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Are you prepared for the rapids…

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do." Eleanor Roosevelt, Former First Lady

I liken professional life to being on a journey, or series of journeys along one or more of the world’s great rivers.  You can pick one river and make that journey your entire career, or you can go down a number of rivers.  Whichever it is, you want each voyage to be interesting, stimulating and exciting, and the people who come on that journey with you in the same inflatable to work together in a cohesive and supportive way, preferably enjoying themselves, and preferably ensuring that nobody is lost overboard irretrievably!

Whether the journey is down a long river or a short river, the one thing that all rivers have in common is that there will be periods of calm (or calmer) water, where paddling along and making progress along the way is easier and more settled.  And there will be rapids. 

The thing about rapids is that you can see some of them coming up in the distance, and you and your crew can be ready and braced to tackle them, and then there are the ones that appear round a bend in the river and you’re into it without time to draw breath or prepare yourself.  Some people find the whole rapids thing exhilarating, challenging and enjoyable, others will find them daunting and a bit scary.  The key is to have been taught how to manage them, work together, and have the resilience to know that whether you can see them in the distance, or come upon them suddenly, you have the tools and the skills to ride them and stay in the boat.  And if someone does fall overboard, you know exactly what to do to get them safely back in the boat.

Professional life, be it public or private sector, will always have periods of calm and periods of rapids, or change.  Working in the public sector in particular, where rules, regulations and organisations are subject to political forces means that change is frequent, and becoming more so – a whole series of rapids, without time to draw breath in between.  Even in what should be the calmer waters in between, it often feels like there’s been significant rainfall and the river is in flood, meaning that furious paddling is required in order to stay on course; making the calmer stretches feel, well, not calm at all.

Constant change gives rise to fatigue, can engender serious navel-gazing and mean that nothing happens for long periods while the change takes place; like turkeys voting for Christmas, why would you actively participate in a change that might leave you out of a job, for goodness sake?  Nope, take the approach of “why would I move this work/project forward when it might never happen because we’re going through a change and I might be out of a job to boot?”

However, there is a different way of looking at this.  For those who enjoy change, and the challenges that it brings, a series of rapids will be something to be enjoyed and welcomed; for those who fear the rapids, and find it a time of stress and worry, they are anything but.

So how do you make the whole team resilient and ready for whatever change and challenge come an organisation’s, or a team’s way, whenever that might happen and no matter how often?  One word: Engagement.  And that means engagement of everyone who might be affected, regardless of their role in the boat, or supporting the boat.

The top-down approach of telling the team in the boat that tackling the rapids will be fine if they just do as instructed, and get on with it in the way we’ve told you to because they’ve been given the instructions doesn’t always get the right results.  Some of the crew will still be worried, may not support the rest of the team in as useful a way as they might do if they weren’t so concerned, and they may fall overboard along the way.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that the boat won’t reach its destination, but encouraging others to climb in may not be as easy.

Far better to have the all those involved fully and properly engaged and participating in how and what managing the rapids will look like, regardless of how many people that might be.  The rapids will be ridden in a way that means everyone gets to the calmer water together, and in a more efficient way.  Once the first set of rapids has been successfully conquered, that shared and collaborative experience, and the skills which are developed and embedded as a team together, will mean that it has the resilience and sustainability to take on any rapids, whether they can be seen up ahead or come upon unexpectedly.

Exactly the same is true of organisational change.  Whether you are a practice, a super practice, a GP federation, a CCG, a hospital, a local authority, a community provider, a third sector organisation, or any other entity involved in health and social care, engage your stakeholders from front to back and this process can work for you. Whether you have 9, 90, 900 or 9000 conversations to have, it can work for you and you can achieve the outcomes you desire.  Engagement, full and meaningful, will make the journey exhilarating and enjoyable, interesting and stimulating, and ensure you have a sustainable and resilient organisation or pathway going forward, with a team skilled and able to meet not just current challenges, but future challenges as well; with no men (or women) overboard!

If you are thinking of developing an at scale provider organisation, or about delivering any form of change, and are looking for a model to engage every stakeholder in that change, and would like more information on how BW Medical Accountants can support you, or to arrange to speak to one of our experts please contact or call 0191 653 1022.

Additionally, if you should have questions for us please email and we will do our best to answer these within the blog.


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