A Message For Those Who Make The Big Decisions

People who have direct interaction with the end user are often the ones who really care because they see the consequences of their company’s actions.

If you work for the FCA or a provider or a bank or the Government, I’d especially like you to read on.

I recently had the unenviable task of spending a night and day in hospital with my father as he slowly passed away. I had a surfeit of time to think about some of the bigger issues in life, fuelled by an overdose of perspective.

One of the truly inspiring aspects of that experience was the incredible kindness of the staff. My father was in a holding ward between A&E and a ‘proper’ ward, so the staff were not be used to this situation. Yet the two junior doctors were caring and thoughtful and gave their time freely. The nurses were simply incredible, telling us what they were doing and speaking to my unconscious father kindly, quietly closing the door to give us privacy when appropriate. The ancillary workers, many of whom were not born in the UK, were possibly the kindest and most thoughtful of all, bringing us tea and chairs and making sure we had all we needed during our vigil.

Only one person let us down. My father’s medication was altered upon the instruction of a nameless consultant (I got the impression that the junior doctor didn’t entirely agree with this decision). When we queried this, the nurse passed on a message from the consultant that she would come in to explain.

The consultant never showed up. The junior doctor came in an hour later and, with little fuss, quietly changed the medication back again.

When I first started Ovation, my father was our second employee (after myself). An ex IFA himself, he was invaluable in supporting me and sorted out paperwork and the accounts.

As it was just the two of us, I was the one who had to make those calls to the insurance companies. Now, I’ve never been particularly blessed with patience when it comes to administrative matters, and so I would often end up seething as yet another provider had failed to do what they had promised.

I would bash out a letter to senior management telling them exactly what I thought about them while Dad watched. When I had finished he’d look over to me.

“Finished?” he would ask.

“Yes,” I’d say, printing off the letter.

“Say all you wanted to say? Got it off your chest?”

“Yes,” I’d say, signing it with a flourish.

“Well done,” he’d say. “Now throw it away.”

Only one of many excellent pieces of advice he gave me. He was telling me to ‘Rise above these things, move on’. But he was also saying ‘It won’t make any difference.’

The people on the end of the phone, the potential recipient of my letter, were often just as frustrated as I was. It wasn’t their fault, lack of resources or poor systems often being the root cause. But I always felt these poor ordinary workers were put in place almost to protect the decision makers, put up as a first line of defence.

So if you are a senior person in a large organisation, please heed my advice. Get out front once in a while. Speak to your customers. Whether you run a bank, pension provider or the FCA, go and ask those you deal with what they think of you, what you could do better. Doctors, explain your decisions to families of patients. Senior management allow yourself to be accessed by angry customers once in a while.

But perhaps the most important message in this time of a general election is for us all to have respect for that most extraordinary of organisations, the NHS, and the wonderful people who work on the frontline of healthcare, constantly buffeted by the changing whims of politicians.