Career Story – Debbie Wheddon

I fell into recruitment by accident learning early on that developing relationships and getting to know your customers was crucial. Managing volume recruitment campaigns, led me to think differently about attraction, selection and recruitment.  It was important to look at the skills alongside attitudes, values and motivations of applicants which became my mantra. I introduced ‘rolling recruitment to ensure we continually attracted people throughout the year.

I wanted a change from recruitment and was advised that I could either go deeper (into recruitment/leadership) or broader (into a different field). With a passion for business partnering I chose breadth. With an HR Director as a mentor I was supported to move into HR.

To succeed as an HRBP you need to be inquisitive and persistent. I learnt about the areas I supported and developed relationships that provided a safe space for honest but constructive conversations. I even climbed a telegraph pole alongside engineers to understand the challenges they faced daily helping me shape people plans that drove changes bottom-up bringing sustainable change.

I never chose the industry I worked in but there was always something about the NHS that appealed. When the Senior HRBP role was advertised at King’s College Hospital I took the gamble and applied. I knew if I didn’t take the chance to call the recruiting manager, and then apply I might always regret it. The rest was history as I started my NHS career.

Knowing little about the sector I went native in my first few weeks joining bed and performance meetings, alongside anything else, just to meet as many people as possible, understand the language and get a feel for the challenges faced. Throughout my first year I encountered “you don’t understand the NHS” and “that’s not the way we do it here” when asking questions. I was met with resistance to ideas as they were different to what had been done before. With amazing support from my senior operational leads we persevered and changed the mindset to make dramatic improvements to the people scorecard.

When the opportunity came to take on my first official Deputy Director role I jumped at the chance and moved to Oxleas, a Mental Health and Community Trust, responsible for c50 HR and OD professionals. Investing in the structures, processes, policies, capacity and capability of the HR and OD team has been crucial to ensure we are seen as trusted partners and deliver an effective people service. When Covid hit everyone responded in different ways. Moving to a virtually delivered service from home was hard. We all adjusted whilst juggling numerous changes to practices for our clinical teams, staff testing, vaccination programmes and sector wide redeployment all of which impacted the work we did and bought new ways of working for Oxleas.

Integration of services and collaboration is the future for the NHS. I was impressed by the inspirational work and ambitions that SWL ICS have so when the opportunity to join Croydon Health Services came up as their Deputy Director I applied and start in April 2021.

Reflecting over the last 12 months has shown that the volume of work and value HR and OD professionals provide is overlooked, especially with frontline clinical staff getting more publicity for the part they have played throughout this pandemic. We are the unsung heroes so need to celebrate our own successes more as we achieve some amazing things every day. The pandemic has given us the push to make the changes we’ve wanted to for years. Having the confidence in our own ability and drive to challenge and make things better is what will really help everyone to grow personally and professionally. For me though there are some other key tips and advice:

Get involved and join in – knowledge sharing with colleagues is just as important as keeping up to date with news and the latest thinking across the industry

Being introduced to the HPMA whilst at King’s was invaluable to me. Being part of the HR and OD and Deputy Directors networking groups allowed me to sanity check that the challenges I faced were not specific to my Trust but NHS wide. This helped me believe that the direction of travel I was taking was the right one whilst learning and sharing from others.

 Don’t underestimate the value working collaboratively across the system brings.

Build your local networks and think outside of your Trust’s boundaries. A sounding board both professionally and personally gives you a coach, mentor and counselor all rolled into one. If it’s not your natural style push yourself outside of your comfort zone to meet people who can be your “call a friend” in the future. You will definitely thank me for it in the future.

 If you don’t try you may never know

Taking that first leap of faith can be daunting but if you don’t try you will never know if you are ready for it. Don’t be afraid of getting knocked back but use the opportunity to learn where gaps are to grow for the future. Feedback can be difficult to hear but having honest conversations with key people who will challenge your thinking helps you expand and be a better person. These are the people who often know you better than you know yourself and will give you that helpful nudge and confidence to try something different when you need it.

 Challenge the norm but do listen to resistance, and advice

Don’t just accept that the way we do things around here is the right way. Challenge by asking why a lot! But listen to concerns and background information people can give you as there may be good reasons why things haven’t worked before. Winning the hearts and minds of people to take them on the journey with you is crucial to embed sustainable improvements, but it isn’t easy. Don’t give up and persevere!

 Find someone you get on well with who can be a mentor

Mentors can really shape your career but choosing the right one will determine their success. Having someone you work well with who you feel confident to talk to personally is crucial. A mentor can be anyone, professionally or personally, but it needs to be someone you can be honest with in confidence, who will give advice and help to steer you in the right direction when you are at those cross roads of life. You may not think you need one but I promise you the right one will make a difference and give you confidence in your next move down whichever pathway you choose.

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