I have been learning more recently about polarity management. I probably couldn’t do it justice to try and describe the theory here but it’s a simple concept once you understand it - read here or watch this video.
I wanted to write about it as I think it’s key to managing change in a trust like Pennine Care. So I will talk about it as plain as I can, avoiding the theory bit.
If you think about relationships; can opposites attract? Can a Marmite lover live and dine harmoniously with a Marmite hater (or other reputable yeast based spreads!)? Can a Manchester United fan live happily ever after with a partner who supports the noisy neighbours from over the way?
When I was thinking about this, whether at work or at home, there is always a need to understand someone else’s point of view, likes and dislikes, beliefs and values. Essentially that’s the theory behind polarity management; you can’t work or live with someone unless people try to understand each other. Relationships don’t work unless there is some give and take.
Equally where someone states their point of view to the exclusion of hearing another’s, this will tend to push people apart. We have all heard the phrase, ‘poles apart’ where two people just can’t agree on some matter or other.
Putting it into practice
So what does this mean for Pennine Care and how we manage our strategy and work with our staff in future years? This might sound barn door obvious, but we have to listen to and work with the views of our staff.
If as Chief Executive, I continually communicate the need for change, transformation, redesign and improvement but it’s not unreasonable that some staff may ask "what’s wrong with the work I do now?" Often the argument for change can be received as a criticism by those who value what works now.
In a recent workshop with Executive Director colleagues, we looked at the following polarities, or opposites of a type:
- Change and Continuity
- Competition and Collaboration
- Team and Individual
- Cost and Quality
- Integration and Specialisation
In these areas, we discussed that there are positives and potential negatives or upside and downside cases. So in the case for changing something, there are potential benefits, but equally some might argue that maintaining what has worked up to date has benefits. And you could put arguments for and against either change or continuity.
People value different things and if you don’t acknowledge that or understand that, you can frustrate, ignore even lose people in what you are trying to do. The polarities of how people view things are important, it is a tension I believe we should view positively and embrace.
The tension works something like this - if you argue for change with someone who values keeping continuity, you are likely to increase their focus on the negative aspects of change. If you don’t value what works well now, you are likely to focus on the negatives of things staying the same.
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” or ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” are both phrases which reflect the views people sometimes express when discussing change.
Recognising the good
So why am I blogging about this? The language of the NHS at present is packed full of change at scale, transformation, significant financial efficiencies, redesign, more generic care work is needed and so on. The financial challenges I discussed in my first blog have introduced a driver for change that is being continually pushed and one that’s often underpinned with claims of inefficiency in the NHS and the need to improve care.
But the more the NHS, leaders and commentators talk predominantly about the need for change, and focus on inefficiency to the exclusion of celebrating the great work that the majority of staff do every day, the more likely staff will be turned off by the prospect of change. Staff will start feel more and more the subject of change, rather than a participant in a dialogue about the future of their service.
And in Pennine Care we need to manage change well and be mindful we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, or devalue someone’s hard work by talking about how we need to make things better through redesign and efficiency programmes.
I think we do need to change the way we run some services and some change, I anticipate, will be far reaching. However, rather than start with "These services need transforming and we need to save money" I want to start with "What are the really good things we do and how can we use the really good things as a starting point to talk about how we can take services forward?"
It will be challenging as the financial savings are steep. However, we can’t let the financial challenges drive us into making quick decisions on what our plans should be, without talking to staff, our patients and partners first. So we have to include staff and all of our stakeholders in our discussions and engage them in developing the plans to deliver our vision.
I hope this all makes sense. This week I signed off a programme which aims to engage each and every single member of staff in Pennine Care, around 6,000 people, to talk about the future and how together we will move forward. This will begin late summer through to early autumn and will continue throughout the next few years.
Using a range of methods, events, workshops, meetings, social media, intranet forums, we intend to work with our staff to build a shared narrative on future plans. It won’t be easy, there will be lots of different views! We will have to make some difficult decisions. I’m determined though, we will make our plans carefully, in close partnership with our staff and partners. Pennine Care is built by experienced staff who provide great care. We need their views and expertise to inform our future plans.
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