Diverse Business Portfolio

My blogs, as you will know, are all about healthcare and my work as an interim programme manager.  So here is the most “off on a tangent” piece that you can possibly get.  As a freelancer, my business portfolio is diverse to say the least.  As well as running a successful healthcare management company that takes me all over the UK, I also have a business networking organisation and, since April 2018, have managed a rockabilly band.  Yes, you read that right.   As a newby to the music industry, here is my beginners guide to managing the collection of free spirits that we like to think of as ‘the band’.  There are some hints and tips here that will work across any me. Where did you get that bruise? This is the question I’m asked most.  I always have at least one purple bruise on my arms or legs.  During the prep for the launch (more next time) my hands and arms were black. As band manager, you will see what needs to be done, what needs to go where and how quickly it all needs to happen.  Others won’t and don’t have the sense of urgency that you will have.  Amps are the heaviest bit of kit of all and a nightmare to get in and out of the boot of a car; remember that a broken manager is an ineffective manager, you have other work to do so pretend you haven’t seen them and let someone else do the lugging around, particularly up rickety steps to a stage. “Help” magically disappears or makes itself busy.  And managing a band brings a whole new meaning to Health & Safety.  Cables?  Walk away (but watch your footing), just ensure they are safely placed (nobody ever thinks of this and it’s especially important if you have dancers) and always have some of that yellow and black hazard tape (nobody ever thinks of this either).  Forget having nice nails or wearing heels.   Leave more time than you think you will need.   Work on the principle that there will always be less space to work in than you had envisaged. Date the man who plays the triangle. My partner of seven years plays the drums (quite brilliantly); possibly out of all the available musical instruments – a full set of drums takes the longest to set up and take down, they are surprisingly delicate and cymbals can break or crack.  Drumsticks break, usually in mid song, so always check (tactfully) with the drummer that they have more than one set with them.  The amount of kit can be enormous and needs careful cajoling to fit into even a large car.  Be prepared, on occasion, to travel with a drum on your knees.  Learn how to fit the kit together and how to dismantle it properly and which drum goes into which bag – fitting the bass drum into it’s bag is like grooming a cocker spaniel – you’ll undoubtedly end up nipped.  When all the other musicians have packed away their guitars and standing around fiddling with their phones you will still be saying “where does this go?” when unscrewing the cymbals.  Resist the temptation to give the drums a little bash – it’s frowned upon and you’ll be accused of wasting time and mucking about (which, of course, you are).  You may also damage them and be forced to flee the country and assume another identity. Don’t forget the mics.  Don’t forget the mic stands.  Don’t forget to pack them up and take them back home with you. On the plus side, you are never lost for ideas for Christmas presents – drummers always need new drumsticks.  They like hickory wood with acorn tips best. It’s all in the name. A tricky one this, and entirely subjective.  I’m told that the name shouldn’t actually reflect the band’s genre (so, for example, a swing band shouldn’t be called “The Swingers” but I think there may be other reasons for that too) but it should be memorable and not too esoteric unless you are entering Goth territory.  Have a logo that is appealing, recognisable and “clean” – it makes reproduction easier.  Oh, and get the logo in a variety of formats including jpeg. and make sure that your chosen font is crisp and clear and can be easily read in a variety of formats and sizes.    If the band has a “look” in terms of outfits etc (and it should have) have a variation on that look for yourself as manager so when you travel to gigs you appear as one cohesive unit and people know who to do go for queries (and, trust me, there will be queries and band members will point helplessly at you to give answers). Deciding on the name may be your first big fight so be prepared and if necessary suggest the name “S Club 7”.  That usually shuts everyone up.  Ensure that  everyone completely agrees and buys into the band name before you invest any time, money and energy into creating business cards, social media, logos and photography.  Which brings me onto…. Publicity For us, Facebook has been the most important tool thus far.  Great for livestreaming when they are performing, great for photos and who doesn’t love a good hashtag?  Keep it up to date, post frequently and make sure you respond promptly to questions and comments.  Learn how to use Sound Cloud – it’s free and it does the job and it’s easy to share songs. Use organic growth to build your fan base and don’t ever pay to boost posts on social media.  Hashtag as much as you can. Take a variety of photos including solo shots and black & whites to suit your band’s genre; I use a lot of black & whites with some creative filters as our band has an authentic 1950s rockabilly sound.  Build a portfolio and ‘drip feed’ them on your social media and website. When it comes to business cards, fliers, CD inserts there is one word – Vistaprint.  They are brilliant.  