Strategic value, influence and worth

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It looks easy until you try to do it, it can get really messy and you’ll always need to get your hands dirty to create something successful.

It turns out that pottery is a lot like public sector communication, as I learned from our resident wheel spinner Lisa Ward who helpfully framed the pottery/PR/Great Pottery Throw Down crossover during our lunch break.

The latest #CommsLeads session focused on strategic value, influence and demonstrating the worth of good communications which all seemed like important points after all the political excitement of recent times.

Effective communications sit at the heart of how the NHS engages with patients, communities and staff so the day set out to explore how practitioners can successfully contribute to their organisations at a strategic level.

Tough times

The starting point was an acknowledgment that it’s pretty tough working in the NHS at the moment. The official statistics show that there’s never been as much pressure on services and that demand is increasing relentlessly.

The metrics around things like A&E waiting times, cancelled operations and waiting lists don’t make comfortable reading and many trusts are now grappling with increasingly difficult finances.

Given these challenges it’s more important than ever to demonstrate value and highlight results across the organisation. As part of a workshop session several people wondered if we’re doing enough as a profession around this?

Strategic value

Ranjeet Kaile, director of comms and stakeholder engagement at SW London & St Georges trust presented a new piece of work that focused on a new reputation and trust dashboard.

He argued the case for a much more scientific and measureable approach that would have parity with reporting used by other professions at board level.

As ever the difficulty comes in linking outcomes with outputs and pulling together a range of complex and often tangential factors. The workshop included lots of exciting work currently in development including a better career framework, new ideas for improving diversity in NHS comms and a national council to evaluate work and provide best practice guidance.

Kerry Beadling-Barron, director at Mid Nottinghamshire Integrated care Partnership argued that we need to be braver and also more honest about reporting back, even when things don’t work. That’s why a regular dashboard is an important step for the board and the whole organisation. Having the confidence to properly measure all work takes courage. HR, for example, will still report on a recruitment campaign even if it doesn’t get the hoped for result.

From comms to the top

In a fascinating panel discussion two of the brightest and best explained their own journeys from communications pro to the top table of their respective organisations. Kevin McNamara is now an acting chief executive and Caroline Docking who is an assistant chief executive, both shared some of the secrets of their success and offered advice on following this route.

It’s a surprisingly less well trodden path compared to other professions so it was really inspiring to see two communications people doing so well and understanding how they use their skills to demonstrate strategic value at the very top of their NHS organisations.

Read their 8 tips here

Look after yourself…and each other

CIPR, PRCA and the whole industry point to a significant problem around mental health for communicators so it was great to hear Sally North East talk so openly about how she’s approaching this personally and professionally. It brought so much energy and discussion to the room and is clearly an issue affecting many of us. Sally puts it far better

“It’s part of our professional responsibility to look after others but also ourselves.”

It shouldn’t be seen as a failure or special treatment – the most successful people know how to make space, take a break and understand the importance of looking after their own mental health.

It strikes me that being the people in charge of reputation can be a stressful occupation and like the potter’s wheel your feet can be moving frantically, while everyone else only sees the clay calmly spinning up top.

Picture courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives 

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