It’s a big question – can I make a difference? How does it feel to ask yourself that? For some of us, the answer will be different on different days. My experience suggests that your answer depends much less on what you do, than it does on how you feel. In this blog, I’d like to offer some thoughts on making a difference.
However, some context first. I fully recognise the challenges we face. Health budgets are going up – but pressures on recruitment, and the demands of an aging population, are also very real. There is also still much to do in tackling inequalities, and improving the health of the population, which NHS Scotland can’t do on its own. And we do know that people have the best outcomes when they are treated and cared for at home, or in a homely setting. So our current models of care are transforming to meet these demands, and to provide the most appropriate care and treatment for people, when they need it, and change brings its own challenges.
So my first suggestion is to turn the question, “Can I make a difference?” into a statement – I can make a difference. If you start from that standpoint, you’re much more likely to succeed. It’s easy to become pre-occupied with the things we can’t change, and the barriers and problems – I know that I fall into that trap from time to time. But wherever I go, I see people throughout the NHS, and in our partner organisations, making a difference every day. So ask yourself, what is the one thing I can do today that would make a difference? And then do it!
Now, give yourself some credit – think of an example where you did something that was appreciated. Write it down and remember it. If you’re having a team meeting, take time to share examples of things that the team did, that were appreciated by others. Sharing these examples will give you a bank of ideas about simple things that matter to other people. And it also gives you something to fall back on, if times are tough.
Next – think of an example when someone did something for you, which you appreciated. Find a way to share these examples too – if it worked for you, it might work for someone else as well. Ask yourself when you last thanked someone for something they did well, or something you appreciated. It’s easier to go on making a difference if others notice what you’re doing!
If you’re leading or managing a team, ask yourself how much time the team spends discussing what went well. It’s essential to be open and transparent about problems and adverse events, but if that’s the whole focus of team discussions, we overlook a huge pool of learning, resources and ideas from all the positive actions and outcomes. And we risk an atmosphere where making a difference is only about fixing problems, rather than about improvement. So, as yourself and your team, what proportion of time should be spent on what went well?
Remember to ask “What Matters to You?”. I know that the focus of this question is on patients, and that’s right because they are our priority, but it’s a good question to ask our colleagues and our teams as well. Just asking the question makes a difference – it gives you access to someone else’s thoughts and perspectives, and is likely to lead to better outcomes.
Will any of this change the world? Not on its own, of course. But you could change one person’s world, by a simple act of kindness, or listening, or a word of thanks. You can make difference!
Paul Gray is the Chief Executive Officer for NHS Scotland and the Director General for Health and Social Care at the Scottish Government