It’s nice when a plan comes together…

The front page of Veterinary Times on 1 June bore the headline ‘Staff back RCVS as great workplace’. This reflected our coming 30th in the top 100 Best Workplace Awards (medium-sized category), run by the Great Place to Work Institute , beating the likes of Coca Cola, Office Angels and General Mills. [See my previous blog for details.]

This was pleasing news in itself, but it was also particularly great to see that headline in print, because one of the exercises carried out back in 2013, as we put together our 2014-16 Strategic Plan, was imagining the headlines we would like to see on the front page of the vet press in three years’ time: the RCVS being a great place to work was one of them.

Clarity of vision

The moral of this story is that when you have a specific goal in mind, and especially when you can articulate and visualise how it might look in print, it has a much greater chance of being met.

This is why our Strategic Plan is full of very specific goals, which were developed out of a process that involved staff, Council and, through the First Rate Regulator Project, the profession and public at large. Some organisations shy away from specific objectives – it’s too easy to be called on them if they are not met. But plans without bite are inevitably left on the shelf to gather dust.

And so I would like to reassure you that, 18 months into our current three-year plan, we have either met, or are on target to meet, the majority of our objectives. The list of actions yet to be tackled is manageable, and one which we may yet add to before 2016 is out.

Complaints progress

But don’t just take my word for it. In addition to the excellent headline in the Veterinary Times, a further testimonial to our hard work could be seen in the Veterinary Record recently (30 May 2015).

Here, veterinary surgeon John Dinsdale was kind enough to praise our Professional Conduct team, specifically highlighting the positive changes that have been made in our concerns-handling process and improvements in communications. This work has been part of our Strategic Plan objective to ‘reduce the time it takes for a complaint to be concluded in a fair and transparent manner’. Mr Dinsdale also commented positively on our trial of an alternative dispute resolution process (ADR), another of our Strategic Plan objectives.

A third piece of recent external validation came in the form of the independent Chair of our Audit and Risk Committee, Liz Butler, giving our current IT projects, which include an upgrade of our database, a new online Practice Standards system and a new IT system for our Professional Conduct work, a clean bill of health.

You can find a full update on our Strategic Plan progress in my CEO Update to Council, available online as part of the June Council paper bundle.

We will soon be starting the process of developing our 2017-19 Strategic Plan, and I will continue to push for sharp, meaningful objectives of the kind that you can sum up in a positive headline. Of course, by being specific you could set yourself up to fail, but it is better to fail to reach a stretching goal than meet a feeble one. Of course, to set yourself stretching goals and meet them is even better!

Finally, following our very successful journey to Edinburgh the other day to hold the first RCVS Council meeting outside London in living memory, here’s a quick video update outlining the main discussions and decisions from the day…

Staff engagement is the key to unlocking great talent

It’s now the morning after the night before, so I can finally let you in on an exciting secret – something that we at the RCVS have been working towards for quite a while, that I have suspected all along, but that we haven’t been allowed to tell anyone:

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
is a great place to work!

And in case you’re thinking, “Well, he would said that, wouldn’t he?”, you shouldn’t just take my word for it.

In fact, having been presented with 30th place at a special gala evening for the UK’s best workplaces last night, it’s now officially official. But 30th place is a long way from 1st, so we have a lot more to do!

The winning team (Photo credit: Carmen  Valino)

The winning team. Plans to introduce ‘Dress Up Friday’ are under serious consideration… (Photo credit: Carmen Valino)

The Great Place to Work (GPtW) Institute is a global research, consulting and training firm that helps organisations identify, create and sustain great workplaces through the development of high-trust workplace cultures. It describes its clients as those organisations that wish to maintain Best Workplace environments, those that are ready to dramatically improve the culture within their workplaces, and those in between the two.

As part of my day-one commitment to make staff engagement a key priority, we have been working with GPtW for the past couple of years, undertaking an annual survey of the whole team to gauge opinions, satisfaction levels and suggestions for improvement. The programme considers areas like teamwork, work environment, innovation, well-being, recognition, organisational culture and how we manage and develop talent. It also enables us to benchmark ourselves against similar-sized organisations, which has the potential for uncomfortable reading from a CEO’s perspective, and leaves little place to hide!

One of my biggest initial challenges was convincing College staff and Council that I was serious about staff engagement; that this was neither a flash in the pan, nor was it going to be easy. And so the early results showed.