I’ve used them for years for all my businesses and they have never let me down, there is no to-ing and fro-ing with proof copies and the quality is excellent.  Delivery is fast.  Job done. Credit where it’s due. You cannot do everything.  You cannot please everyone.  So start building a good list of professionals who can do “stuff” for you (more on this next time).  Use local companies wherever possible (although there are exceptions, see above) and most important of all, make sure you give them publicity and credit for their services.  Tag them on your photos and in your blogs and in your social media posts; they have a business to run too. And still on the subject of credit where it’s due….never forget to thank the band’s partners.  Truth be told, they are delighted to have some free time to themselves when their other half is rehearsing but, nevertheless, recognition for their support, a thank you and a bouquet of flowers is a must.  As my partner says, “behind every successful man there is a woman rolling her eyes”. Repeat after me, “you are not The Rolling Stones, you are not The Rolling Stones”. Before you know it, they are refusing dairy products before they perform as it’s bad for the vocal cords, telling you EXACTLY how they like their tea and informing you that they need a change of clothing before the photoshoot because its hot (top tip, don’t bother telling a 56 year old woman it’s hot – she  knows.  She’s been permanently  boiling since she was 50).  And it gets worse once they’ve been in the studio and “cut” a CD.  They will talk over each other, they will be rude to each other, they will make you gasp at their lack of respect for each other.  A room full of politicians or NHS consultants will look like the Cats Protection League’s kitten room in comparison and will make you grateful that you have a day job.  Be prepared to spend MUCH MORE time on the band than you had expected and learn to manage the band’s expectations of you.  Bite your lip; remember they see themselves performing at the O2.  When they are performing, keep a copy of their set list with you so you know what song they’re starting with, what song they’re ending with, their ‘false ending’ (that’s a real phrase, see below) and their true ending. …but they are your’s so demand the best for them. Like all wayward children,  as the band’s “mother” you love them despite everything and want to keep them out of jail or appearing on the Jeremy Kyle show. Look after their wellbeing pre and post performance – ensure they have water in the Green Room (see below) and something nourishing like a burger, sorry, I mean bananas.   At a gig, make sure the announcer knows the correct way to say the band’s name, any other relevant details and do, please, make sure they get the introduction they deserve – they’ve worked for this and you want to get their name out there for potential future bookings.  Don’t throw the intro away or think it doesn’t matter. Ensure any publicity materials (see above) are the best you can afford and always keep a supply with you at gigs – including a few demo CDs. They may not be The Rolling Stones, but YOU are a cross between Don Arden and Sharon Osbourne Use phrases like “the balance was spot on” – they love that and other people will look at you in awe of your knowledge and professionalism.  Another great phrase is  “what’s your false ending” (this is the song that everyone thinks is the last one, but they have another one or two in hand ready for the shouts of “more, more” and rapturous applause) – better still, have a laugh (to yourself) and call it a “faux” ending. The Green Room, (as in, “where is the Green Room located for my artists?”) an area ranging from a white walled fragrant room adorned with kittens to a barely erected tent where the performers can relax, have something to eat and drink, warm up, cool down and generally chill.  It may need to double up as a rehearsal space or a place to build kit such as drums.  A word of warning – as manager you will have access to the Green Room but it’s advisable to knock before you go in (it may be used as a changing room and you don’t want to be traumatised.  There are some things you cannot unsee). Always strive to be diplomatic; it will soon become obvious who the person with the most influence is and who the loose cannon is – learn how to manage the group dynamics as you would in any other profession. Have some ear defenders (honestly, you will need them – you’ll be at very close quarters to all the music and it can be VERY LOUD) but be prepared to explain to their delicate feelings that it’s because of the volume and not because you are trying to block them out and secretly listening to Tony Christie’s Greatest Hits (I do actually have a copy of that if you need to borrow it). Don’t wreck your back lifting heavy objects the wrong way. Always carry your phone so you can do a few Facebook Lives.  Hire a professional photographer for big events (more next blog) and carry your camera (with a  full battery) for the portfolio.  Carry business cards, CDs and fliers, pen and paper for contact numbers. In my next blog, I’ll give the lowdown on how we went from zero to hero with the launch that rocked Gloucestershire Oh, and the band?  They’re called The RockaRolas and are based in Gloucestershire.  They are absolutely brilliant and extremely professional, even if I say so myself, and have an authentic rockabilly and rock & roll sound. You can find them on Facebook (@therockarolas) where you can read our  5* reviews.  Their website will be live shortly.  We are available to hire, so please contact me for details.  

