It takes two to tango. So, how do you get your dance steps right if you are working in partnership? One outgoing NHS head of communications has some hard-won lessons to pass on.
by Michael Carden
You can’t move in the NHS at the moment for partnerships.
Communications in and about a complicated system is difficult enough even before you begin to layer this myriad of organisational alliances on top of it.
So as I reflect on my time as Head of Communications for one such partnership, here are my top 10 tips for anyone going into a similar role:
1. Build relationships: partnerships live and die by the strength of the relationships. Find the people you are going to need to do business with – comms counterparts, programme leads, senior leaders, support staff – and make them your best friends.
2. Maintain relationships: don’t just meet people once in your first week and never again. Put the time and effort in to find out what makes them tick and understand their views on the partnership. Become someone they trust – it will make your life a lot easier.
3. Work with the willing: in any partnership there will always be people who are excited by the potential for collaboration and those who resist it. Find and work with those who embrace it and use their stories to help win over the sceptics.
4. Be a diplomat: any partnership has politics, and lots of it. Find a way to navigate this and find solutions that work for your multiple stakeholders.
5. Be a conductor: it’s not all about facilitating people playing nicely though. A partnership needs its own energy, so take the lead on coordinating joined up pieces of proactive work.
6. Focus on the added value: tell a story about how the partnership is greater than the sum of its parts. Don’t just describe the mechanics of the partnership, shout about its impact.
7. Find your niche: what makes your partnership unique or distinctive? Make it something clear and tangible, and then tell people about it again and again.
8. Celebrate your partners as well as your partnership: your brand is stronger if your partners are – promote their individual brilliance, as it only builds your collective reputation.
9. Lend a hand: to the stretched comms teams of your partners dealing with day-to-day operational pressures, your role could be viewed as a bit of a luxury. Be a flexible resource that can be used to add capacity when the going gets particularly tough.
10. Learn learn learn! Make the most of the access you have to a whole range of fantastic people, skills and experience across whatever partnership you work in.
Michael Carden is the outgoing Head of Communications for King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre.
Picture credit: Alberta Archives / Flickr