Reflections: One Year In at KGH

When I started as Chief Digital Information Officer at Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, I committed to myself to write some reflections every 6 months, influenced heavily by the reflective discipline shown by my ex-NHS Digital colleague Matt Edgar.

Although I’m pretty-reliable at producing my weeknotes, this is an opportunity to take a longer look back.

L-R, T-B: Exec Christmas Meal, Movember, Board visit, Making Data Count Ambassador, Dragon’s Den, Leadership Bookclub, Delivering Pizzas to staff, Visit to the Pathology Lab, We Care Awards Evening

I’m going to using the same structure as used for my reflections at 6 months.

Things I’ve Learnt?

  1. People are Watching. In this role, particularly as it is my first executive role, I’ve realised more than ever just how much people observe how you operate and if that matches up with the things you say and the organisation’s values. There have been a couple of minor situations where I’ve not been visible to some of my teams, and although I’m checking in with my leadership team regularly, I’ve not walked the floor as often as I’d like, which has consequences of people not thinking you care for them and are not bothered about their work, which is far from the truth. I’m reminded of the stuff I read in Don Clifton’s book First Break All The Rules which talks about the basic human need of attention. The penny has dropped that the exec role comes with higher expectations that you can do all the stuff on your task list AND be be visible, but the latter needs to come first.

What has gone well?

  1. I’ve built my team. I’ve managed to recruit to most of the posts in my Senior Leadership Team. Kenny and Natasha started in January and Ian in March, and although they’ve not started, the incoming Head of ICT and Head of Coding are working their notice. As the team has grown, I’ve had to adapt from feeling like I need to do it all, to working out what things I need to delegate to others and what things remain on my plate.
Summary of digital delivery in 2019/20

What have I struggled with?

  1. Handing stuff over. Ironically, it is probably the case that I’ve been down in the detail and managing more at an operational level more than my previous two roles. Some of this has been through necessity whilst I didn’t have a leadership team to help and some of this has been driven by the level of change that’s been happening. As I’ve brought my leadership team onboard, we’ve been working out what I can hand over. Given it took me over 6 months to get to the position where I feel confident in saying “I’ve got this”, there is an inevitable reluctance to release the reins. The advent of the COVID-19 crisis has actually helped accelerate my ability to hand things over, as I’ve observed how capable my leadership team are, and the sheer number of things to get done in a short space of time.
Extract from the KGH “Digital Manifesto”

What have I discovered about myself?

  1. I’m not normal. My wife has been (lovingly) saying this to me for some time. Before I expand on this, I need to declare I fully understand I’m a flawed human and have loads of things I don’t do well and struggle with. What I’ve thought about more over this past few months is how my personal expectations butt up against my expectations for others. I’m very driven, professionally and personally, meaning it I can sustain my effort and energy for sustained periods without it getting too much. I spoke about this back at at conference in November, in that there’s a lot of me that’s working to stay true to my teenage self who got the tech bug and over time has come to understood the potential for technology to enable improvements for people in a big way. Although its dead obvious and I’ve always known it, I’ve reflected more in the last 6 months that not everyone is like me (thank goodness), and that means needing to be more thoughtful to understand other people’s emotions, comfort with structure and detail, energy levels and motivations, all which will differ from mine.
I am definitely not normal. A picture of me aged about 17 with some prizes I won for my electronics projects as an apprentice at Marconi Electronic Devices Limited. I can’t take any credit for the nasty wall plates.

2. My Role in Meetings. I got some feedback in the Autumn on how I was coming across in a particular Board committee, and how I wasn’t demonstrating sufficiently how I had a handle on all aspects of my portfolio. This was an important lesson for me on the difference between optics (the way things appear) and reality (the way things are). That person kindly gave me some pointers on how I could improve the way I operated in those meetings, and improve the optics by making some small changes to how I introduced each paper, and contributed to the discussion in a slightly different way. The more recent feedback I’ve had tells me that the small tweaks I’ve made is now working. I’m really grateful that that person took the time to give me that feedback, and to do it in a way that was specific, delivered kindly, actionable and as a gift.

What are the things I have appreciated?

  1. My Colleagues. Several years ago I was part of a management team that got on ok, but I don’t think we ever gelled as a unit, and there were some people I would if pushed say that I disliked. When I think about this now, I can see that some of this was about egos, about people feeling threatened and some was about a reaction to challenging the status quo, and probably some of it due to my immaturity at understanding how to operate in a political (small p) environment. I can see it caused daily micro-stresses and a lot of energy spent on anticipating reactions. Later on, when I moved to being in more tech-focused management teams, this didn’t seem to be the case and I wasn’t aware of tensions of that sort as much; perhaps because we were all more similar, or more closely focused on the same narrower domain space — which has its advantages and disadvantages I guess. Now, as part of a Exec team with a range of skills and personalities, with accountability for the whole of an organisation, I’m really appreciating my colleagues, their talents and I can say I genuinely like them, which sounds glib, but I know how much more difficult this last 6 months would have been without that.

Update on some things I committed to do at the 6-month point:

  • To have influenced more across the Trust and beyond just technology: The COVID-19 crisis has provided a platform to do that to some extent. Also as I’ve worked with more people, I’m able to demonstrate the value that different ways of working offer.

What will I work on over the next 6 months?

  • Getting the Digital Leadership Team Humming. Establishing a full digital leadership team and being clear about the roles and accountabilities for us all. Developing the team team as a coherent entity, who enjoy work, serve and support our staff to meet the needs of our wonderful organisation well.

Husband. Dad to 3 smashing lads. Cub Leader. MAMIL. Group CDIO for Northampton and Kettering Hospitals. Ex NHS Digital. Views own. Always learning.

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