Friday, 5 December 2014

Creating a compelling vision

Former NHS professional Mary Duggan returns with her second blog post. Recalling moments from her role within the Healthcare sector, Mary shares her experiences, challenges and her methods to overcome the most difficult of business matters.

Actually, this isn’t so much about creating a compelling vision as creating the engaging narrative that accompanies it. All of us have probably had the same experience of listening to a charismatic leader describing their vision for the future. It is exciting, it gets our hearts beating faster, we leave the room determined to make that vision happen.

Then we sit down and think about it. That’s where it starts to unravel a bit, and the practical souls among us start to wonder what the vision actually means and what it might look like if it came about, and how would we know that we’d got there. I’ve certainly experienced that little heart-sink moment when I realise that although the vision sounded beautiful while I was listening to the inspirational presentation, once I’ve left the room I am no longer exactly sure what it means in reality. It is very hard to describe something that doesn’t currently exist in concrete enough terms for people to engage with it and make it happen.

A while ago, I was involved in some exciting large-scale transformation work within an NHS Foundation Trust. We had planned a series of public transformation events where we would invite stakeholders to put some meat on the bones of the vision. We knew from past experience that presenting people with slides full of statistics and structure diagrams would not generate much creativity. One of my colleagues suggested that if we presented a set of stories that showed people where we thought we needed to make changes it might be more fruitful.

Indeed, it was. We crafted half a dozen stories about fictional service users (though drawing on actual experiences) that described care that while not being terrible wasn’t good enough, either. They were short, to the point, and told in the first person. At the events, six people got up and narrated the stories. You could have heard a pin drop. The content that was then generated was powerful.

So, what’s that got to do with Mind Maps, you might ask. We used the workshop content to generate some new stories that described the desired future state. Then someone pointed out that we didn’t have corresponding stories from the point of view of the staff who would be delivering the transformed services. We started trying to draft them but while it had been fairly straightforward to create service user perspective stories, it was much harder to get into the mechanics of how the services would actually be delivered.

I assembled a group of experienced staff, along with my laptop, a projector and a set of simple questions that I had placed in a Mind Map. The questions really were simple:
Imagine a future, say 5 years from now. The transformation that we are talking about now has come about and the changes are now part of normal working practice.
  • What would staff be doing that is different from how they are working now? 
  • How might working relationships be different? How might this feel? 
  • What sort of things might happen between now and having a completed/embedded transformation? How might those events feel? 
  • Are there any places we don't want to go? 
The Map, with these questions, was projected for the group to see. People were invited to reflect on the questions and share their thoughts. A couple of hours of intense conversation followed. I captured comments and thoughts in the map as they were spoken – I made no attempt to sort or analyse. The group was able to see themes and patterns emerge for themselves and people were able to select which they wanted to explore in more depth. The end result was a rich and detailed picture of how both concrete working processes and more nebulous cultural issues would need to change, and the actions that would be needed to drive this.

So far, you could argue that this was simply an electronic brainstorming process. One of the problems with brainstorm output is that it remains as a set of hastily written flip-chart sheets that lose clarity very rapidly. I suspect that when something is handwritten, it takes more of an effort to correct it or choose more effective wording, but when something is digital it can be edited quickly and cleanly. This encouraged the group to seek precision in what they were saying.

The second important factor that comes into play is the ability to use the analytical tools that MindGenius offers. The group discussion had already highlighted some themes, which were used as the analysis categories. It took a short time after the group to categorise all of the comments, sort them into category groups and re-present them to the participants as a coherent and powerful narrative. The unexpected part of the experience for me and for the group members was how exiting and moving the process was. The group quite literally saw their vision take shape in front of them.

Look out for Mary's third blog post coming soon.

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