I came across an opinion piece in the Health Service Journal recently. Well written, to the point and with a clear call to action. It’s been bothering me ever since.
The piece, written by speechwriter Simon Lancaster, described the damaging affects of the car metaphors we use in the NHS. He pointed out words like drive, toolkit, dashboard, accelerate and phrases such as ‘step up a gear’ and ‘patients in the driving seat’.
Simon’s argument was that the language is demotivating, emotionally detached and jars with the very idea of change. The killer point is that this has a direct impact on our behaviours and culture.
I might not use all of these words and phrases but I definitely have drive and dashboard in my lexicon. Or should I say, did. If my job is help make the NHS less about corporate speak, less management jargon and more about being connected to people – to patients, families and staff – then I have let them down.
I consider myself pretty self aware, tuned in to plain language and customer insight and yet I have been blind to these metaphors. Sure, I can pick up an acronym at 40 paces, spot the latest management buzz word or question the meaning of a gobbledygook sentence. But the subtle power of the clunky, mechanical and detached car metaphors? They were under my radar.
I am indebted to Simon. He opened my eyes to something right in front of me, allowing me to see the blindingly obvious. As we approach the publication of the Francis report, such fresh perspectives on our behaviours will be crucial.
This blog was originally written for the NHS Top Leaders programme website.