Weeknote: 15 to 19 August 2022

View of desk with sticky notes
Friday afternoon reflection time (with redactions)

What did I enjoy?

As ever, meeting with ambulance digital leaders. Joining this group helps me understand what’s important in the digital, data, and technology world for the regional services that our national NHS teams are here to support.

On Tuesday, I chaired a steering group for the projects in our transformation programme. Colleagues gave short and informative updates on their work, including the interim findings from some work to understand the patient experience of urgent and emergency care (UEC). To my ears at least, our ability to tell the stories of our work gets better every time.

And on Friday, I joined the NHS England Digital UEC team’s weekly retrospective. We shared some common frustrations, and also what’s going on personally for some team members.

It was not so much a pleasure as a relief to get the latest round of organisation change announcements communicated to colleagues this week. The changes mean I’m giving up some non-UEC work so that I can focus 100% on bringing together the Digital UEC activities in NHS England and NHS Digital ahead of our formal merger next year.

What was hard?

The latest changes are the right thing to do, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the task alongside a great leadership team. Even so, I had to reflect on my disappointment that I didn’t win the argument on a key structural point outside of UEC, and accept that some of that is down to me not having made the case sufficiently when I probably did have the opportunity. The process continues, and there will be other chances to get it right.

The practicality of communications was also complicated by people’s overlapping holidays, which is inevitable at this time year. I regret that because of this we won’t do a full directorate drop-in event until Monday, and that at least one key leader won’t be able to join. Everyone needs and deserves a break. But this does mean we’ll have to offer multiple opportunities for people to receive the news and ask any questions they may have.

I also recognised midway through the week that between my usual workload, the reorg conversations, and an on-going incident response, I hadn’t left much time in my diary to consider and plan the next few weeks. The “focus time” in my calendar had turned into 30-minute slithers instead of the 2+ hour blocks that it can take to properly think through a complex issue. With help from Natalie, who looks after my diary, I was able to protect 2 hours on Friday afternoon when I put on my headphones and broke out a stack of sticky notes.

What did I learn?

I’m lucky to be part of a senior leadership team with colleagues from whom I’m always learning. A challenge we all face in the current NHS England set-up is the number of sudden requests for information, often with unrealistic or synthetic deadlines. One of my colleagues has a great way of forensically pinning down specifically who needs the information and why it’s urgent before agreeing to respond. I tried that out on one challenge this week, and when I understood the actual need, I was able to reframe the request into something more useful and achievable.

What do I need to take care of?

In giving up some work, I need to ensure it ends well, and is set up for whoever takes it on next. I’m conscious that colleagues need to see good endings when things are changing for them too, both pratically and emotionally.

The changes I’m leading for my area are just a small part of a much bigger process, with different teams all working on various aspects. While we’re all trying to achieve the same result, the timing and pacing of the changes might need to be different for different areas. I need to make clear to my colleagues how I’m setting out to do things in a certain sequence, and why some things in my area might need to change sooner, of stay the same for longer, than in other directorates.

It’s coming up to 6 months since I last formally sought feedback from colleagues on my performance, and this role transition seems like a good time to update my understanding of how my colleagues see me, and what they would like me to do differently.  There are always things I can do better.

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