It’s not business, it’s personal

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Last week I was on the Guardian (my mother was very proud) in their ‘ A day in the life of…’ section, and got a few nice notes from people about it. Mostly because at one point I refer to my son’s long illness and how that motivated me to be in the NHS. It’s a very personal story and for many years I kept it very private – I am one of those people that tend to keep walls round the different parts of my life. But more lately, I have spoken a little about Jamie and the fact that he is on dialysis.

I have wondered why I was reluctant to talk about it earlier; he has been ill most of his life to a greater or lesser degree and it has given us both a huge insight into the realities of the NHS. I think there were a few reasons, including the privacy thing but honestly, I think mostly I wanted to avoid any sense of ‘using’ the experience. It was too painful, too real and too important to think I might get some mileage out of it when I talked about it, I didn’t want to be accused of wearing it like a badge, or constantly having my heart on my sleeve or being mawkish.

I spent some time the week before last with a group of academics, consultancies, faculty and others involved in designing our new core programmes. We opened the session with an incredibly powerful patient experience told to us by a remarkable man who has gone through a very traumatic journey with the NHS. In the work groups, we asked everyone to bring in pictures of loved ones who had an NHS experience – we were adamant that the patient was apparent in every single conversation we had and that the design for the programmes was genuinely rooted in the things that matter.

For some people, getting in touch with a very personal, human connection with their work was obviously uncomfortable and for others it felt intrusive. But really, how much more personal can the work we do be? Bringing that humanity to work is something we require front line staff to do every single day – and the times when they don’t I am sure are the times when things go wrong. Why should those of us who work away from the frontline be any less connected with the powerful emotional work we do?

A chief executive recently pulled her execs off our Top Leaders programme because it was too ‘navel gazing’; she wanted people to learn contract negotiation skills, not get in touch with who they are. I can understand her view but think she is wrong. I think I get it now; my comfort about being able to talk about my son’s experience; because that is actually one of the most important things about me at work, that it really matters. It is the thing I think that makes me good at what I do. Our personal stories about what matters to us at work is a hugely important motivator to do the right thing. I will make sure I give my all in the job I do and the skills I acquire, because it matters. Doing the business right is important because, for me, it is personal.

2 thoughts on “It’s not business, it’s personal

  1. Karen thanks for sharing this story with us. I remember a few years ago sitting at the end of the M606 having the one and only values based argument with my now lovely husband. He works in IT in the NHS and he was feeding back some comments from other IT geeks (sorry David x) saying they could earn more in industry etc etc and I said if you can’t connect your work to a patient don’t work in the NHS because it’s too important to forget x

  2. Hi Karen……
    It has taken me some time to digest your exceptional “day” in the guardian. I found it both very impactful and a very personal reminder of how much I have reconnected with the NHS since our friend Dave “roped” me in to the East Midlands. Inspired in part by my experience with the fabulous people I have worked with on “supporting transition”, my main inspiration is as the brother and son of two exceptional doctors (my father was in at the very start of the NHS), and whose own health were ultimately, and paradoxically, brought down by a system which they loved and accepted almost without question, and which, for a variety of reasons, ultimately failed them. I work less as a facilitator or coach, rather as a contributor to the achievement of purpose through collaborative and occasionally courageous leadership which in its application and execution reflects, enables and supports the sort of ambition my father and brother unquestionably had for their patients.
    Have a great Easter
    Paul