In the Interim (part six) aka Do I get a Parking Space?

In my blog, In the Interim Part Four (aka The Whole Bag of Feed) I talked about the skills that interims need to make an impression at an interview; here in Part Six I’ll talk about what your prospective customers are looking for in an interim, as well as my top interview tips for nabbing that contract. By virtue of the fact that your customer is looking for an interim means that either a) there is a problem that needs solving and their existing resources are stretched b) they need some transformation work done and want to keep their employees focused on business as usual or c) they need some niche skills and knowledge which they cannot find within their existing employees.  They also usually need an interim now.  Actually, make that RIGHT NOW!  So your prospective customer is looking for someone who is immediately available and (to be honest) available to work long hours.  They won’t be interested in anyone who needs a month to learn how the photocopier works – you know that phrase “hit the ground running”?  That’s what they’re looking for. They are also looking for someone who is resilient, dare I say – tough – physically, mentally and emotionally in some cases.  Someone who has a good track record of delivery, excellent references, a sound knowledge of project management (and bear in mind, you may well be tested by means of an inbox exercise if you are applying for a contract at project management level) and someone who is articulate, confident and engaging. Time to set the foundations.  First of all, let’s talk about your CV and your LinkedIn page. Keep the CV precise, relevant, and not too long.  I must admit I’ve been guilty of writing a mini autobiography but if you give an outline, with the emphasis on delivery, (quality improvements, cost savings, teams built etc) you can put flesh on the bones when you’re talking to your agent.  Your LinkedIn page?  Keep it up to date, add a decent photo (looking at your most professional please, this isn’t Facebook), get some (genuine) recommendations and this is your chance to actually “sell” what you can offer your customers.  Use key words such as “integration” on your page which will show up when prospective customers or agents carry out searches.  Connect with some key people in your current contracts and, of course, with good quality agents. Which brings me to your agent….. Work with your agent. When they contact you with a potential contract, get the JD from them and don’t be afraid to go back to them and ask more questions. Ensure you know the right address and location for the interview, who the interview panel will be (and don’t be afraid to look them up on LinkedIn – know their strengths and interests, where they have worked before etc). Look up travel times, car parks, bus or train routes. Oh, and whatever the travel time is, add at least another 30 minutes. Keep your agent’s contact number with you and, ideally, a contact number for your customer. …and that means, keep your agent informed.  Oh, it also means being honest with your agent too.  Are you available immediately or do you have holiday, child care commitments that need to be factored in, how flexible are you really on location – do you mind a weekly commute? Are you expecting to work from home part of the week?  Make sure that you know what the day rate will be and whether that includes accommodation and travelling costs. Do not put yourself or your agent in the position where you go back, after the offer is made, to negotiate the day rate or tack on expenses or ask if you can work from home part of the week. It looks unprofessional and it puts you on the wrong footing with your new customer and your agent.  For your customer, who may have spent days reading CVs and  interviewing when they are already short on time, stressed and in dire need of an interim who will save them , it will drive them to strong drink.   In short, be absolutely honest with your agent. It’s ok to be more Primarni than Armani but please at least be clean, tidy and smart. Keep buttons and zips done up, don’t wear trainers, don’t slump in your chair. Try to not be too cluttered, if you have to carry a coat AND a jacket AND an umbrella AND a hat AND a rucksack AND a briefcase AND a handbag, please try and get yourself sorted before walking into the interview. Research. As I said in part four, please do your customer the courtesy of researching the organisation. Don’t trot out ANY excuse and definitely don’t say “well, I’ve finished my last contract and now I’m just looking for my next one”. Look at the organisation’s website, Google them, Google or LinkedIn their key players, ask your agent or your network of contacts for the low down. Make notes from your research and don’t be afraid to refer to those notes when you ask questions at the end.  