#Blogtober: Gary - A letter to my younger self (if he could be bothered to read it)

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10 / 10 / 2014 12.02am

By Gary Theobald

#Blogtober Day: Friday 10 October

In 1989, aged 27, and by then believing I knew all I needed to know about pretty much everything, I felt that local Government social services would be able to cope without me for a while, and I decided to move into the NHS.  This was as a result of some really good advice from my mentor, and allowed me to take a role specialising in HR&OD.  What I had loved about working in general management in social services was the proximity to our service users, and the connection I felt between what my team and I did, and the service that was delivered to them.  I thought that would be equally the case within the NHS, if not more so.

So what have I learned since then (that is both relevant and repeatable – and might be fit for others to ponder under the “Do OD” banner) that I might now want to share with my younger self, should I briefly be able to attract his attention?  Five things, probably.

  • Engage
    The more time spent on getting suggestions, ideas and involvement from our colleagues and stakeholders, the better.  It’s not a panacea, but how often do we find that the answer to that seemingly intractable organisational challenge is actually lodged somewhere within the cohort most deeply affected?  And how often do we forget that?  Pay attention, younger me.
  • Less is more
    It’s an old maxim, but frequently ignored.  Brevity often feels like a lost art, and we frequently wonder why we can’t take people with us on our beautifully designed change journeys when we don’t do them the courtesy of concisely setting out what we’re about and why they should be interested – at least – and motivated, at best.  One of the more famous quotes attributed to Winston Churchill was along the lines of “I’m going to make a long speech because I’ve not had the time to prepare a short one” and this demonstrates the challenge perfectly.  I’d urge my younger self to spend more time on boiling down the fundamentals of the changes desired, and keeping it simple.  It takes time to do this, rather than blather on and bore people into submission, but it’s time well spent.
  • Picture this
    I probably shouldn’t judge people by my own (low) standards, but I get the message a lot quicker if it's conveyed visually. I often find that if you can describe something this way, through some decent graphics  or even a simple flow-chart, then it’s probably a good sign that your idea may have potential. Well at least  you are able to describe it reasonably simply which means you then have a chance of being able to capture the attention and interest of your audience, even if only briefly.  We all have our own learning and engagement styles, but saying it with pictures works really well.  Sit up and listen, younger me.
  • Get over yourself
    Well done you, for whatever it was that you did last time around that went according to plan/was delivered on time/gained you plaudits or bouquets etc.  However, any transferable learning will mean nothing if the next time you need to deliver a change or improvement, you rest on your laurels and make the mistake of ignoring the need to engage, listen and understand the organisational imperative and the context.  Just because it worked before doesn’t mean it will work this time.
  • It’s our behaviour and our relationships that matter
    We often make the mistake of thinking we need to reorganise in order to make the improvements we want to see.  It’s a consequence of working in a political system where short term expediency often drives change, when actually we also need longer-term consideration and solutions.  The most beautifully planned structures will mean nothing unless we give time and thought to how we want the pesky humans in those structures to relate to each other, and with our stakeholders and the public at large.
  • Don’t forget why you’re here
    Five things?  Looks like there are six.  (Note to younger self – your maths doesn’t get any better).  The final thing to say to younger me is simply that public service is a privilege: we are here to make things better for the people that need and use our services.  Nothing more than that.
Gary is the Head of HR and OD at Health Education England and can be contacted via Twitter @HEE_GaryT.

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