An initial staff engagement exercise in autumn 2012, just two months after I started, illustrated that there was much work to do. Morale seemed low, and certain individuals on both the Council and staff were exhibiting poor behaviour that was having a significantly negative effect on the whole team. We took immediate action by outlining the expected new behaviours and attitudes to staff, and instituting a ‘new deal’ with our Council with mutual respect and a ‘one-team’ concept at its heart. A burning platform is often critical for rapid action!

A year later, our first GPtW survey revealed that, on average, 52% of staff felt that the RCVS was a great place to work. This was encouraging, but there was clearly plenty of room for further improvement.

We listened, we acted and we continued to deliver on the promise to make staff engagement our number one priority. We tore up the rule book and asked our staff to write it afresh, making sure that their motivations and their ideas were heard and acted upon. It was staff, aided by managers, who led the turnaround and my job as CEO was to unleash the talent and bring down the barriers preventing positive change.

When we conducted the GPtW survey for a second time, in autumn 2014, the results were remarkable. On average, 91% of the team now felt that Belgravia House was a great place to work, and there were 30-40% improvements across many of the key areas listed above.

Apart from being delighted at this upturn, I was very surprised at just how quickly the transformation had taken place. The GPtW Institute confirmed that there is often a bigger jump in scores in year two, because if improvements continue to be made in all aspects of the workplace, then staff are more inclined to believe change is here to stay.

GPtW award and Guardian supplement

Our award with today’s Guardian supplement – possibly the first time we’ve been called this since 1844

Now, before anyone might be tempted to accuse us of self-congratulatory back-slapping, I consider the whole process to be one of enlightened self interest. Simply put, a highly motivated and energised workforce, focused on doing its best, will improve the quality of our service to the public and the veterinary profession.

There is now a definite buzz about the place, and people are receptive to new ideas and ways of doing things. This has allowed us to set out an ambitious programme of change and reform so that we can become a truly first-rate regulator. We feel more confident, not only at an organisational level, but also on an individual basis in terms of showing initiative and going that extra mile. This has been reinforced by the incredibly positive feedback we have had from the public and the veterinary profession.

To illustrate this, I’ll finish with a quick story…

A little while ago I was contacted by a friend and founder of a great leadership company called Wavelength, to help a senior director at Apple in Silicon Valley to find a family with whom she was a nanny for some 30 years ago. The link to me was that the father of the child she looked after was a vet.

I forwarded the email to our registration team, who managed to locate the wife of the vet, the obituary of the now deceased vet and the location of the son. What’s more, the team then spent time on the phone with the wife of the vet and, as a result, the family and the former nanny have now spent many hours on skype and email, reunited.

The Apple director could not believe we would go to such lengths to help her and said to me that Apple had a thing or two to learn from us about being a great place to work. I should add, that this all happened during one of our busiest weeks of the registration year.

Above all, it is this human touch, going beyond what is expected of us, that makes the RCVS a great place to work. I don’t profess to be particularly religious but I was lucky enough many years ago to meet Mother Teresa in Calcutta and she once said (not to me though!) ‘be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.’

It is in these small non-scripted acts where we see the strength of our culture.

A little speech therapy at RCVS Day

I’ll shortly be battling my way through London’s unforgiving rush hour towards the calm Edwardian surroundings of One Great George Street in Westminster, a fittingly grand venue for us to host our AGM and welcome around 240 guests to our annual awards ceremony.

One Great George Street

A look inside One Great George Street

This will be only my second ‘RCVS Day’, but if it’s as enjoyable as last year, then, together with the invited veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses, their guests, Council members and my colleagues, I have much to look forward to over the next few hours.

I’m conscious that only a fraction of the profession are ever able to attend this important celebratory event, not least as it’s always on a ‘school day’, but I’m pleased to report that we will be producing a short video of the proceedings, as well as plenty of photos and the usual reports and minutes, so there should be ample opportunity to catch up.

I’ll also be making a short speech, which I thought I’d give you a sneak preview of here on my blog (see below). I’ve tried to encapsulate the significant progress we have made, and continue to make, at the College, without going into reams of detail. In my view, the shorter the speech, the better it’s received, so I hope this hits the right note a little later today!

Some of the business of the day will include the presentation of our annual report and financial statements for adoption by members, and a vote on a motion to submit a new Royal Charter to the Privy Council for approval, which would be the first in almost 50 years.

Perhaps most importantly though, RCVS Day provides us with the perfect opportunity to celebrate the very best of the UK veterinary profession – veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses alike – and give due recognition for the many veterinary accomplishments and achievements that so often go unsung.

