t it be done faster? Why can’t they be improved and solved no matter how hard and difficult it might sound?” And to be able to combine a quite highly ambitious person, who’s still able to maintain their empathy, both to their customer and each other within the business, is the culture we have built and strive to protect. I say strive to protect, because the most significant problem as you grow to a hundred plus is protecting the culture you’ve built. And it’s much easier to protect it when it’s a company of 20 or 30 or 40 people.
As your company scales, you need cultural architects who keep amplifying the culture that the founders and the leadership are trying to instil in the business to everyday action. The companies who get it right genuinely, build value and long-lasting businesses. And the companies who get it wrong often struggle as they grow in scale.
I think it goes back to why you built Patchwork, which was trying to help people feel more empowered. And you talked about your own responsibility in making decisions. You’re definitely trying to build that in your team. I’m fascinated by the use of the term cultural architect. Could you tell us one thing this person might do on a day-to-day basis?
So cultural architects, for us, are not people who own a specific role or they’re not carrying a particular banner. These individuals can easily be identified as people who live and breathe the company’s values. Who, through their actions, are visibly shaping the culture. So, cultural architects are people who tend to be long-lasting employees. Some of them are in management, but not all of them. They tend to be the ones who look after each other, the ones who are asking the hard questions of each other, and who tend to hold themselves accountable and hold each other accountable to live and protect the company’s culture.
And so, I call them cultural architects. They’re not necessarily kind of officially holding a role of that nature. It’s just that people you know, that are not only are they great at delivering results, as individual contributors, but you know they have that positive influence in your culture.
That everything around them, everything they touch, everyone they talk to, and every project they’re a part of always embodies the best of Patchwork and the best of our values. Therefore, you’d look for these kind of individuals because you know that by hiring those kind of individuals, you’re amplifying what’s good about the business.
I really like that. I also like that you focused on the positives there, as in some organisations there may be people who have an adverse effect on the culture. But, by building more and more positive cultural architects, the balance is always tipped for the better.