NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson said recently that managers have performed “heroics” over the past few years and made the NHS a much better service.
All new governments, he said, start off complaining about NHS managers, but these are the people who have to manage the transition.
Hiding behind management speak is still hiding. People can lose trust in you
So what can NHS managers do to ensure Sir David’s envisioned “nationally consistent approach to the transition”?
Always be honest. Managers should not say “I don’t know” when they do know, but cannot say. If, as a manager, you know 10 people are going to be made redundant from your team, say you know how many will go and that you will tell your staff as soon as you are permitted to. Get caught telling white lies and people will lose trust in you.
Don’t make false promises or hint to people that they are going to be OK when you cannot guarantee it. Avoid favouritism - be consistent.
Managers should ensure their teams are clear about what their role is, which decisions they are in a position to make and which ones they are not. If you don’t have control over something, be transparent about it.
Rumours can gain currency very quickly: don’t react to every one. If you are asked about one, be honest with people but don’t proactively try to quash every story going around.
Don’t hide. Managers will face tough questions, and will have to be as up front with their answers as they possibly can.
Often, senior management can make themselves scarce immediately after any redundancy announcement is made. But managers should be there to make themselves more available to their staff in this situation, not less so. You are there to recognise that things are tough for people.
Hiding behind management speak is still hiding.
The NHS can, at times, be full of euphemisms and long descriptors, when managers should just be clear. People can lose trust in you and their motivation to work for you. Don’t let this happen, because for most, life goes on after the transition.
Some staff will leave, but the many who remain will need to be motivated post transition. It is, after all, a transition - not the end of the world.
Avoid wasting your energy on being cynical about any changes. Encourage people to accept that things are being done a certain way, move with it and move on.
When you are under the spotlight, people start to look everywhere for shortcomings. Look at Tony Hayward and how he handled the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as chief executive of BP. In what was, and still is, a transitional period for the company he publicly said he “just wanted his life back”. Instead of making the transitional period about his staff and his organisation, he turned the conversation onto himself. But the conversation has to be about your staff.
Whatever your personal feelings, you cannot bring them into play.
Even if the transition does not work out well for you, you need to be able to look back on it and say you have done your job with dignity and credibility.