TL;DR: Cohort 1 was a success! We all learnt new things. Maxim: Take away the things that a chicken could do. We’re planning for Cohort 2.
At some point during 2022, the Group Chief Finance Officer at UHN went on a “First-Time CFO programme” run by the HFMA. This was a one a half day programme, set up to support the newly appointed CFOs as they progressed on a tricky role. This programme including a visit by the national CFO Julian Kelly to welcome newly appointed CFOs.
I started thinking that we need to do something for Board-level Chief Digital Information Officers (CDIOs), because a) there was nothing and b) if we’re going to change the current low presence of CxIOs on Boards, then we need those who are to be brilliant. This was further reinforced when I was part of the recruitment of the CDIO to replace me at UHN; the shortlist included 3 people new to the NHS and 3 with a recent NHS history.
I started lobbying NHS England to see if there was any appetite to set anything up. The concept was enthusiastically recieved, but no money or resource was forthcoming to run the programme, but I did get the support of Yinka to help. So in June 2022, we put together an outline programme which was iterated over the following months and presented the concept to one of the weekly NHS CIOs “touchbase” in 2023 and as a result, I managed to get a small group of people willing to help and try and get things going on a shoestring.
Preparing for Cohort 1
Over the next few months, we pulled together a broad outline of content to create and started thinking about a date.
Two factors led to us deciding the first cohort would be 4 and 5 of October 2023; 1) Avoiding summer and trying to give us all a bit of time to do the preparation and 2) Where we could scrounge a venue to use for the 1.5 days. ATOS came forward and offered us some office space, and Nervecentre kindly offered to sponsor the networking dinner. With no funding, the requirement would be for delegate’s Trusts to pay for their own travel and accomodation. Things were moving!
Thankfully at this point NHS Providers stepped forward and asked if they could help in any way, having read about the idea in my weeknotes. They kindly helped with a initial email out to all Trusts, asking for expressions of interest, which we then attempted to filter according to the criteria:
#1: Recently appointed (in last 6 months) to the Board
#2: Recently appointed to the most senior digital role in a Trust
#3: Seeking to represent a wide range of diversity as possible
We decided that we’d limit the first cohort to 12 people and as a result we ended up with a reserve list. Unfortunately, 4 October turned out to be one of the railway strike days and some people needed to drop out, so Cohort 1 was reduced to 7 people.
The faculty who supported cohort 1 were:
- Yinka Makinde
- Martin Sadler
- Amy Freeman
- Nick Hopkinson
- Andy Callow
- Toby Avery (virtual session)
- Sonia Patel (joined us for the afternoon of day 1)
- Jim Austin (provided content, but was unable to join us for the days)
NHS Providers and Louise in particular worked so hard with the logistics and filled in the gaps of things that we hadn’t even considered.
Cohort 1 Programme Summary
We set out designing the content to be as conversational as possible, rather than a series of lectures. The smaller number of delegates meant this was easy to achieve and it meant that faculty and delegates all took something away.
What follows is a high level summary of the content, but can’t properly capture the richness of the conversations.
Given that this was the first time we’d run this programme, we had no idea of how each long item would run, so we need to adapt as we went along. I kept some detailed(ish) notes so we can adjust timings for cohort 2.
You’ll note that the agenda is intersperced with things we called book slots. We asked all delegates to bring a book that they frequently recommend or share to talk about and then give away at the end.
Those who know me know that I’m a massive book fan, and read widely, but this was something that Martin suggested quite late in the planning, but split the programme up really nicely and added some insight to how different people think and feel. The list of books suggested is included in Appendix A at the bottom of this article.
Amy talked about Board Basics and her experience having been on two different Boards. I noted the new requirement in the Fit and Proper Person test to include a review of social media presence, which was news to me.
Toby wasn’t feeling great, so joined remotely. Tony is NHS CDIO Royalty, having clocked up 8 years at Board level. He talked about being expected to get on with things as an Exec/Board member, saying that he couldn’t remember the last time anyone told him what do do. He talked about his bi-modal approach when he first started, trying to tackle the basics in parallel with introducting new ways of working. He described his approach to making the case for a User Centred Design team by starting something small (without explicit approval) and using the success of that to build the bigger case which is now embedded.
Martin talked about an event that his Trust hosted, following Board approval of his Digital strategy, where he invited existing suppliers and local SMEs to offer potential solutions/approaches to the objectives/aims. NUH are totally stealing that idea.
Martin finished Day 1 with homework for us all (faculty included), which was three themes for your “elevator pitch” to the CEO/other members of the board.
We kicked off Day 2 going round the table any everyone giving their pitch. This was a simple piece of homework, but as a practical take-home it was great and everyone took it seriously. It will be interesting as we check in over the next 6 months to see how people have used or adapted their pitches.
Martin then talked about service delivery and made full use of the massive whiteboard to set out his views on why getting service right earns you the right to do the cooler stuff. He warned us of the “Innovation Prevention Departments” and the importance of knowing what caused that outage last night. He talked about his approach to understand service desk demand and then profile staffing, meaning they have virtually no calls waiting during the 8–10am rush. He talked about how he got to grips with suppliers using a My List, Your List agenda, where the supplier only got to talk about their stuff if all the things on the My List was resolved. His structured approach to severe service disruptions seemed better than many approaches I’ve seen in the past, including who is appropriate to lead the incident process. Lots to take away, think about and apply. He also mentioned the book he’s writing for CIOs and pretty much everyone in the room clamoured for a copy. He did give me a sneak preview later in the day, but never once let go of it!
Amy talked about doing better than simply surviving Gold on call.
George, Elaine and Clive from ATOS discussed How to Keep Up to Date when things are moving so fast. Barbara Minto pyramid thinking was mentioned, which I’ve heard a couple of times about this year, so need to do a bit more research.
Yinka gave us 5 things to think about regarding workforce strategy. During this conversation Martin offered the quote that may become the programme’s maxim “take away the things that a chicken could do”. I’m still pondering the depth of his wisdom on that one.
I talked about 100-day plans and the approach I feel I’ve got better at during various transitions into roles over the past few years. Discovering the book First 90 Days was a key element to this.
Nick talked about Executive leadership, and gave us time to relfect on our values, which are the things that should drive all we do and how we behave.
We then finished with agreeing the mentoring arrangements for the next 6 months and an opportunity for the delegates to offer feedback and suggestions on what would make the programme for cohort 2 even better.
We still haven’t got all the formal feedback in from all delegates so we’ll respond and adapt to that when it comes in. But here’s the list I wrote for myself at the end of the programme:
- NHSP email out to CEOs added credibility to the programme being introduced to Trusts
- NHSP help was invaluable
- Chasing CIOs for input was hard! Quite last minute, but came together in the end.
- Perhaps could have told candidates about casual dress code
- Extra reminder a day or two in advance for people to remember to bring books
- Could we have set up a WhatsApp/Signal group from the off?
- Sponsors were excellent and keen to help again in future
- The cake that someone went out and bought was very welcome/needed and needs to be part of the ask for next time
- Ask attendees for biographies in advance to circulate alongside the faculty bios
We left the programme at the end of Day 2 with sufficient positive feedback that what we offered was well recieved and practical. So the planning for Cohort 2 starts…
Appendix A: Book List
Names of those who provided each book are left for reader speculation:
- Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick M. Lencioni
- Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber
- Assembly by Natasha Brown
- Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- Turn The Ship Around! by L. David Marquet
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
- Beyond Implementation by Heather Haugen and Charles L. Fred
- Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
- The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer
- The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli