Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > supporting the front line doesn’t mean holding it up

supporting the front line doesn’t mean holding it up

I have been very lucky over the years in that I have been able to be part of some massive changes in the businesses for whom I have worked, from small parts in the early years through to influence and then responsibility. These days my role is usually one of influence because that is what mentors and consultants do (I can’t recall who said it, but I love the line about a consultant being like a castrated bull; he can only advise), but I do love the opportunity to get back into the trenches and do something.

Last week I wrote about the importance of the front line and all the grunt work that has to go on to make any operation a success. Maybe it is because that is where I started that I have such a passion for these roles and the people that perform them, but whatever the reason I still enjoy, even at my advanced years, the chance to get involved.

I suppose that my six week sojourn in hospital helped stir some thoughts for the front line, and the last week getting stuck into some real Facilities Management work has reinforced that concern that I have for the gap between those making the decisions and those who have to do the job.

Getting stuck into fixing things is one way I get back to the front line over the course of the year, but I also like to get into other line work, perhaps on the procurement front where I can get round the table and thrash out a deal; there’s nothing like being able to see the whites of people’s eyes in that sort of situation. So, yes, I am still very lucky in being able to get involved in a variety of things over the course of a year, but I have always believed in managers getting back to the front line as a formal activity.

At the sharp end you can see very clearly what helps and what gets in the way, and it is the latter that you need to eliminate. One of the early lessons I learned when I got into the senior management ranks was being asked the question “what happens if we stop doing this?” It was posed when I wanted to spend a six figure sum on upgrading some software and it was a question that, at the time, I was not expecting. It got me thinking (even sweating) at the time, but it was to become a mantra later for me.

These days we call it lean and all that because we consultants love these labels, but it is another aspect of common sense; if it doesn’t add value don’t do it. This was one of my frustrations in hospital; there was so much acting as a drag anchor on delivering care that it was painful. There is a photo in the album that I made that illustrates the point. It shows the staff car park on a Sunday, and an area that is full by 0900 most Mondays to Fridays was less than a quarter full. OK some of those people would have worked in the labs, but there were a lot of admin people and what were they contributing to patient care?

What happens if we stop doing this is a powerful question, and one that everyone in a position of influence should be asking. And if you really want to know then get yourself down on the floor and spend a day there on some scut or grunt work; that will open your eyes.

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