Rush hour aside, it’s going to be a good day.

 

My speech…

It is a great pleasure to be here once again among the good and the great from the veterinary world.

This is a day for speeches, but this one won’t be long. I just want to update you on what we have achieved and what more there is to do.

Last year I talked about the First Rate Regulator initiative, a massive engagement programme with the profession, public and stakeholders. It led to the strategic plan, a programme of work to improve what we do and how we do it.

Just six months in to the plan I’m delighted to say we have achieved a great deal:

  • A new Charter heading fast towards the Privy Council;
  • Ambitious plans to reduce the time it takes to process complaints;
  • Mid way through an overhaul of our IT infrastructure;
  • In November we will trial of a new consumer complaints service;
  • A new status of ‘Advanced Practitioner’ – with applications opening in September;
  • Next year we will have a new Practice Standards Scheme and the transition to an independent disciplinary function will be complete;
  • And the charity partner of the RCVS, RCVS Knowledge is going great guns – a clear purpose and mandate for EBVM and a fabulous new Chair in Jacqui Molyneux.

A lot to be proud of and real momentum for change and improvement.

In addition we have listened and responded to fair criticism from the profession including a very productive evidence gathering session on 24/7 emergency care, which has resulted in important changes.

I believe listening and responding is a sign of strength and confidence. We do not seek to be popular but to be sensible in how we regulate and respectful in how we carry out our Royal College duties.

I continue to visit practices and other places where vets and VNs work every week and will be delighted to accept invitations from any of you to see the work that you and your teams are doing.

One of the areas that I am most excited about is how we are unleashing the talents of our team at the RCVS. In the last year we have been able to promote from within, we have a greater focus on training and development and our levels of staff engagement are increasing significantly.

It is not self serving to say these things, but critical to the service we provide and the success we can have as a Royal College that regulates.

I see our role as a force for good, contributing to the profession being world leading, supporting some of the best veterinary practitioners in the world, doing everything we can to ensure the public feels properly protected when things go wrong.

We are honest about our strengths and weaknesses and determined to be the best we can be. Thank you for your support in helping us on this journey.

Receiving you loud and clear

When I joined the RCVS back in September 2012, I was at pains to point out the enormous value to an organisation of listening first and acting second. Indeed, the opening line of my first CEO update in RCVS News (November 2012) read:

‘When you arrive in an organisation, particularly when you are CEO, it is important to listen to your customers, to your staff and to your instincts. It is also important to amass evidence of what is good and what needs to change.’ (Page 9)

Naturally, I still stand by this. The first-rate regulator (FRR) initiative that I launched at Council that November was, above all, a comprehensive exercise in listening: listening to veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses, listening to animal owners, listening to RCVS Council members and staff, and listening to our stakeholders. We wanted to build on the good things we were doing and, where we fell short, challenge ourselves to be better.

I was delighted with the reaction to this initiative, especially the 5,000 or so responses we received from vets and VNs. Since then, we have invested a considerable amount of time and effort in evaluating and analysing the feedback we received, culminating in the publication of our ambitious strategic plan 12 months later.

I also said from the outset that we would be open and transparent about our plans and activities and that, where we made mistakes (which I predicted we would), we would be open and honest about them. And so we have been.

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” Bernard M. Baruch

The profession’s reaction to aspects of the Disciplinary Committee’s decision in the Chikosi case was significant, and it was clear to me that we needed to tackle these concerns head on. Whilst fully supporting the DC’s overall decision, the Operational Board subsequently issued a clarification about a particularly contentious issue, and our Standards Committee has since undertaken a full and extensive consultation exercise on the provision of 24-hour emergency veterinary cover, the recommendations from which will be submitted to Council in June.

More recently, we have come under pretty intense scrutiny for our decision to remove members’ postgraduate postnominals from the Register in order to make things easier for the public to understand. Seeing as Council approved this decision back in 2012, after a full consultation on specialisation during 2011, I have to admit that the sudden intensity of feeling that erupted just a couple of weeks ago rather caught us by surprise! Nevertheless, rather than burying our head in the sand, we listened to the concerns voiced by the profession and decided that there may be alternative solutions that are more acceptable to all involved. The Operational Board has therefore asked Council to review its 2012 decision at its June meeting.

