What does your company do?

Where do you fit in to the development, challenges and successes of the company you work in?

Those are questions that aren’t always easy to sum up. Not in the space of the small talk you are often asked them in.

You may work in the service industry. Where you know your role in front of, say, a coffee machine. But could you – owners aside – say with clarity how all of the products you needed to make the coffee, arrived in their hand? Or even, where that reusable coffee cup will go?

Just over two months ago, I sat around a table with my Difrent colleague, John Fitzpatrick, and two leaders at the NHS Business Services Authority – David Roberts and Anna Caine. We were tasked with trying to bring the work we are doing on the new NHS Jobs service, to life.

We had been discussing the idea of creating a visual impression, of the many processes which go in to developing the jobs service.

Not just from an applicant v/or recruiter perspective. Everything that might have to happen in order to put one person in front of another. In other words: our coffee beans, the milk and the barista knowing what your order was.

John had already undertaken some preliminary investigations as to what NHS Jobs was before he sat down with us. He opened a poster tube, unrolled an image and explained what we saw before us.

Now I can’t remember if I flicked a nervous glance at David and Anna. Or if they looked at each other. What I do remember, is John saying something along the lines of:

“It’s not meant to be correct at this stage. This is just to start the conversation”

Which was an immensely powerful thing to hear. We could now rip it to pieces. Which we did. With post-it notes in hand (torn apart from left to right, not bottom to top), we attacked the image with an unrelenting thirst for accuracy.

That image was wrong. That link was completely wrong. Those people did not do that. John sat there, like a sponge, with an open Google Doc. He wrote down the 40 or so changes we enthusiastically chucked his way. Any fear we might be overstepping the mark in terms of critique, went out of the window along with the fumes of a red hot Sharpie.

David summed the session up perfectly, in that the original image was so wide of the mark – but – if faced with a blank bit of paper to start the process, we may never have got to the point we had done. The wrongness was right in this regard.

We went through three more iterations of the image before we got to the final one you see at the top of this page. The truest reflection we could conjure up, which perfectly sums up what it means to apply or recruit in the NHS. Not just today, but tomorrow and across the months to come. For the image is both a representation of how things are now, but it is also an aspiration as to where NHS Jobs may go in the future.

Which is why we have it up in our space of work. Why when we run workshops or host events, we do so stood in front of the richest of pictures. That tells a story of where the organisation, the team and the service fits in the wider ecosystem of the NHS, the Civil Service and our local communities. Where the jobs really exist. Not just as 1s and 0s on a jobs board.

I really wish we’d had this at the start of our work on the service. For it gives clear direction as to where we are currently heading – where we have been! So much so, that we could produce one of those ‘scratch off’ versions, where the team might remove the foil to show what we have delivered. But then that makes it an almost static thing.

In truth, this image is a living, if not breathing tool. To be updated as aspirations are updated. To change when policy, process or – humans – have other ideas.

I also wish we’d had a similar image when I work at the National Institute for Health Research, and the Department of Health and Social Care. It was only as I moved up through the organisation, that I got to know better the relationships my centre had with the other three centres around us. Though I still had no idea what sat behind or within their own internal rich pictures. Explaining what the NIHR is or does, is still a challenge for some who have spent years working in one of their offices. An image like this could really help.

As an advocate, not just for the final image but also the process, I will forevermore promote the use of a rich picture, within each service I move on to. Not simply as a means to up-sell (skill?), but because I have spent a dozen Christmas dinners, or elevator/lift rides with people who ask me – “what is it your company does?” – and now I can at least open up a smart phone and show them.

They really are the picture that paints a thousand words. Some of them, unfortunately, will always have to be represented by an acronym. But we are working on that!

Chris Written by:

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