We need a thoroughly modern workforce – but will we get this from the imminent NHS workforce implementation plan?

With the imminent release of the NHS workforce implementation plan it’s a great time to start to really think about what a progressive and modern employer looks and feels like, and then to consider who and what we need to manage that workforce.

We talk a lot about leadership in healthcare, but not enough about management. Too often I see cartoons which show the differences between these two essential roles, often with the manager being the person with the functional expertise to manage their team.

While writing this blog post, I Googled Manager Vs Leader and the first result told me that: ‘Management consists of controlling a group or set of entities to reach a goal’. But it also included the following qualities: ‘focuses on tasks, approvals, assigns tasks, oversees, authority, telling people…’. The list goes on.

When we start to think about a modern and progressive workforce I think we need to consider the language and culture that sits with it.

Work is what you do, not where you are

For me, a modern and progressive employer is one who understands what the workforce both want and need, one that’s outcome focused and not focused on things such as presenteeism. One that enables and facilitates innovation and is brave and courageous to do things differently; they should nurture their workforce and see them as the key priority. It’s great to see pockets of this in practice, but the reality is there still needs to be a huge shift in culture and norms to enable this to happen at scale.

No more working 9-5

Let’s take flexible and agile working as an example. We often associate this with the traditional flexible solutions such as working a 9-day fortnight or being able to finish a bit earlier. We need to shift the narrative around what it is and really start to redefine what it can be.

Let’s start by eradicating the 9-5 culture, this shouldn’t be the default position for society anymore. People are individual and no one size fits all. How do we know that those hours are the most productive for our workforce? What if you’re most productive at 7am or 7pm? A 9-5 doesn’t help us to get the most from people in so many ways.

Consider your workforce strengths, not their job descriptions

Let’s design roles that are radically different, identifying the strengths of our workforce and playing to them. Let’s get better at Multiform working; enabling people to bring their whole selves to work and not just the parts of them that fit the job description.

We should be encouraging more outcomes-based working, including agility in work, but let’s ensure we connect people and make sure they feel valued and included even if they are home based working.

Go with the work-life flow

We should create a culture of (as Dean Royles puts it) ‘work-life flow’ not balance because let’s face it, we’ve been striving for this ideal for too long and I don’t know many people who achieve it fully. As a society, we are evolving and we multitask more at home; we cook, do emails and run the kid’s baths all at the same time.

To try and compartmentalise these things would be unrealistic. Lifestyles are radically different in 2019 to, say, 1960 and the way we work needs to reflect this now more than ever. This comes down to choice for me. The choice to work flexibly and in an agile way, to do my work emails or write that report whilst the kids are in bed, or to do it when I’m awake at 6am (because that’s what time I wake up) and not have to sit around and wait until 9am.

Many of us, particularly in senior roles, do this already but we do it in addition to the 9-5, so I’m curious how productive during those ‘office hours’ we are or can be?

Change the culture to enable flexible agile working

And let’s support a new style of management because if people are going to be working differently, they will need a different style of management.

As a team manager, if your staff are home-based working how will you support them? What needs to be different? Wouldn’t it be great to see managers described as coaching, facilitative, empowering and developmental rather than the archaic list from my Google search?

Maybe if we focused on developing our managers to be modern and progressive in their approach and style then we would start to change the cultures that persist around flexible agile working.

And when we’re talking flexible working let’s redefine what it is and can be, and let’s start to shift those mind-sets and all the things which wrap around and are enablers of flexible working, like a new modern and progressive management style.

Kirstie Stott, The Inspiring Leaders Network