It is finally that time where Finance 2014 are on their flexis. It feels like an age since our GM/HI/HR colleagues went on theirs. I’ll be honest and say I was never that eager about going on flexi (seemingly in contrast to 95% of other trainees), largely because I wasn’t too sure where to go. Fellow accountants had encouraged me to speak to the likes of the County Council and other NHS bodies. I had considered the TDA or Monitor (now NHS Improvement) but nothing was really grabbing me.
A few months ago in a meeting, an ex (GM) trainee asked me what I was planning to do and wasn’t too wowed by what I had on the table. He encouraged me to really go out and look for something I will never get in the NHS. With this in mind, I decided to abandon the public sector entirely. The Big Four run flexi placements but I would still be working on an NHS project, so it didn’t feel far enough away from the public sector. This led me to strike up a conversation with an organisation that I feel is not wildly dissimilar to the NHS. They are the second largest retailer in the world, employ over 550,000 people worldwide and get their fair share of (negative!) media attention, just like we do. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I have been based at Tesco HQ in Welwyn Garden City.
This is where I’ll hold my hands up and admit I am not based in a Finance dept for flexi. In the organisations I have worked in so far, it feels as though Finance get put into a box and you are identified by what you do, almost like you are the function. I don’t feel like the people I have worked with generally have positive connotations with the idea of Finance, either. I therefore wanted to see something completely different.
I have been placed with the Bakery team, comprising of people who have worked for Tesco most of their career, people who were quite new to Tesco, some who have been on their grad scheme, the school leavers programme etc, so a real mix. If I had to sum up my experience in one word, I would say that I feel inspired. Inspired in a way that I have not felt in the last two years. The NHS is wonderful, but what inspires me is usually the kindness shown and being united by what we stand for in the NHS Constitution. At Tesco, I am inspired by everything that they do.
I feel valued at Tesco. I have had more 1:2:1s at Tesco than I have had in two years with the NHS. This isn’t for want of trying, either, there are times I have been told people don’t have time, or I’ve been shot a funny look for even asking. People have good intentions and will help when they can, but it ends up being very far down the list of priorities, or is not even on their list at all. Realistically, I approach my managers when something is wrong, I don’t feel like I can justify using up their time otherwise. I have always thought that the NHS seems to struggle in attracting and retaining talent, and now I feel like I understand why. Tesco are so invested in their people. You really matter. They want you to succeed, and they will do everything they can to help you succeed. People are genuinely a priority. Patients will always be our top priority in the NHS, but long term, surely we need to work harder at valuing one another. How are we going to stay afloat in the current climate if this doesn’t change?
Tesco have undergone a vast amount of change in the last 2 years. They had a big accounting scandal, got a new CEO and made a lot of redundancies. I have had several conversations about this with my team. They are very transparent about the ‘Old Tesco’ and all agree that the ‘New Tesco’ is vastly improved. I cannot even comprehend how they have gotten to this point. Everyone seems positive, productive, and to enjoy what they do. Tesco are a live business. No, they don’t treat patients, but they do serve customers across the world 24 hours a day, they are working constantly just like we are. To have gone through such a monumental change across the entire company, and come out the other side, I find astounding. It begs the question as to why the NHS cannot do the same. The NHS could be so vastly different if we could do even half of what Tesco have, something that I think is achievable.
Another factor I find really interesting is the hierarchy. I cannot believe how flat it is. Had I been asked to pick out who were the managers in the Bakery team after my first week, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. The NHS feels very rigid in terms of hierarchy. There are times where I have felt unwelcome in a conversation, or unable to speak to someone purely because of my pay band. How ridiculous..! Despite this, at Tesco, the culture seems to be driven top-down. Top-down anything often has negative views attracted, but this certainly seems to work for Tesco, alongside their flattened structure. The Finance function is very interlinked, too. Finance people at Tesco are much more like business partners and appear to have a much better relationship than what I have seen in the NHS, I feel like we fall into the Silo Mentality and end up being the bad guys. I have seen more cohesive team-working across different working areas here in a couple of months than I have in my two years on the scheme.
I also don’t feel like I’ve seen enough leadership in my time with the NHS. I feel like there is a lot of ‘managing’ and even firefighting, but not a great deal of leading, which flexi has really highlighted. People often talk about how anyone can be a leader, whether you have a team that report into you or not. Before coming to Tesco, I was doubtful about how accurate that was, but I am beginning to see some truth in it now.
In terms of what I am going to bring back to the NHS, I feel like my own values and beliefs have been re-instilled. I feel like a spark has been reignited. I work for the NHS because I want to make a difference and I need to stop myself from becoming a product of the NHS. I need to be the person that I would want to work for, and stay standing firm for what I think is right, whilst continuing to smash down the sides of the Finance box which are currently far too rigid!
I am really grateful that Tesco let me undertake my flexi placement with them. I think flexi came just at the right time for me, and I have no doubt that this experience will shape what I go on to do in the future, and how I do it, both now, and longer term. Thank you Tesco!