Man burying head in sand
Rather than burying our head in the sand, we listened to the concerns voiced by the profession and decided that there may be alternative solutions more acceptable to all involved

Now, these specific topics have attracted acute interest amongst the profession, culminating in a rapid mobilisation of numerous individuals expressing their opinion via social media and online petitions, as well as more traditional methods such as email, letters to the College and the press, and face-to-face conversations. (I’m all for this, incidentally, although I wouldn’t want there to be a referendum every time the College makes a decision!) So why is it, that when the same people are also asked to take a little time out to decide who should be in charge of making these decisions in the first place, the metaphorical tumbleweed blows into town?

Just 4,137 veterinary surgeons and 1,157 veterinary nurses voted in this year’s Councils elections, representing a mere 16.1% and 10% of the two professions, respectively (and a fall in both turnouts compared to last year). Obviously, my thanks to those who took the trouble to vote, but to the 31,974 veterinary professionals who didn’t, I would like to ask, why not?

We have been repeatedly reminded of late that our communications need to be a two-way process, that we need to engage more closely with the professions and to listen, not just speak. I wholeheartedly endorse this approach, but, equally, I would maintain that vets and nurses have a professional responsibility to keep in touch, to respond, to get involved and, of course, to vote! You lose the moral authority to complain about the College if you essentially do your utmost to ignore everything it does and says.

So, why not start straight away? We have just launched another consultation on the future direction of our highest award – the RCVS Fellowship – and would welcome your input. Alternatively, and as I have said from my first day in Belgravia House, you can raise any issues with me directly via nick@rcvs.org.uk.

I can’t promise that I will agree with you, but I will always listen to what you have to say.

A month of celebration, by George!

A year or so on from one of the most spectacular series of national celebrations this country has ever experienced – in the shape of the Diamond Jubilee and London 2012 – and it seems we have all developed rather a taste for celebrating success.

First, the Lions maul the Aussies (and having lived and worked in Australia, I shall never tire of saying that) then, Murray makes mincemeat of the Wimbledon opposition; the England cricket team are confidently carrying on where the Lions left off, Froome finishes first in France and now, while we continue to bask in all this sporting glory and uncharacteristic sunshine, our future King (by George!) is delivered safe and well. Amidst all this, I’m pleased to report that the veterinary world seems determined not to miss out on achieving its own successes, and has itself had much to celebrate over the last few weeks.

For us at least, it all kicked off with RCVS Day on 5 July – our annual general meeting and awards ceremony which we held at the Royal College of Physicians in London. It being my first, I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but what a thoroughly enjoyable and impressive day it turned out to be, surrounded by the good and the great of the veterinary and veterinary nursing professions, together with their friends and family.

You might not need me to tell you this, but the College doesn’t hand out its awards lightly. The achievements being recognised were, for me at least, real eye-openers into the breadth and depth of expertise amongst those in, and associated with, the profession; be they for the large animal vet who first identified BSE in cattle ‘simply’ through careful observation in practice, or the impressive number of VNs gaining their diplomas in advanced veterinary nursing, including three in the equine field for the very first time.

As I said on the day, in my first nine months as CEO I have met many members of the veterinary professions up and down the country, and have found them to be extraordinarily welcoming. It really is a privilege to be leading the RCVS at this time, and I take great pleasure in seeing vet and VN accomplishments being recognised and honoured in this way. My sincere congratulations to all of our award holders!

Pictures from RCVS Day

A few pictures from RCVS Day (click image to view more on Flickr)

Over the ensuing weeks, I switched from commending eminent vets for years of hard work and lifetime achievements to congratulating the very newest MsRCVS just embarking on their professional careers as veterinary surgeons. I was lucky enough to be representing the College at the graduation ceremonies of the Royal Veterinary College and Liverpool vet school (but for a late taxi, horrendous traffic and a missed flight, I would have been at Glasgow vet school, too) and was thrilled to witness so many young people on the cusp of their professional lives. A UK veterinary degree represents five/six years of hard, unrelenting graft (the vet schools and the RCVS rightly strive to ensure that it is just that!) and all our new veterinary surgeons can be immensely and justifiably proud of themselves.

Of course, no period of celebration can be fully appreciated without some day-to-day toil to put it all into perspective, and our work agenda has continued apace at Belgravia House.

We had a seven-hour ‘beauty parade’ of auditors this last week, which was quite the test of endurance for our Audit & Risk Committee, my colleagues and me! A regular review and renewal of auditors is an essential discipline for any organisation that wants to maintain best financial practice, a concept I was interested to note has been recently promoted by the Competition Commission.

