Weeknote: 9 to 12 May 2023

From bottom (foreground) to top (far distance):The top of a hybrid bicycle with pannier The bike is leaning on a wooden fence A single track road A stone wall A large expanse of water Trees line the banks on the far side of the water
Saturday bike ride round Eccup reservoir

What did I enjoy?

Getting out of the building on Thursday with a rain-drenched tour of some 54North homes in York. I’m a non-exec director of 54North, which was formed recently from the merger of Leeds & Yorkshire and York Housing Associations. The exec team seem to be doing a great job of bringing the two organisations together, despite challenging times for the social housing sector as a whole, and some difficult personal news affecting close colleagues.

Back in my NHS role, I listened in on a couple of NHS 111 online user research interviews, observing members of the public trying out prototypes of a new feature the team is working on as part of the integration of 111 online with the NHS App. On Friday, Debbie, Steve, and I presented to a very senior decision-maker on the first steps we’re taking in that direction, with some test and learn activity beginning this month.

This week saw the publication of the long-awaited Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care, which sits alongside the urgent and emergency care plan from January. With both of these now confirmed, I’m looking forward to my team collaborating with colleagues across the new NHS England to implement both strategies in the digital products and services that we run.

What was hard?

Frustrations continue to rise with delays to delivery caused by opaque new processes that teams are encountering from our support functions in the new NHS England.

As a director in the organisation, I really want to hold the line that we should all work with these processes, and not let our frustration undermine mutual respect between people, who I truly believe are doing the best job they can, given what they know, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

It’s not easy, and increasingly I hear colleagues report that what worked for them was repeatedly escalating and making as much noise as they could until their problem was unblocked as an exception. That’s no way to run an efficient organisation. It’s so corrosive of the trust and working relationships we all need to build for the long term.

On Friday I picked up on a “baby with the bathwater” situation where senior colleagues were seeking exemption from processes that I know are positive and are there to support us. I think I bought time to see if we can find a collaborative way forward instead, but I completely understand why patience has worn thin.

What did I learn?

As part of a Project Leadership Programme assignment, I read Beer and Eisenstat’s paper ‘The Silent Killers of Strategy Implementation and Learning‘. I found it helpful, so I asked some colleagues how they thought we measured up against the key competencies set out in the paper:

  1. The director advocates direction but learns from feedback of colleagues at lower levels
  2. The top team formulates strategy as a group and spends significant amounts of time discussing it with colleagues at lower levels
  3. Through constructive conflict, the team arrives at a common voice and creates and maintains the organisational context needed to implement the strategy
  4. The top team and colleagues at lower levels are engaged in an open dialogue about the organisation’s effectiveness
  5. Effective teamwork integrates activities around customers, products or services, across diverse functions
  6. Mid-level managers with the potential to develop leadership skills are given clear accountability and authority

I got 14 responses out of 20 in a couple of days. Lots to dig into as a portfolio leadership team when we meet for a strategy day next week.

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