Shannon Sweeney

Shannon Sweeney started what she calls her “first stint” at ISS UK&I when she was 17, continuing the work throughout her time at university. “It was fast-paced, and there was a feeling of team spirit on these mobilisations. We just did what needed to be done,” she says. 

Sixteen years on, in September 2021, Shannon was parachuted in to take on the role of Key Account Manager for Luton and Dunstable University Hospital—and she knew she would have to employ the same ‘needs must’ approach. The contract was mobilised in 2020, in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Shannon inherited a legacy of quality issues, penalty payments and a disaffected, disengaged team and customer base. 

I think it’s tempting to blame Covid-19 for everything,” she explains. “The pandemic had created a lot of problems, but if I’m honest there had been quite a poor working culture for some time.”

We were failing almost every quality Key Performance Indicator (KPI),” Shannon says. “We were loss-making at the year-end. Everyone was really feeling it, working hard—but not working as a team and not delivering any results. It was a tough time.”

Just a few months later, Shannon posted her first monthly profit. Scores have improved for 29 KPIs, as well as across other measures. How did she manage it? “Whatever the role, my first focus is always quality, safety and people,” Shannon explains. “I think if you can get those three things right, then usually everything else follows.

Changing the working culture
When it came to boosting quality, teamwork was key and implementing simple changes made a significant difference. Today, Shannon or another member of the team holds a 10am daily huddle, so everyone can come together and discuss the day at hand. There are always three items on the agenda: safety, quality and staffing. 

Nurturing client relationships at every level has helped to ensure the hospital trust has a better understanding of the facilities management work that is carried out every day—and appreciates the flexibility and support provided to clinical teams. Creating open and honest lines of communication for the ISS team has provided Shannon with the insights she needs to help her team deliver the best service within the scope of the contract.

Tackling longstanding issues impacting staff required a sustained approach. Across all roles in the team, she worked hard to rebuild shattered confidence and recognise talent. “My team are all fantastic at what they do,” she says. “But things had reached a point where they were either being overlooked for promotion, or things were so bad they didn’t actually want to be promoted!

Thanks to the actions Shannon and the team have taken, that is all starting to change. “Things are really starting to click into place. It feels like we have turned the corner.”

When what you are doing isn’t working, it is time to listen and change

Shannon Sweeney, Key Account Manager, Luton and Dunstable University Hospital
It was essential to consider all the experiences of the hundreds of colleagues responsible for delivering client service 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “This is probably the most diverse workforce I’ve ever worked with,” Shannon says. “I know the impact of celebrating an inclusive and diverse team. In the past, these differences had sometimes been a source of miscommunication and misunderstanding.”

Many issues required mediation between different people and groups to help them understand each other’s perspectives. “We created a culture and diversity group, initially with the goal of creating a charter, but now it is a permanent forum where we discuss our experiences in life, work and the community,” Shannon says. “We encourage each other to be open, honest and understanding. We commit to challenge any non-inclusive behaviours that we see and to educate our colleagues.”

Shannon adds, “I think the group works because we have the same high expectations for behaviour, culture and patient care, but we’re informal. People can really come along and be themselves.” 

Global trial
The group was even nominated to participate in an ISS global training trial which aims to champion diversity and inclusion and address conscious and unconscious bias. “I’m really proud we’ve been selected for this pilot. It’s a real opportunity for us to share our experience and shape the training into something that might help other teams across the business,” she says. 

But Shannon is not complacent about the work that still needs to be done. “It’s another step forward, and it’s brilliant to be invited to participate in something like this. But we still have a huge way to go when it comes to diversity and inclusion at Luton and within ISS.” 

Despite praise from customers, union representatives and team members, Shannon insists that her leadership style is not rocket science. “I don’t believe that anyone comes to work wanting to do a bad job,” she says. “When what you are doing isn’t working, it is time to listen and change. I haven’t done anything extraordinary. I just care about what we do, how we do it, and above all else, the people who do it!”