We’ve also now had a first report back from our IT consultant summarising the responses we’ve received to our invitation to tender for our new customer relationship database. Of the nine companies invited, seven have submitted replies, which is an excellent response. I will keep you posted on developments as we take forward this eye-wateringly complex project.

Finally, as I mentioned in my previous post (‘Avoiding tunnel vision’), our new Operational Board is meeting for the first time this week. We shall be spending two days in each other’s company at the recently renamed Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, where I will be steering the Board through the latest draft of our strategic plan before it goes to Council in September. You can find out more about the Operational Board, and who’s on it, via the College website.

And there I shall leave things for a fortnight or so, as I have a couple of weeks’ holiday coming up, camping with my young family in France. At least, if you can call 14 days of unforgivingly hard floors, very early mornings and scrambled egg saucepans a holiday… Perhaps that auditor meeting wasn’t so arduous after all.

Avoiding tunnel vision

Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium might seem a strange choice of venue for a recent staff ‘away day’ to discuss how to build a winning team, considering the club itself hasn’t troubled the local silversmiths since 2005, but at least there was plenty of space for everyone to congregate in the trophy room.

Cheap digs at the Gunners aside, I had wanted to take the staff away from their normal working environment for a day of brainstorming and fresh thinking about how we can improve as an organisation. I’m keen to sharpen our organisational focus, without narrowing it, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with how the day turned out.

From the outset, the external facilitator, Matt White, invited us all to ‘lean in’ both literally and metaphorically, as he took us through a whole serious of exercises, debates, and presentations to look at our vision, values and purpose. Focusing very much on our service agenda and strategic direction, I was delighted with the range and quality of ideas emanating from my colleagues, regardless of whether they were a new recruit, or had been working for the RCVS for many years. These are now being fed into a draft strategic plan, for further consideration by our Senior Team, followed by the Operational Board in July and, of course, Council at a special meeting in September.

Topping off all the hard work with a fascinating tour of the stadium itself, it was, all in all, a very interesting, successful and productive day. Worth a quick tunnel celebration, wouldn’t you say…?

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In other news…

I had a meeting with the Chief Veterinary Officer for Scotland, Sheila Voas, to talk about the implications of Scottish independence on the work of the RCVS.  If next year’s referendum does result in Scotland leaving the UK, then we have agreed to work closely with the Scottish Government on a transition towards a new and independent body in Scotland.

I was also pleased to catch up with Duncan Rudkin, my counterpart at the General Pharmaceutical Council, which is the regulator that has now separated from its Royal College. This meeting was timely, as it preceded a recent round table session of our Legislation Working Party (including representatives of the BVA, its divisions and the BVNA) to look at RCVS activities that are synonymous with the work of Royal Colleges, as opposed to those more readily associated with regulation. 

I was really pleased by the quality and constructive nature of the discussions, especially as we were tackling some complex and thorny issues relating to the future of the organisation. There was a strong consensus that the RCVS should not seek to split its Royal College and regulatory functions and that our regulatory role would be complemented by pursuing ‘Royal College’-type activities that focus on raising standards.

The working party will meet again in September to develop a draft strategy for expanding our Royal College role, and this will likely be the topic of an afternoon debate in RCVS Council later this year.

Finally, if you haven’t already, I would urge you to take a look at our recently published annual report, which presents a comprehensive overview of our activities over the past 12 months. To increase the appeal of a traditionally turgid publication, we have this year, for the first time, produced a video version of RCVS Review to complement the usual printed publication.

I was interviewed from the top of Belgravia House for my bit. From tunneller to roofer in the space of a fortnight!

(You wait weeks for a blog update, then two come along all at once. Watch out for ‘A month of celebration!’ – coming soon…)

Around Council in a few minutes – a video update

We’ve had three Council meetings and an RCVS Charitable Trust Board meeting this week – some 15 hours in total – and I, for one, am ready for the weekend! There has been a lot to discuss, though, and some exciting changes are underway.

Council has adopted the recommendations of the First Rate Regulator initiative, there’s good news about retention fees again, the appointments to the new veterinary and veterinary nursing disciplinary committees have been approved, and there has been some very positive discussion about the future of the Practice Standards Scheme.

Here’s a quick round up from me, this time in spoken form…

As ever, if you would like to contact me about anything I’ve mentioned here, or anything else to do with the RCVS, please do drop me a line (nick@rcvs.org.uk).