Whilst Boards and senior managers are busy building (or in most cases re-arranging) systems and processes to maintain a successful and sustainable organisation, front-liners are the face, heart and head of the organisation. Front-liners are the people that work directly with customers (clients, patients, consumers) and they are the ones that customers know, trust, and can rely on.
I was reminded of this recently when a son of an ageing woman said to me “…you don’t know how much you have made a difference to us…” As usual I dismissed it with a thank you, glad we could help kind of attitude. He said “…you don’t believe that do you…you think I’m just saying it…?”
The truth of the matter was I thought he was just being polite. He then explained why he meant it. He and his wife had a lot of health care people come into his home over the past few months. His 84 year old mother had put herself to bed six weeks earlier and was not engaging with her family and eating very rarely. It was quite confronting seeing a woman lying in her own urine and faeces, not responding, but still being there. She had a history of depression since migrating from India several decades ago. Her depression was so severe, the family had to make some decisions. Working alongside a newly appointed care co-ordinator we saw the family twice and had one telephone conversation. That’s all. Three interactions. But we took the time to listen. We gave information when we were asked for it. We didn’t give our opinions. We were empathetic and the son said, quite simply, you just gave me the confidence to make the decision that I knew we had to make.
We throw our front-liners in to many situations. Sometimes they are unknown and in many cases high risk. What we do badly as a sector, is not invest time to resource, replenish or recognise these practitioners before sending them out in the field again. What we don’t recognise is the role experienced and skilled practitioners have in supporting other front-liners and informing customer choice. What we don’t always do is understand the changing context we are working in and valuing the relationship between practitioner and customer.