In fact, doing so will make you stand out. Be precise.  So, if you’ve been part of a PMO or project team, what was your role? What did you contribute – was it stakeholder engagement, drawing up the project packs etc? Be clear, before you go into the interview, on a few key examples that demonstrate your strengths and your ability to deliver and evaluate.  Do not give general answers; give very specific examples of past work.  THAT is what the interviewer is looking for, not a regurgitation of the PRINCE2 manual.  You will stand out if you say “what you will get from me by the end of the first week is this – a project plan on a page, a milestone tracker, a risk & issues log”  I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea, right? You are going to ask questions, aren’t you? Yes, you are, you’re going to ask questions. And those questions aren’t going to be about your working hours, where the canteen is and do you get a parking space.  Try a variation on the following…what will you (the customer) expect from me in the first week and the first 30 days?  Who else will be in the PMO team?  How long has the PMO been formed?  What are the main challenges that the organisation faces, and it’s greatest advantages?  What is the organisation’s strategy and is that strategy understood by all levels in the organisation?  Actually, don’t forget that an interview is a two way thing – so take the opportunity to ask questions, please. And finally, back to your agent.  Phone them as soon as you can after the interview and give them feedback, not just on the interview, but also your views on the organisation.  It’s also helpful, and professional, to tell your agent if you have any further interviews lined up via other agencies.  There are few things worse for both agent and customer than offering a contract and making plans for the interims first day only to be told 24 hours later that the interim has accepted another offer elsewhere. Incidentally, I’m an interim who had done a lot of interviewing particularly in the last few months!  It’s been interesting to see things from the customer’s perspective. Good luck with that interview!      

In the Interim (part five) aka That Eureka Moment

I was planning to write my next blog on the key "must knows" when being interviewed as an interim, **however, today I experienced a eureka moment at work, so, as an aside to my planned blog, allow me to bask in the glory of being part of a team who achieved against the odds. I’m currently working as an Interim Programme Manager for an NHS Trust in the midst of Special Measures and Financial Special Measures.  As someone who is delivery driven, there has been an almost daily challenge to ensure that the various strands of the Trust’s Recovery Plan, and the CQC Action Plan, are translated in a way that engages our Directorates as well as ensuring that we build trust and confidence in the PMO and our capabilities. So, I’m indebted to my colleague, Helen Codd, who has drawn up this list of achievements by our PMO in 2016:

  • Mechanisms in place to keep the team up to date and informed
  • Resources allocated to programmes
  • Engaging Directorate Managers, Clinical Directors and Directorate Lead Nurses with monthly updates with positive feedback from the senior team
  • Tightening PMO processes
  • Identified saving schemes for next year and have 100 opportunities already
  • Written the Workforce & Leadership Programme Brief from a standing start
  • Improved Information Governance compliance
  • Writing and implementing the Winter Plan
  • Writing a job planning policy.
  • Writing the STP Submission
  • Joint project with NHS England to review the Major Trauma Centre, cross referencing with our Recovery Plan and CQC Action Plan
  • Researched the NHSI free diagnostic tool for Culture and Equality & Diversity and sourced funding
  • A provider to provider agreement
  • Being told: “you’re doing a good job and keep up the great work” by NHSI representatives
  • For the interim members of the team, leaving a legacy for those who will fill the PMO roles substantively
All too often we are working at 100 miles an hour and forget that it pays to stop and take stock of what we’ve achieved as a team. Why not try this with your PMO? **Don't worry, that blog will be published soon!

