Last Sunday was #NHSSuperSunday on Twitter, during which people were encouraged to tweet positive experiences of the NHS between 11.00 and 11.10am. I joined in and posted a couple of positive comments, including this one, which attracted quite a few RTs (or retweets – i.e. the tweet was shared by other people to their followers, for non-Twitterers!) sending it far outside my usual network.
It immediately became apparent I might have overstepped my normally uncontroversial Twitter mark as I got a few instant and heartfelt responses from people who clearly felt very badly let down by the NHS.
I should point out before I go on that I do not and never have worked for the NHS. I applied for a job within the organisation a good few years ago now and completed a rigorous application process. I was given feedback which I shall summarise (perhaps unfairly but this was how I interpreted it) as “You’ve done all the things we need someone to do but you’ve never done them in the NHS therefore we’re not interested”. However, I am a keen advocate of the NHS. This is based largely on:
- my direct experiences in the last three years which have seen two very close family members have treatment for life threatening conditions;
- my genuinely held belief that we are far better off overall with an NHS than we would be without one; and
- my interactions with NHS professionals in my working life, including (but not limited to!) passionate leaders like Dean Royles of NHS Employers.
I had the pleasure of seeing Dean speak at the CIPD’s Social Media in HR conference in December 2013 (you can still read my Storify of it here). The stats he unleashed on us about the NHS – the amounts of money involved, the data about the workforce, the patient numbers – were truly staggering and fascinating (I know, I haven’t really done him any favours with this description!).
I reflected on these experiences after I received the impassioned negative tweets on #NHSSuperSunday. It made me think back to something I have always said in difficult circumstances, both to myself and anyone I’ve ever worked with, throughout my career: “What’s the worse that can happen? No-one will die.” And in most of our cases, if we get something wrong at work, no-one will die. But if you work in the NHS that’s not true. If you don’t do your job properly, if you don’t follow the appropriate practice, if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, someone might die. In fact, some people will still die even if you do all of those things. That’s a pretty chunky thing to carry around with you on a daily basis…
My mind wandered to a recent Twitter conversation with Doug Shaw who was having a series of unfortunate experiences as a customer of Virgin Media (he later wrote a blog about it). I had idly responded in a tweet that I had been a Virgin Media customer for years and (apart from them incessantly posting me “amazing” mobile deals), I had no issue with them. The one time I had a problem, their customer service were pretty helpful and we had it sorted out reasonably quickly. So Doug and I had very different perceptions of Virgin Media based on our experiences.
Doug was pretty upset, and rightly so – he runs his own business and has a family so a reliable internet connection is fundamentally important to him! And after all, he’s a paying customer not receiving the service he was paying for. But I’m pretty sure he would happily acknowledge that no-one had died. Some of the people who responded with a challenge to my positive tweet about the NHS had family members who had died, or pointed to examples of people they felt had died in avoidable circumstances. That makes their “customer experience” pretty difficult to argue with.
All of this brought me back to thinking about me (well, it is my blog so a little self-obsession can surely be forgiven?) and specifically my impact on my “customers” as an HR professional. There will be some people out there who think I’m a pretty solid guy. Maybe I’ve solved the odd problem for them, I’ve answered their questions in a timely manner.. I might have helped them find a particularly brilliant employee or manage out a particularly difficult one. There will also be people who think I’m useless. Yes, I know, a shocking concept but one we all have to confront. Maybe I’ve refused to pay for something they wanted to do out of my budget. Maybe we haven’t been able to recruit someone for a hard to fill vacancy. Maybe I have stopped them “just getting rid” of a difficult member of staff. Maybe they just don’t like me.
We all have to manage the differing perceptions people have of us. In HR we are often managing expectations that have been developed by people working with HR departments in other organisations. Possibly ones that weren’t as forward-thinking, right-minded and downright awesome as ours, right? Maybe they were sacked from their last place by a bullying manager because HR wouldn’t stand up to them. Maybe HR said no to their flexible working request in case it “set a precedent”.
My view is that we have to manage this as proactively as we can. If you have an ounce of self-awareness, you’ll know the people who don’t like you as much. Work on them. Deliver for them. Surprise them. See what you can do to get them on side. If you can’t, well at least you know you’ve given it your best shot. There are some people whose minds are firmly closed – and there’s no point in banging your head against a brick wall when you’re not even making a dent.
As for the people who have bought into you? Well it’s not as simple as sitting back and enjoying that I’m afraid. You’ve set the level of expectation – now you need to live up to it. In every single interaction. That isn’t going to be easy.
Unless you work in the NHS, managing your customers is unlikely to be a matter of life and death. But for the success of your organisation, your profession, your career and for you personally it is absolutely, undeniably, unequivocally essential.