My reflections of being an improvement advisor

So, I just posted a great blog from Ayrshire Health about being an improvement advisor.  It made me think, what would my blog look like if I tried to blog on something similar?

I have worked in many different areas around the world doing some kind of quality improvement work – in Asia, in the USA, in Europe and in lots of different industry sectors, heavy manufacturing, widgets, chemicals, petrochemicals, FMCG via consultancy, and of course in healthcare.  I’m pretty lucky I guess, I loved nearly all of it, seeing the new places, meeting the new people, supporting local teams with their challenges, making things better for their customers or patients and their families and for staff themselves at work.

It’s tough though, both dealing with the changes and once, I didn’t spend a more than 2 days at home at a time for over a year.  I nearly didn’t have anywhere to live when I came home, I had been gone so long.

Plus  whilst working in external improvement consultancy, I found that I never really felt that I belonged anywhere, at the end of the day mostly I was never employed directly by the businesses I worked for, I didn’t feel the ups and downs, of working there, I didn’t have to focus quite so much on maintaining longer term relationships, sorting out the now and preserving a way to sort out the future.  Sometimes, I definitely put my foot in it!  Respect for people is hard sometimes when you have lots of different customers, pressures and conflicts to deal with, (never mind your own worries of where you live and how you are ever going to have a decent social life with all the travel!)

Part of my motivation for joining a ‘real’ job in healthcare was to reduce the stress of travel and changing assignments every few months and wanting to make a real difference, use my skills to help the nation’s health and having a job that lasted longer!

It’s very different being an ‘internal’ improvement advisor.  Suddenly, some of the access you had as a management consultant to the executives evaporates, you no longer can say ‘you’re paying me this much a day, I need these people to prioritise their diaries or we won’t deliver’, in quite the same way as before.  Other priorities and agendas tussle for airtime and resources, and now you are accountable in quite a different way, to the way being accountable for delivering a contract is; and you can’t walk away quite so easily.  As an internal improvement advisor, if the improvement work doesn’t work, it is on you, you can no longer say, the management team didn’t do x, y and z as advised (well, you can but you might burn a few bridges!)

As an internal improvement advisor you’re responsible for staff who have problems and joys to deal with and their development needs – I love watching the development and growth, the best bit of the job!  An internal advisor has to to keep interest in the work even when it starts getting difficult, and isn’t quite as new and exciting as it was when it started. You have to work harder at listening, really listening to the challenges and concerns, it’s your organisation, products and services too.  All nuanced differences to working as an external improvement consultant.

An internal improvement advisor has a real luxury and privilege, that of knowing team members for years, having gone through difficult and good times with them, and experienced improvement experiments that both failed and succeeded,  building not only corporate learning but real trust and respect.  Much more rewarding….and arguably more sustainable, not just for the improvement advisor’s life, but also for the organisation, it’s staff and it’s customers.

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