Interim interview - George Briggs
Our Healthcare Practice Lead, Claire Carter, speaks to NHS Interim Deputy COO, George Briggs, about becoming an interim.
People get into interim management for a variety of reasons. What made you choose it as a career?
I was actually talked into it by a colleague. I was moving from job to job, doing two to three years in one place, then moving on and doing something else. I kind of liked that. I was beginning to get itchy feet so it seemed like the next progression into do something slightly different. I got to the stage where I could afford to do something different and the opportunity to move from place to place and do things, get in, get out was really positive and definitely a motivator.
What challenges did you face making the move into interim management?
It happened very quickly! One minute I was thinking about it and the next minute there was an opportunity for a job. The first challenge was understanding what it meant. What is meant to my pension, what it meant to my day-to-day wage and whether I was going to go through an umbrella company or do it through my own limited company, which I then needed to set up. That was the first challenge. It is a completely different environment to what I was used to, having worked in the public sector for the past thirty years. You have to change your mind set.
The next bit was around a different way of managing your finances. You’re not filling a timesheet in and getting your money there and then. You’re actually putting it into a business; the accountant then sorts it out and all that goes with it, so for me it’s a very different approach.
You have maintained a good network within the NHS that helped you find a provider like ourselves to help you with your first assignment. What about people who perhaps don’t have the luxury of a strong network? What other challenges do you think they will come across?
They will find it difficult to understand what’s out there and what’s available. It is important to keep an eye on what is happening in the market and understand where the demand is. At the time, I questioned whether it was safe to make the transition into interim. Your rewards are better than in a permanent role, but you don’t get paid for annual leave and you don’t have a guaranteed job at the end of it. There are periods you have to be ready and capable of waiting.
What do you think makes a good interim manager?
The ability to blend in seamlessly and work well with people. To fit in really quickly and understand. It was easy for me as I have worked in the NHS for many years, so I understand the terminology and how things work. I’ve tried it, been there, and done that! I have seen a couple of interims come in previously, not knowing what to do. This means that they are ineffectual for a few weeks until they know what they are doing then the key is to get in there really quickly and understand really quickly to make some key impacts. If you can make some impacts early on it will give you time to learn about the systems and relationships. Relationships are absolutely crucial to this.
You have a broad experience of working in challenging NHS organisations. What skills do you think are particularly relevant to the operational success of an NHS trust?
To communicate. It is important to talk to people on all levels – to work with the healthcare assistants, consultants, nurses and managers. To understand what they need and support them with it. There is something in having knowledge on the latest trends and requirements are. What the ‘must dos’ are happening in the upcoming months so that you can get involved. The latest this month is changing guidance on Referral to treatment time. The new RTT guidance has come out so as an interim you need to read that if you do an operational one.
As an interim manager, how do measure the success that you deliver for a trust?
The last one was quite simple as they gave me a focus around A&E and the emergency pathway. From day one I needed to focus on emergency pathway. I went in when it was at 83-84% and when I left it was at 98%. That was clear and sensible measure. It was at the best it has ever been in the last 2 years almost. From a personal point of view gelled with the team, got on with them and felt as if I was part of the team from the beginning.
The NHS has a lot of pressures in all areas at the moment. What do you think is the biggest pressure on the NHS at the moment?
I think it is money and performance. And the two are interlinked. Organisations are working harder and not getting the income that they need. As an organisation the NHS is under pressure. There are more trusts now than ever declaring a financial problem.
Health Services Journal (HSJ) recently published an article where Jeremy Hunt said that there are too many trusts in the NHS. What are your thoughts on this – do you think he has a point?
I think he has got a point to be honest. I can see what he is saying but then the other side is if you are going to give local care for local people, it needs to be locally based. If you take Coventry as an example, the trust covers Coventry and Warwickshire, but is also runs a hospital 12 miles down the road at Rugby which is also a part of the trust but remains Rugby focused. They have got it right the balance between Coventry and Rugby. If you use a big trust like that as an example, they are running services for people in Coventry and Rugby. If you go into Rugby you get a service, you get sorted, it’s a very nice environment and there is place to park your car. If you go into Coventry, you get a service but there is no place to park your car. So getting the balance is crucial. In order to give that personal service to people you need to have a local focus. I have no problem with larger trusts but what I wouldn’t want to see is larger trusts downsizing their facilities so that there is nowhere for communities to go.
When trusts are under performance pressure, it is often the board that gets scrutinised. What do you think makes a strong executive team in an NHS trust?
I think that it is communication and having one voice. That team have to run, and work as one. I have come across a few where they worked as individuals and if that’s the case people underneath get pulled in different directions and they don’t focus. It needs to be one clear message, one clear team and one clear strategy. I do think the most crucial part is that they need to have a vision and strategy, especially with the way things are at the moment.
What leadership skills do you think are becoming more relevant to you as your career progresses?
For me it is communication and the ability to work with people of all levels. If I can work with healthcare assistants to consultants and get good results from all of them, then I can deliver. If I don’t get along with them and form good relationships from the start then we can’t deliver. Everyone needs to work to the same direction and on the same team.
What do you enjoy outside of interim management, and how do you manage the work life balance?
I have to force myself to have a break between assignments! I have a particularly fab hobby which is renovating an old barn. It has taken me about 5 years so far. In my spare time I am doing the building work and working with a local builder. Hopefully it will be complete by September next and then it will be my home.
George Briggs is the Interim Deputy Chief Operating Officer at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust. This is his second interim assignment.