Meet John Lodge, Co-founder of Hexitime, a timebank that enables staff to exchange skills and ideas for health and care improvement. John talks about fostering collaboration, how Hexitime has gone international, and his ambition for Hexitime to become a verb – are you ready to Hexitime?

Tell us about your innovation – what and why?

We created Hexitime as the national timebank for people in health and care to share their skills to improve the services they deliver. A timebank is a mechanism where you exchange your time and don’t pay for it with money. It takes HR contracts off the table, it fosters collaboration and it supports the “gift economy” – that kindness of giving and helping each other.

We felt it was needed because the NHS has been designed and built around competition and we wanted to create something that was more collaborative. Currently people can be quite siloed, whether that’s in their profession or team or organisation. They operate in a system that understands and recognises them by their job description. By bringing your whole self to a timebank you can contribute the skills and expertise that you have over and above your job.

We wanted to create a second marketplace really for the workforce, to bring all their talent, to collaborate without orders and improve services together.

What was your lightbulb moment?

I was shortly out of the NHS grad scheme and in my first hospital job. We were doing some improvement work and just needed about six hours of analytical capability but the team just didn’t have the headspace and the technical capability to do it properly. I naively asked my boss – six months into the NHS – “why don’t we just go and find someone in the hospital, we employ 6,000 staff, why don’t we just go and get someone?” And they were like, “errrr, what?” I realised the only options available were to recruit somebody and end up with a member of staff having bought far too much than we ever needed, or go out to somebody on a day rate which we know is above market value or go to a management consultancy.

The irony was that I knew there were hundreds of people in the vicinity, even working in that organisation, who were passionate about data analytics and who would have quite happily taken a few hours out of their day, got involved in some interesting work and helped us. But we didn’t have the marketplace so we couldn’t tell people about our need and they didn’t have a mechanism to tell people about their capacity. The only marketplace was the job market. And I just had that light bulb moment thinking this is crazy, we can do so much better than this. We can start to link people in real time with their skills and their requirements.

The other thing to say is that we often muddle through the problem with networks. I was there as quite a junior member of staff just thinking I wish I had more networks and more contacts so I could find that analyst that I know is out there. But I reflected on it and thought I shouldn’t have to be well connected and senior and know everybody to be able to do some improvement work. I should be able to just access a marketplace – and Hexitime created that marketplace.

What’s been your innovator journey highlight to date?

A real highlight was taking the minimum viable product to a real test arena where it could have crashed and burnt very publicly – and it didn’t. That was a Q Exchange competition in 2018 with the Health Foundation. We took the minimum viable product there and it was voted on by 400 of our peers, publicly, and won that national competition. We’ve since had a lot of success but that was a real highlight for me because we had very publicly risked everything. We shared the idea, we let everybody critique it, and it came out on top and it could have done the opposite. It was proper validation that there was something in this.

How have AHSNs supported you?

AHSNs have mainly helped us with being a sustainable business. We started with a good idea and some popularity, but good ideas and popularity don’t make for a legacy that changes the way people do business. The AHSNs, and KSS AHSN specifically, were really clear that we had to create a viable business model. That was what led Hexitime from being a little gang of NHS staff to being an independent social enterprise.

It was coaching and mentoring through the AHSN that led us to become a social enterprise, led us to develop our first business case, and helped us with problems that we didn’t have any experience of from our NHS jobs. Our focus, being NHS staff, was very much on delivering value to our users but that only gets you so far. The AHSNs gave us – in a nutshell – business discipline. And that’s been so important. We would have collapsed in year two without that kind of support. We’re now moving into year three and getting stronger every year for it.

What has been your toughest obstacle to date?

Our toughest obstacle is that we’re on the boundaries of workforce innovation. Many of our audiences don’t understand what timebanking is, let alone why they should get involved in it. For most other innovators or companies it’s just a case of you show people how cool your idea is, but for us we have a second obstacle in that we have to show people what timebanking is and what it’s potential is before people might be interested in trying it out. Our ongoing obstacle is generating a big – preferably national – conversation around the potential of timebanking.

We find that when people understand timebanking, the rest of it is a really easy pitch and people want to get involved.

Hopes for the future

In year three, which is what we’re currently in, we’ve found that we’re getting international attention. I hope we can take a professional healthcare timebanking movement internationally, and what we’ve learnt with the pandemic is that geography is not quite the limitation we thought it was. So we’ve now got people regularly exchanging expertise between for example Oman and the USA, between South Africa and Australia and we would never have anticipated that two or three years ago. We’re a professional timebank, not a timebank of place, so place is not a boundary for us.

In the longer term, I’d love to see Hexitime becoming a verb. Next time you’re in a meeting and you realise that you don’t have the expertise you need, the answer will be “don’t worry about it, I’ll just go Hexitime it and we’’ll get those skills in”. We’d love to generate that kind of movement where Hexitiming your problem is a realistic way of getting free expertise from the system.

A typical day for you would include?

Being an early stage business you get the full spectrum in the day. I’ll be dealing with real micro operational stuff one minute (like approving people’s applications on the platform) and the next moment I’ll be talking to a national lead for the NHS about how we’re going to integrate our technology into other existing technologies so that people can seamlessly jump into Hexitime. So it bounces from grand strategy through to micro ops and includes taking on all roles – at the moment I’m also running our HR and doing our tax returns.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of it is the potential and the freedom and the autonomy. We are inundated with people coming to us with cool ideas and they just want to share ideas and expertise and take them forward. Naturally we’re working with a lot of innovators that are optimistic, forward thinking, fun to work with and quite proactive. You feel like every minute you put into it is a minute well spent.

What three bits of advice would you give budding innovators?

Be very very clear on your value proposition. Understand what value you add to your users and your customers and make sure you distinguish between the two. We learnt that as we did it and I wish we’d learnt it before we started.

You’ve got to surround yourself with good people or the right people. That’s got nothing to do with seniority or reputation and it’s got everything to do with passion and commitment. We’ve been very lucky at Hexitime, we surrounded ourselves with people who three years later are still giving their all and making it work and never dropping the ball. I’m so grateful it’s one of the things we got right.

Know you’re worth as a business. Have confidence that what you’re doing is good. You’ll always have competition to some degree with fancy branding or making a lot of noise, but every single time we’ve looked under the bonnet of any competition, it’s increased our confidence that we’re doing it better and to a higher quality standard. It’s the same when it comes to collaboration, you’ve got to be really disciplined about which other organisations you work with and know what value they add to what you already offer.

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