In the Interim (part four) aka The Whole Bag of Feed

You have to be of a certain vintage to know this story; bear with me, dear reader, for there is method to my madness.  Read on… The story goes like this…. There was once a priest who had to trudge many miles over hill and down dale to reach his church.  One Sunday evening, in the middle of an icy winter , the priest set off for his church.  The walk took him hours and the weather was freezing, the icy winds blew and the rain and sleet scratched at his face.  Eventually he reached his church but, on opening the door, he found but one parishioner waiting expectantly for him.  Just the one.  The priest walked up to the man and looked at him.  The parishioner was care worn, weather beaten, sad eyed.  “My son,” said the priest “only you have turned up here this Sunday, go home and rest”.  “Father” replied the man “I am only a simple farmer and farming is all I know.  But if I walked for hours to feed my flock, and only one sheep turned up to be fed, I would not turn that sheep away, I would feed him.” Humbled by this man’s simple faith, the priest turned to the man and said “my son, you are right”.  He walked up to the pulpit and began the service.  The priest gave everything he had, he gave two readings, sang hymns, said prayers, gave a 45 minute sermon, more readings, more prayers and yet more hymns.  Exhausted, yet exhilarated, the priest turned to his parishioner and said, “my son, what did you think of that service?”  Sitting back, the parishioner thought for a moment then turned his face up to the priest and said, “Father, I am only a simple farmer and farming is all I know.  But if I walked for hours to feed my flock, and only one sheep turned up to be fed, I wouldn’t throw the whole bag of feed at him.” Trust me, dear reader, this brings me to the ever thorny subject of the job interview.  In my current contract, working at Programme Manager for an NHS Trust going through “interesting” times, I have interviewed a great many fellow interims in the hope of appointing skilled, experienced and articulate project managers to work as part of my team.  And this is the pivotal word, “articulate”.  While I have found some fantastic candidates, I didn’t realise how many interviewees suffer from “the whole bag of feed” syndrome.  So, from the other side of the interview room for a change, here are my tips on keeping it clear, crisp and engaging when being interviewed Do your research.  Please don’t just rock up for the interview because your agent has sent you and you need the contract.  Be intelligent, Google the organisation, ask your network, do SOMETHING!  If you are contacted on a Friday afternoon with an interview appointment for first thing Monday morning, then please spend some time over the weekend doing some research.  DO NOT, as some candidates have done, simply say “it was very short notice”.  It wasn’t short notice, you had the weekend. But keep it relevant.  The Trust I’m currently working in is undergoing a major plan for redevelopment but one candidate I interviewed was fixated by the new helipad.  I assume that was how he planned to arrive at work. Your previous work experience.  Here it is, “The Whole Bag of Feed Syndrome”.  We really don’t need every single project, in detail, for the last ten years.  Keep is precise and, ideally, relevant to the job you’re being interviewed for.  One or at the most two key examples.  What your role was, the difference you made, the stakeholders you engaged and the impact it made.  How was the project evaluated?  How was quality improved or finance saved?  Be precise.  A good agent will have sent you a job description and/or person specification beforehand.  Match that up with your CV; what do you want to emphasise?  Your stakeholder engagement skills, your top rate technical skills – prepare beforehand and make sure you get your point across in a crisp, articulate manner. But don’t be a robot.  So, your CV is resplendent with Project Management qualifications.  Wonderful.  But, actually, what will I get from you in terms of reporting that will give me assurance that the project is on track, on budget, within the timeframe and is going to be delivered? Keep it real.  You may have saved a particular organisation from bankruptcy, you may have been instrumental from taking an NHS Trust from Special Measures to Outstanding but, well, really? Beware “spin”.  You will be found out.  And beware of phrases that mean nothing; one candidate I interviewed repeatedly used the expression “I was parachuted in”.  Seriously, his reply to every single question started with this phrase.   No.  Unless you are a member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, you were NOT parachuted in.  Stop it. Oh please stop!  If you really can’t stop yourself and you really do want to throw the whole bag of feed at your prospective employer, learn a little emotional intelligence.  If the interviewers stop writing notes, close their note books, fold their papers up, shuffle in their seats and put their jackets on, they are pretty much hinting that the interview is over and you need to shut up. And finally, do you have any questions for us?  Again, please at least act interested.  Do not ask if you can work from home, come in at lunchtime on a Monday, increase your day rate or what the canteen’s like.   My next blog will focus on how interims are chosen for interview and what the interview panel are really looking for in an interim.      

