If not now, when?

Let’s expand this blog post’s heading a little. “If not us, who? If not now, when?” Sound familiar? This phrase has seeped into popular consciousness over the years. Who asked this first? Ivanka Trump? Obama? Robert Kennedy? Hillel the Elder? Well, it doesn’t really matter. We should consider these questions now, more than ever.

Our experiences of the global pandemic forced us to take a critical look at our systems. We’ve recognised both strengths and flaws of our health system’s structures, their processes and the multitude of people who constitute the workforce. We can see things more clearly than ever before. We all want an efficient, properly joined-up healthcare system which is truly integrated with social care.

The initial stages of the crisis initiated an incredible burst of energy, creativity and flexibility. We have all revisited our values and priorities, everyone from politicians to healthcare professionals and the general public. It’s been a sobering and exhausting experience.

Here’s another useful quote to add to the mix:

Never let a good crisis go to waste.

Again, it doesn’t matter whether it was Kissinger, Churchill or Machiavelli who said this first. These are wise words. The open-mindedness and momentum generated by high pressure situations often create opportunity. So, great leaders grasp such moments and channel peoples’ energies toward constructive, sustainable change.

However, there’s a predictable stumbling block that we encounter. People cannot function at such high intensity, at maximum and over-stretched capacity indefinitely. Our bright ideas often turn out out to be overly simplistic when points we haven’t considered begin to surface. Knee-jerk reactions and quick-fix plans often turn out to have serious flaws when they face the test of time.

This means that crisis is typically followed by feelings of regression. Yes, we want the new normal, to get to that better place. Yet exhaustion, disappointment and complexity start taking hold and tighten their grip. So, recent headlines such as “Exhausted doctors seek respite before further NHS reforms” are not unexpected. These reports follow the BMA’s response to the Queen’s Speech to parliament, the annual event outlining the Government’s agenda for the forthcoming year. Plans for major reforms of health and social care systems were included this year.

The politicians have a tricky balance to strike here. No-one wants sweeping change at a time when they are struggling. But, at the same time, there is real risk that we lose the momentum and drive required to make the improvements that should be in everyone’s interests.

Closer to home

It’s unlikely that you have much influence over restructures – unless you are in a very senior position, or politically active. It will be a while before there are any direct ramifications for you. So, let’s consider your recent experiences and current situation. Think of your own role and your own team. What have you learned over the past year? What needs changed?

If you don’t take action on these points then you risk losing traction. However you cannot drive change without considering the people who work with and for you. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg has described how emergency and regression are followed by recovery. Great leaders need to take people with them, supporting people through the journey or emergency, regression and recovery. So it’s essential to learn and refresh the skills required for this. Effective, sustainable change also requires solid management of projects which are both well designed and well executed. Are you prepared for this challenge?

So, if you can see the need for change, pause and consider:

If not us, who? If not now, when? Don’t let a crisis go to waste!

Stephen McGuire – Managing Director