Invest in Change

Whilst at The Conference Board’s, 16th Annual Change and Transformation Conference in New York, I met some incredible change people doing really incredible things across a range of industries. They ranged from psychologists to organisational development practitioners from HR to independent to learning and development/ training to coaches and facilitators. This built on the amazing conversations I have been having with our growing change associate network but what struck me was the difference between the skills of these amazing people and the change roles we advertise for in the NHS.

A quick search of the internet for ‘change jobs NHS’ shows a woeful list. It either has a list of IT change roles that manage technical change requests (not change) or Electronic Patient Records (EPR) change managers, EPR project/change manager roles or business analyst roles for change projects. Spoiler: When you read the job descriptions, none of them are actually requesting change practitioners in the sense they need them. Let me explain further….

Recently, Helen Bevan, Chief Transformation Officer at NHS Horizons, tweeted an interesting (although somewhat academically written blog) from The Oxford Review (see tweet here) about seeing change as systems, processes and pathways and missing that it is actually about behaviours, values, beliefs, emotions etc.  For me this captured the crux of the struggle to understand change and the roles needed in the NHS.

In the NHS, the culture for structure and control has led us to advertise for a set of skills that are about the process and control of change and not about the skills of change people that would really be transformative. This isn’t to say that process, governance and structure are not part of change, they absolutely are, its is just about where you lead from. Change is messy, because people are messy. It is emergent and cyclical, full of emotions and relationships and needs trust and an appreciation of difference to succeed. You have to lead from this human nature of change, and then wrap around the process stuff for it to really work.

Great change people, like those I have recently met and talked to, would not lead from describing their skills in terms of process mapping, stakeholder mapping, specific systems knowledge or benefits plans. They talk about understanding and working with the human nature of change. They know how to engage people, to build relationships and trust and to work with humans in all their loveliness. They have a range of tools in their toolkit to do these things and create momentum for change. The understand the power of difference and how to harness it. They bring people together and energise them. This is what makes change happen not just knowing the ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ and what the expected benefits are.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am far from bashing the change people currently in these NHS roles, I have been one of them myself, what I am doing is asking the NHS to let change people do change and to think about what actually makes the change happen (spoiler: it is not the process elements of change).

If you are in the position of hiring these people, hire people who get change not the system and processes. If you have good people, let them lead from their change skills not their process skills. Let them actually transform your organisation in the way you are actually expecting them too. Its time to do change in the NHS differently so I am asking you to take a risk, think differently and reap the rewards.

Sarah Boyd – Head of Strategy and Transformation


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