Turn the Thorn in your Side into your Greatest Ally

When I get involved at a project at Wessex AHSN, it typically starts with me going to a primary or secondary care site with either an objective to explore the needs of the patients or staff to help source a solution, or an innovation of some kind which addresses a need and requires a real-world evaluation. I may have been invited by an enthusiastic commissioner, a keen GP or a consultant intrigued by a technology. Their spirits are high, their positive attitudes infectious and we could wax lyrical all day about transformation in the NHS - but I know they aren’t the project partners I need to speak to the most. Experience has taught me I need to find the people who aren’t so happy to see me.

I recently posted this panel from a strip of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes on Twitter with a few pointers for turning a stand-off into a collaboration opportunity. I want to give a high-level summary of one of the key components of building a culture ready for rapid technological disruption: Individualisation. 

Let’s look at the statement ‘there are lots of reasons people are resistant to change’ and break that down, starting with the word People. These people are your stakeholders and once you’ve identified them, stop thinking of them as a concept and go and meet them personally if you haven’t done so already. It’s important to note that spending an hour in a meeting room with them away from their day to day activities will only take you so far. 

When I shadowed a community nurse, in the first hour we were strangers in car, one of us up against the clock to see as many patients as possible. It was not the time to start with big questions like “what technology would make your life easier”. We spent time getting to know each other, finding common interests, talking about our families. After that, it was much easier to have conversations about the challenges she faced rather than hoping she knew what technology would solve her problems. If I’d had a specific innovation for her to try, I can bet she’d be more willing to give it a shot after that, especially if I could find ways to incorporate it into her routine with minimal disruption. 

When you get to know a person, you get to understand why they hate change. When you involve them in the process of transformation, you’re more likely to win hearts and minds. When your change project doesn’t go to plan (and it probably won’t), you’ll have someone to give you insight into how something needs to be adapted. The more you collaborate, the more you learn from each other – there’s huge potential for lots of stimulating outcomes. 

Starting disruption in the NHS can sometimes feel horribly lonely with people pitted against you left, right and centre – but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Change that first.


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