Spend time to save time

by Letsie Tilley

23 September 2016


Often, when you are in a very senior position, you feel that you have to always appear to be really strong and know the answers to everything for fear that others might consider it  a sign of weakness if you don’t. That can often happen either when you have been promoted to a new role, or when you have been in a role for some time and you get a new boss.

It happened to me once when I least expected it, after I had been working as the finance director of a successful NHS Trust for a number of years. I was an experienced finance director and had a good working relationship with my chief executive. This had been built up over many years and we respected and trusted one another’s judgement. He had appointed me from the start and I was in post when the new Trust was formed, it had grown significantly in that time. I shared the Chief Exec’s values and knew how he wanted the organisation to run and what I needed to do to play my part within it. After working for the chief executive for about 7 years, he suddenly announced that he was leaving as he had a new job and within a short space of time our chair also chose to step down. A shockwave rippled through the organisation and the stability that had bound the organisation together was suddenly very shaky.

After many months of the organisation being in limbo, a new chief executive and chair were finally appointed, each with a very different personal style from the ones they had replaced. The trust that I had built up in my relationships with my previous chief executive and chair had been swept away and I needed to start from scratch again. The new chief executive and chair both made it clear that they wanted to approach things very differently from the previous regime, but at the beginning it was less clear what in practice that really meant. We had already applied for foundation trust status and as the pressure of the Monitor’s assessment process kicked-in, the new chief executive and chair were very challenging and sometimes even felt a bit hostile towards the old Board members.

A lot more time was spent on the personal development of the top team of the new organisation, including lots of management team and board away days. It all felt very pressurised, leaving even less time to get the increasing day to day workload done. I have always enjoyed working hard and been happy to delegate, but I needed to protect my team, as many of the demands arising from Monitor’s assessment process were falling on them and overstretching them.

Whenever I have felt really pressurised at work I have always found that by finding some protected time, time that I initially thought I didn’t have, has always saved time in the long run. Different colleagues have regularly helped me to free up time in lots of different ways without realising how much a help they have been. When my already full diary, became even fuller with last minute meetings the new chief executive said I absolutely must attend, strangely enough, by taking a bit of time out to talk with people in my team and beyond always paid back dividends. These included:

  • Casual chats with members of my team in the kitchen where they felt they had more time to open up and talk about what was really going on at work
  • Talking to my brilliant PA who regularly took work off me and always kept me sane(ish)
  • Catch up phone calls with peers working for other organisations who were willing to share the brilliant solutions they had found to similar problems our organisation was facing
  • Coaching sessions (off site) which as the day approached, I often felt I hadn’t time to attend and was tempted to cancel at the last moment, but didn’t. I always felt better by the end of a coaching session.

At the same time as the organisation had been turned upside down, my personal life also felt in turmoil. My elderly, widowed father suddenly suffered a serious stroke and was in hospital for many months, unable to talk at all and paralysed down one side. It was tragic and I needed to visit him regularly, even though the journey and visit took up half of the weekend which I had previously used to unwind/catch-up. This left me physically and emotionally exhausted, but I did not feel able to discuss that with my new boss for fear of being judged adversely.

Fortunately, as part of the personal development, all of the executive team were given the opportunity to have a coach in the run-up to becoming a foundation trust. I am very grateful to my coach who helped me enormously in dealing with all the difficult things that were going on at that time, in both my work life and my personal life. My coach was truly brilliant, as she was always non-judgemental and supportive and gave me time and space to reflect on the things that really mattered. In our regular meetings, spread over a few months, she was challenging, but in a very different way to the people I worked with. She helped me to see things more clearly and from a different perspective and to appreciate what choices I really had. She helped me to understand where my new chief executive and chair were coming from and also how I needed to change my own personal style to understand them better and to work more effectively with them.

Do you think an HFMA Executive Coach might help you to work more effectively?
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