10 July 2020
Be more Adam.

Jack Tabner

The launch of the Medway Innovation Institute has been a hectic, exciting and daunting time for me this past couple of weeks. So much so, I probably let something quite important pass me by without proper acknowledgement.

Last week, Adam Walton left Medway NHS Foundation Trust. This is a big deal. Adam , as anyone who has worked with him throughout his decade at MFT will likely agree, is a pretty special guy.

  • You couldn’t miss him down a corridor. He was usually fist-bumping and high-fiving his way to his next meeting.
  • His inimitable voice carried far and wide throughout the organisation.
  • He knew EVERYBODY at MFT – if you wanted to find out how to get stuff done at MFT, Adam would be your first port of call.

Adam worked in a number of different departments during his time at the Trust, ending his stint at MFT on a real high, serving as a Service Manager in Specialist Medicine. By his own admission, he had a baptism of fire and he had to put his QI theory into practice as part of the operational response to the COVID-19 pandemic and even supporting his Clinical Lead for Rheumatology who led our virtual outpatients deployment.

I worked with Adam during his time in the Transformation Team. Adam was instrumental in designing and delivering our continuous improvement training along with our Lean guru, Nick. If you went to one of Adam’s training sessions, you’d invariably leave feeling inspired, energised and valued. So when I learned of Adam’s decision to take the next step in his career as an Improvement Coach at GSTT, I was gutted but couldn’t be too disappointed as he’s joining a brilliant organisation with a thriving QI programme.

As I reluctantly think about replacing someone like Adam and building our quality improvement team centrally, I often catch myself thinking ‘if only I could clone Adam a few times’.

As a tribute to Adam, I thought it was prudent to try and deconstruct what made Adam such a prolific innovator and coach. I came up with three things:

1.       His passion for Medway was authentic and infectious

Adam made no secret of the fact that he was not just an employee of the Trust, he was a proud local resident. He saw first-hand the value of MFT as an anchor institution within Medway, not just as a care provider but also as an employer and a stalwart of social and community values. His kids were born here and he would come to our A&E if ever in crisis. His innovation projects would succeed, largely because his passion made it difficult not to align upon a shared, patient-focused goal. Easier said than done!

2.       He made everyone feel heard and understood

Adam knew his QI methodology better than most. But he didn’t intimidate people with his knowledge of tools and techniques as improvement practitioners can be guilty of – me included. He was an avid listener and he managed to connect with everyone and anyone via personal references and inside jokes. You knew that he would truly hear your problems and concerns – and treat your lived frustrations as valuable improvement insight. If you presented him a ‘wicked problem’, he would really work hard to empathise and he’d use accessible language to describe the impacts that the problem was having for patients and staff. Whether your problem was a non-value adding care pathway or a duplicative process, Adam just got it. He was also a great connector on social media and his GIFs on Twitter will be missed.

3.       His curiosity and can-do spirit made him a joy to work with

Adam was a walking, talking advert for improvement in the way that he lived his life. He was always working on something to improve himself as a person and to better his lot for his family. Just chatting to him about his productivity hacks, his bullet journaling and his reading lists would make even the most productive among us feel lazy. His thirst for knowledge and his appetite to grow his toolkit of skills and experiences was energising. I am in no doubt that his career will go from strength-to-strength because of this intrinsic quality. The defining trait that unites improvers and innovators, particularly in organisations that have a long road of improvement ahead of them, is positivity. Adam always maintained that ‘it could be done’ mind-set, and this made him a pleasure to work with.

Adam, you will be sorely missed, and GSTT, you are getting a real gem. You are welcome back home to MFT anytime.

He’ll be mega embarrassed by this, but let’s all be a bit more Adam.

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3 Comments

  1. Dr Gihan Hettiarachchi

    Dear Jack,

    Agree with you entirely about the superb attributes possessed by Adam. So why did he leave Medway? Surely the reasons behind this should be our focus. Being “more Adam” is pointless if Adam leaves Medway. “Cloning more Adams” is also pointless if the outcome is that they also leave Medway.

    As an organisation we need to think deeply and seriously about staff recruitment and retention if we are to succeed. In my experience we intervene late and in a lack-lustre manner (if at all) when good staff are about to leave.

    Forget “Be more Adam” let’s “keep more Adam”.

    BW

    Jay

    Reply
  2. Jack Tabner

    Hey Jay – thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you.

    Across all staff groups, it feels like we are forever working to keep the flow of new recruits coming into the organisation rather than ‘closing the back door’ and keeping people working here and building their future at Medway.

    There is much more to do on retention and talent management – improve on-boarding processes, understand the reasons people leave from exit interviews, ensure people have stretching objectives and inspiring formal and informal mentors in the organisation, rotations to develop specific competencies, collaboration with others that brings joy at work… People need to feel they are progressing and can plot their next career move.

    People management is a real skill that can be honed and developed and within the context of a busy week, it takes deliberate focus and time investment from leaders. Do we give leaders support to do this enough and positively incentivise it? Corporately, do we give this agenda enough focus in the midst of operational performance targets, strategy and planning, quality action plans and financial projections? I’m not so sure. None of this is unique to Medway I should add…

    I remember when I left a private sector consultancy organisation – I sent my email to the Partners and, within minutes, they all had called me to convince me to stay. They recognised the investment made in their people over time and valued the benefits that my experience added to their team. We need to do the same at Medway…and believe me I tried with Adam!

    Working in the NHS allows people to move around from organisation to organisation reasonably easily – and that’s a good thing. But how can we make sure we hang on to our brightest and best, and make a virtue of more transient members of staff?

    I would love to discuss this more with you over a coffee.

    Reply
  3. Richard Patey

    Adam was kind, polite, enthusiastic – and capable. Moving between posts is good, developing, and learning, but I agree with Jay that the focus can be on “what is my next post IN MEDWAY?”
    Maybe this is an innovation institute project?
    All the best to Adam!
    Thank you Medway colleagues
    Richard

    Reply

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