Weeknote: 13 to 17 February 2023

Night-time scene, steps to art gallery on left, on the right, a fairground ride is brightly lit whirling people around high in the air
Fair outside the art gallery

A calmer week than usual, perhaps because many colleagues were on half term holidays. Even so, writing these notes, I realise I packed a lot in. Also a return to the office milestone: for the first time I worked in Quarry House 5 days running. That was my personal choice, and I’m fortunate to live in easy travelling distance of my usual office base. A couple of serendipitous corridor conversations resulted.

Sharing the vision

After the previous week’s collective consultation launch, I ran an all staff question and answer session for the Digital Urgent and Emergency Care (UEC) teams in my portfolio. The consultation phase is a stressful time for many colleagues, because they can’t yet know for certain what the changes will mean for their roles. Frustrating though that is, the reason for the uncertainty is a good one: it is everyone’s opportunity to comment on, contribute to, and influence the process, and the organisation design might change based on everyone’s feedback.

I really want colleagues to be able to picture themselves doing their best work as part of the new NHS England, and the changes are designed to make that possible. We will be structuring ourselves around the products and services we deliver, enabling multidisciplinary teams to take more accountability for the delivery of their products, with leadership and subject-matter expert support provided in clusters of teams.​ This means changes to line management for some colleagues, whch we need to do a better job of explaining.

As well as whole team sessions, I am making the space for a series of in-person one-to-ones over the next few weeks, to make sure that my team and I understand the same things about the changes and how we will work together in the new organisation. Everyone brings a different perspective and set of expectations to this, and they cannot put their lives outside work on hold while they wait for the process to run its course.

Connecting our service

I presented at one board and one steering group about the navigation workstream that brings together colleagues from several of our portfolios to more efficiently direct patients to the most appropriate services. Debbie, Steve, and other colleagues are doing a good job of turning a very high-level aspiration into a coherent set of things we can do in the next 9 months.

We’re including the navigation work as part of a unified prioritisation exercise for the Digital UEC teams in the new NHS England, to ensure we deliver against all our priorities including our live service commitments, the recently published UEC Recovery Plan, and potential actions arising from other reviews currently under way.

I also joined the monthly meeting of the Ambulance Digital Leadership Group, having caught up with the national teams who were presenting to make sure we would be telling a coherent story about different initiatives led by different parts of the digital sub-directorate.

Developing capability

I had a first session with a coach as part of my participation in the Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s  Project Leadership Programme (PLP). In an hour and a half of conversation, I was able to tease apart the urgent and important things that were weighing on my mind, and clarify some next steps to bring as mnuch stability as I can to my leadership team over the next few weeks.

We discussed some proof points about why its better when we work as one team, including our shared prioritisation of work for 2023-24, and the cross-portfolio collaboration with the NHS App team. My coach put forward some helpful concepts around trust and interdependence, especially in the way we work with central support functions such as finance and HR, so that leaders in the portfolio can focus on the unique things about our products that make a difference to patients and frontline staff.

On Friday afternoon, I put on my headphones and started to get to grips with my first PLP written assignment, which involves assessing how mindfully my organisation plans and makes decisions. The context of the NHS is one of intractable problems, as well as short-term pressures. It seemingly does the impossible every day because of the skill, dedication, and ingenuity of 1.5 million staff, from a wide range of professions. Some problems are not unique to the NHS – they are common issues in many large organisations in the public and private sectors. I’ve picked a couple of recent decisions to assess more critically and test out the models I’ve learned on the PLP so far.

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