Week-and-a-bit-note: 29 December 2022 to 6 January 2023

Classical three-storey red brick and stone Victorian facade. To the right of the building, a two-storey high gateway, which is a run of 4 windows, and above those in stone the words 'HOPE FOUNDRY'
New Year’s Day wander into Leeds city centre via Burmantofts and Mabgate

A note covering the past week, and also the working day I put in between Christmas and New Year.

How did I make expectations clear?

After a hectic run-up to Christmas, I was glad to have a meeting-free day to go back to my work objectives and identify the things I really need to focus on in January 2023. I used this as a basis for a short note to senior leaders in my team, and scheduled it to send on Tuesday morning. These were the main points:

  • While a lot has changed since we wrote our senior leadership team objectives and shared them with stakeholders, I still found it helpful to refer to them in thinking about where I need to focus. I also checked the latest 2023/24 priorities and operational planning guidance, released just before Christmas, which includes some important targets for services accessed through 111 and 999.
  • As the Digital Urgent and Emergency Care (UEC) team, we have a role to play in two strategic initiatives which will receive a lot of attention in the coming weeks. An early priority for me in the New Year is to make sure we are clear on any digital commitments arising from both initiatives, and to make sure they’re mutually reinforcing, and focus on the things that evidence tells us will make the biggest difference to patients and frontline staff.
  • This quarter is business planning season, and I am determined that Digital UEC will be an exemplar for how, as part of the new NHS England, we all work to a single aligned set of priorities, across the different stakeholder groups and funding sources we have. Our organisation leaders have agreed to this way of working, and I am keen to be closely involved to make sure we set ourselves up for a simpler, and more successful way of working together in 2023-24.
  • At the same time, we have organisation change to deliver – first the legal merger of NHS Digital and NHS England, which will be followed by consultation on a new organisation structure. People in my team come from both organisations, and I want them all to have an equal opportunity to participate in creating something new together.

I was pleased when, in one-to-ones during the following week, a few people said they had found my note about priorities helpful. It’s a habit I need to keep up with.

What leadership teamwork did I see?

On the regular running of the Digital UEC team, and the work on our future operating model, we’re lucky to have mature teams of senior contributors who can intuitively share work when others are away or focused on something else. I enjoyed seeing how adeptly people picked up and ran with tasks this week, pulling in their colleagues expertise where needed.

That made it easy for me to be out of the office on a training course for two days this week, knowing that team members had everything in hand.

What did I learn?

I spent two days at Cranfield University on the Civil Service’s Project Leadership Programme (PLP). Having had to pull out of the previous cohort due to an unavoidable meeting clash, I was pleased to be able to pick up where I left off as part of the next cohort along.

This was “module 2”, and I definitely felt I got more our of it that the previous parts of the course. I picked up some extra reading to do about creating psychological safety in teams, which is especially relevant to me as we head into merger and organisation change processes.

I still have a nagging feeling that many of the things being taught to “project leaders” (brilliant people, all of them!) are mitigation strategies for a more fundamental problem in the public sector: that too many things are framed as projects in the first place.

The examples given by the faculty fell mainly into 2 categories:

  • massive, carbon-intensive cultural artefacts like the 2012 Olympics, Concorde, and Crossrail, which certainly are projects but look nothing like the kind of work my teams do
  • everyday behaviours from high-reliability organisations, such as intensive care units or aviation safety, that contain much relevant learning, but are generally run as permanent service teams, not as temporary change initiatives.

Our own organisational pivot is away from projects and programmes as the main structuring approach to change, and towards a more enduring service and product mindset. I need to figure out how I explore that tension in the first written assignment I have to do for PLP.

What do I need to take care of?

Connecting with people…

  • I have offered to spend time with any team in Digital UEC that would like me to talk through the product mindset and priorities for 2023
  • There are new people in senior leadership positions who I hope to get to know and collaborate with in the coming year.

Follow me on Mastodon

You can find my profile, with a verified link back to my blog, at @mattedgar@mastodon.me.uk

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