150 minutes to save your life

On 19th July, Public Health England published their bulletin  “Health Matters: getting every adult active every day”.  I thought back to my days as a police force PTI where I introduced free group exercise classes (aside from the mandatory training that officers had to undertake).  These classes, open to all, were 45 minutes long and designed by me to be fun, to burn calories, build muscle mass, and improve CV.  There were other benefits too, sickness absence figures dropped – particularly for those two big hitters – musculoskeletal conditions and depression/stress/anxiety.  There was a general uplift in feeling well and greater social interaction. Those who attended my classes reported that they slept better, felt calmer yet more energised, their concentration and thought processes improved as did their general physical and mental resilience.  All through attending a 45 minute class three times a week. Fast forward to 2011 when I was commissioned to design and deliver a Breast Cancer Survivorship Programme aimed at introducing an exercise and dietary management programme for women after diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer that would lead to a lasting beneficial change in health behaviour, weight reduction and improvement in quality of life.   Drawing on the many national and international studies on healthy lifestyle choices and breast cancer, my programme expanded on this body of work by exploring the impact of a specific physical and dietary intervention. Increasingly, evidence suggested that physical rehabilitation could lead to patients returning to normal lifestyle more quickly and that exercise and weight reduction (by following a low fat diet) may have a role in reducing recurrence of breast cancer.  There was also evidence to suggest that exercise may reduce symptoms such as depression, arthralgia, hot flushes, low bone mineral density and other side effects of treatment. I introduced a four week introductory Nordic walking exercise programme under instructor supervision together with a weight management programme under the care of community dietetics. Throughout the programme, patient/carer and clinician workshops and focus groups were held to ascertain the needs of the patients, and the effect and evaluation of the programme.  At commencement and end of the programme patients were weighed and measured (BMI and waist circumference).  A visual analogue scale was completed in terms of symptoms of arthralgia (bone pain) and hot flushes. A HAD scale to assess psychological status was also completed as were qualitative dietary changes assessed by food frequency questionnaires and/or food diaries before and after intervention. Finally, a patient questionnaire survey assessed satisfaction with the intervention. The cohort of patients either maintained or reduced their BMI over the period of the programme.  One patient in particular, lost a total of 4.5st with greatly improved lymphoedema.   The work with the dietician was particularly appreciated by the patients as this had not been previously available in such depth.  Reduction in medication for conditions such as depression were also reported as were less tangible benefits such as feelings of “a return to society” as opposed to being in “patient mode”.   Participants gained an understanding of the principles of a healthy low fat diet whilst not compromising Vitamin D and Calcium intake.  They felt empowered to self-care in terms of exercise and following a healthy, low fat diet. So much for organised, structured exercise.  But what we need to emphasise is a change in behaviour, walking instead of taking the bus, using the stairs instead of the elevator, dancing in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil! Currently, the statistics are scary – we are 20% less active now than in the 1960s with a forecast to be 35% less active by 2030; 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men are classed as physically inactive.  Emergency admission for hip fractures continues to rise as do conditions relating to obesity, and the diagnosis of depression soars.  Yet 150 minutes of physical activity each week – which can be split into as little as 10 minute slots – can reduce the risk of dementia by 30%, hip fractures by a whopping 68%, depression by 30% and diabetes by 40%.  In fact physical activity can help prevent or manage 20 different chronic conditions. There are, of course, some great initiatives already in place producing significant results; for example This Girl Can has inspired over 2.8 million women to become more active and One You and Couch to 5k has inspired many to start running. We cannot let the change in behaviour rest at the GPs door, we need to start making changes at a societal level.  So here, surely, is an area where we should be providing “joined up care” and integrate physical activity into clinical and social care pathways.  The benefits – towards both mental and physical health – are there for the individual, their families, society and the economy. So our Wellbeing Centres need to have an input, as do our Housing Departments, our Transport Departments, our Education Departments as well as our Department of Health.  Start telling that to the Commissioners , start getting them working with their colleagues in these other areas and as a nation we can start saving lives and save the NHS some money. 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