We interviewed Angela Hibbard, Director of Finance and Performance at Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust on her career experiences and her time on the National Talent Pool:
I was appointed Director of Finance at Northern Devon Healthcare Trust in March 2018 and was still part of the talent pool programme at that time. After a year I still very much consider myself to be a new Director and am continuously learning and developing into the role.
The best part about my current role is engaging with the wider organisation to gain a better understanding of the business. I started an ‘invite me’ campaign asking any team who wanted to show me their services to invite me to their place of work to spend time with them. I thought this would be a different spin rather than setting up meetings to areas I had an interest in visiting. I was inundated by invites from day one and the time I had allocated was quickly filled and I had to double the monthly time commitment I had set aside. I write a blog on our intranet following my visit to share thoughts on what I have learned (non-financial I must add!) and as a result after a year I still a regular flow of invites coming through.
I have observed theatre sessions, joined outpatient clinics, worked though coding from medical records, spent time with our volunteers on our library trolley service to the wards and joined in with training provided to our local care homes to name but a few. I hear some very moving stories along the way and I also see some of our smaller community services that I may not have otherwise known existed.
All the photos of the people I meet are on the wall in my office and it is a great conversation starter. It is also the best way to remember why I am here.
I actually started my career in the private sector. Following university I took the well-rehearsed path as joining one of the big accounting firms as a graduate but I did not really feel I was making a difference. I tried my hand in a couple of different industries before I had the opportunity to apply for the NHS – which is where I finally found my place.
Those how have worked with me in the NHS over the years would probably say I have always been ambitious but I wouldn’t necessarily say I set my goal on becoming an NHS Finance Leader from word go. I think I have always strived to do as well as I can in each role but have had my eye set on the next level up. As I have grown with confidence in my career I have hoped I could go further.
The highlight for me in my career is definitely gaining my first Director role. These are not easy jobs to get and the quality of experienced candidates is so great that the sense of personal achievement is huge.
The lowlight for me would be during the time of the NHS reorganisation in 2012. The changes impacted on so many people so I was not alone in this but I worked for Specialised Commissioning at the time and the process to resolve our place in the new NHS took a long time. I was acting into a senior leadership role at the time but very much felt like I had my hands tied behind my back whilst trying to manage a number of staff (not just finance) through a very uncertain time.
The main benefit was definitely meeting likeminded individuals who were all at the same point in our careers. This was a significant confidence boost to me and helped me to recognise my readiness to take the leap of faith to Director. The continued support through the Action Learning Sets was also hugely beneficial as I was networking wider than my natural Devon and Cornwall footprint and this helped me to get a different perspective on issues from very different experiences.
Also the whole application process itself really challenged my thinking from Deputy to Director in order to sell myself to the panel. It started to prepare me to be ‘interview ready’ for when a Director opportunity presented itself.
Alongside the talent programme of course I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to undertake a course with The King’s Fund a few years ago which focused on personal impact and influence. I was the only person from a finance background in my cohort and having the opportunity to develop with people from different backgrounds enabled me to really think about how I am preserved by others outside of my field.
In addition, I have found coaching to be invaluable. There are some sessions available as part of the Talent Management programme but I have continued with additional coaching to support my transition from Deputy to Director. I would highly recommend this to everyone. Director jobs in the current NHS are tough and you need to find a way to manage your own personal resilience. Coaching really helps with this.
I am really lucky to have had supportive managers throughout my career and therefore I don’t feel that there is an area of development I wish that I had had.
It is still too early to say. I am focused now on becoming the best Director of Finance I can be. I also have the performance team in my portfolio so have had a learning curve to climb to understand the complexities of reporting against constitutional targets. From August I take over the Executive responsibility for Facilities so this will be another area of personal development.
I have 20 years left of my NHS career so who knows where it will end up.
I am actually very happy with the path that I have taken. I have crossed over sectors so have experience in the provider, commissioner and regulator landscape as well as working at STP level. This has really helped me to understand the conflicting priorities in the NHS and how to best negotiate through the difficulty that this presents. The only area I have missed is Mental Health services, although through my network contacts I have been lucky enough to spend time with our local Mental Health provider to better understand the challenges they face.
If anything I would have benefited from spending time at Deputy level within a provider before becoming an acute and community trust Director. I don’t think this will have changed the outcome but may have made the transition from a commissioning /STP deputy to Director in the provider sector a little easier!
Use your networks. Take time to understand how different parts of the NHS landscape work. This will really benefit you to have a more rounded understanding and gain an appreciation for the bigger picture outside your own organisational boundaries. If you do not have experience in a particular sector see if you can shadow someone to gain a better understanding or better still perhaps look for secondment opportunities. In the world of STPs the barriers are coming down between organisations so even getting involved in STP programmes of work will give you the experience to understand the wider picture.
I would also say challenge your own thinking. If you were to respond to a question in a certain way as a deputy or senior manager think how would I respond if I was a Director.
Definitely do your homework on the organisation, not just researching the corporate documents available on the performance and financial position but spend time in the organisation. When you undertake informal visits don’t just ask to meet with the Executive directors you will be working with but also the non-Executives and managers as well. Ask for an informal tour as you will get a sense for the feel of the organisation. The fit between your values and beliefs to the organisation is as important for you as it is to them.
Find out more about the National Talent Pool and how to apply here