Maria O’ Loughlin, Assistant National Director Organisational Digital Change, Health Business Services, HSE

Would it surprise or shock you to learn, that I cried talking about a sewing box in front of 37 people, most of whom I only met 20 minutes before, well it surprised me! But more about this and how this all links to organisational change later.

So, we all know change is not easy – and that’s the simple truth, because one change can affect everyone of us in a different way, on a different day. In this ever evolving environment of health, change is everywhere – not just in our work lives. I have been thinking about organisational change and generally our reactions to change inside and outside of work this week, mostly because I am passionate about supporting people in a change environment, it is intrinsic to all I do in my work but also from a different angle because of a course I am doing.  I am privileged to be collaborating with Trinity Tangent Business School on an Ambassadors for Healthcare Innovation  Programme, sponsored by Health Business Services and Office of the Chief Information Officer in the HSE.

One of the foundations that we began with on our first week together centred around creating an environment where people felt psychologically safe and how empathy is the cornerstone of designing, redesigning and/or innovating. To be psychologically safe is to have “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking” (Dr Amy Edmonson). It is well researched that this safety enables team to be high performing and have a higher or stronger readiness for change and innovation, but getting there is not straightforward. To get there you need to feel comfortable feeling vulnerable with the people you work with. So back to me crying with a sewing box. We did an interesting, and I felt very effective, group task on our first day within the first 30 minutes of getting to the course. We were asked to bring in an object that was personal to us. We all stood in a circle and had to put that object in the centre of the room, then we had to pick up an object that we were attracted to that was not ours. Our next task was to explain why we picked up that object, what had attracted us to it, and then the owner had to explain why they brought the object in. Honestly, I cannot explain how powerful it was and how it shocked a lot of us, as to how emotional we got when speaking about our objects and why the object was sentimental to us. Just as important was how intently you listened to the other people speaking about their objects and how you felt an emotional connection with them and their stories.

It was our first step in the course around feeling empathy, connecting with our group, how we need to step into someone else’s shoes to see things from their point of view, how we had ideas and assumptions as to why the objects were important to the person but a lot of the time our assumptions were not correct. How we need to lead with compassion and empathy in all that we do.

I think we are getting better at being empathetic in work when we are implementing any changes; we are recognising that engagement is key. We actively try to engage with staff, communicate the vision of what we are trying to do together, discuss their thoughts and ideas, and find out about their current processes and why they do things in a certain way. We investigate what the advantages are and the pain points, we discuss and co-design more now about what the correct change could be and should be and we don’t just layer digital over our processes.

In HBS we have a Lean Academy that works with the different departments within HBS to look at the processes to see if we can apply lean processes before we layer a digital process over the top (and sometimes we don’t need that digital layer). This academy is centred around training the staff themselves on lean, not doing lean on them, so that they can learn themselves how to apply this tool in different areas of their work. We also look at co-designing the plans and strategies of how the changes will be communicated and implemented, making sure that we have the correct support and training in place to ensure our staff feel comfortable and confident in the changes. We are not doing all of this perfect for every change, but it’s something that we are actively trying to do, something that we are more aware of, and for all of you interested in implementing change in healthcare the HSE Change Guide is a great resource for this.

But this task also remined us to think about not just organisational change but personal change. When we talk about organisational change I think we are all guilty of sometimes forgetting that whilst we are dealing with our colleagues and change in a work environment, that they are most likely also going through some type of change in their home or personal lives. So how do we remember to be empathetic bearing in mind the effect changes in work will have and compassionate about changes they could be facing at home?

I don’t know the correct answer, I doubt there is a straightforward one however if we simply try to be more aware, lead with compassion and empathy in all that we do, and that’s a good start and is something that the HSE Values in Action movement inspires us to do.

Not everyone feels comfortable being vulnerable with their colleagues in work and that’s ok. Everyone’s changes are unique to them, be that a large change that’s happening in your life the whole way through to some small changes for example; trying to get your 5-year-old daughter to understand, the “change” in weather means she needs a “change” in clothes as its freezing which turns into an all mightyfull row with her rolling around the floor crying, that I am the meanest mummy ever (for trying to keep her warm J). I repeat change for all of us is not easy!

I do believe though that everything we do is trying to make a change or a chance for something better and although we cannot know, nor should we always need to know, what changes may be happening in our colleague’s world outside of work, we can remind ourselves to have empathy and compassion and to try and make our work environment somewhere we can all psychologically feel safe.

(fun fact I used the word change 31 times in this article!)