VitaHealth - How to reach hairy, audacious goals

When Vita Health Group reached its ambitious financial targets, CEO Derrick Farrell was left stunned. “I set myself a hairy, audacious goal,” he explains, “And I wasn't prepared to hit it, so I spent two months asking myself, ‘What does the next stage look like?’”.

The business has come a long way since he took over in 2016. There has been a rebrand, mergers and acquisitions, continued organic growth, entry into the NHS mental health market, multiple industry awards… The list goes on. This year alone, the company’s turnover has risen an impressive 38%. 

So – apart from preparing for the fact that you might just achieve greatness – what is Derrick’s advice on creating a business that excels? 

Build a team that believes in your hairy audacious goals

Any successful business could keep doing what they’re doing and likely continue on a positive track. But for Derrick, that’s not enough. “Imagine what we could do if we step up,” he says.

When he joined Vita Health Group, he not only set ambitious targets, but he ensured he had a team around him full of people that were excited to achieve them. “You either buy into the fact that we want to grow five-fold in five years and help many, many people ­– or you’re better off looking to work somewhere else.”

Some of the team around him has changed as a result, but that doesn’t worry him. “I always try and work with people who want to overachieve – they know the targets and push harder and smarter.”

Don’t assume the public sector isn’t innovative

One of Vita Health Group’s current projects is helping the NHS tackle needle phobia using virtual reality. It might sound like an innovative approach for the public sector, but Derrick says that in healthcare, the NHS is where magic is happening.

“Two years ago, it might have seemed impossible,” he says, “But the NHS is providing an incredibly fertile ground for us to push our change agenda. At the moment, the corporate world does not want to be on the bleeding-edge. Businesses want everything to be tried and well tested. The NHS give you a remit to deliver: how you deliver is yours to define.”

Be a hands-on leader

Derrick is a trained accountant so while he thinks big, he also gets stuck in. He meets all his direct reports once a week, and really gets to know them personally as well as professionally.

Tell the story: it’s as important as the numbers

Derrick is a self-confessed “yellow” leader meaning he embraces change. He’s very aware of this and tries to ensure he communicates in a way that brings everyone on the journey with him.

“I think in numbers – in terms of revenue and profit because that's how I was trained,” admits Derrick. But that won’t work for everyone especially in a diverse team. “Actually, the profit and loss is generally an outcome measure. We should worry about customer satisfaction, recovery rates and mental health.”

Instead, internal communications is about articulating the deliverables, and doing so in different ways because it will mean different things to different people.

Enable your people to fail fearlessly

Vita Health Group’s culture is about empowering people to bring their best selves to work. “The one thing that I insist on for everyone,” says Derrick, “is to be curious about your environment and the process, to ask questions, try different things, change things… And for that, you get absolute air cover to make mistakes.”

He uses inventor James Dyson as inspiration. He famously created thousands of prototypes before he made his first working model, meaning he failed thousands of times, but each time got a little closer to the result he wanted. “The only way you can embed into your culture that it’s okay to fail is that when things go wrong – and it does for every organisation – swallow your reaction. Instead ask, ‘Where did things not go so right?’. If you learn lessons, you get to a better place.”

About Vita Health Group

Vita Health Group, a long-standing client of Mills & Reeve, partners with the NHS to provide mental and physical health services, works with the UK’s largest companies to support their workforce and provides physiotherapy services to private customers.

As well as the provision of employment law services, Mills & Reeve has worked closely with Vita Health Group on its various corporate acquisitions over the last four years, as well as advising on new NHS contracts, a recent refinancing and a multitude of commercial contracts.

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