Director of PeopleDotCom and author of Towards a Digital Ecology: NHS Digital Adoption through the COVID-19 Looking Glass
Victoria has had a fascinating career journey. She began her career working for mental health and homelessness charities before qualifying as a social worker. Her first role within the NHS was to coordinate trust policy around service user and carer involvement in mental health, and from there she worked in various corporate strategy, innovation and communications roles within the NHS.
Victoria’s move into digital came when she undertook a PhD on the topic of mental health and online social networks. She initiated a project exploring the orle of digital in mental health services and project developed into an income generating business unit within the Trust.
Victoria set up her company, PeopleDotCom, in November 2020 and works with NHS Trusts helping them to consider strategy relating to human factors in the adoption of technology.
“The thing that I've always been interested in, which harks back to my social work route, is social factors, human factors and the people side of technology. I’ve always been pretty agnostic about technology itself, but very interested in why it's so hard to introduce and get technology adopted.”
Finding the Right Path
Many people begin their careers aiming towards a goal or a dream job role. For Victoria, though, her focus has always been on work that is purposeful and fulfilling, led by curiosity and her love of solving problems.
“I haven't always made good decisions, and sometimes I've learned about the things that I've done that haven't worked for me, so it's not been a linear process. To me, it's been shaped by what I've got wrong as much as what I've got right.”
Looking at another’s career, it is easy to believe that it has been plain sailing, however it is the bumps in the road which give the experience and understanding needed to take that next step. Victoria discovered one of these bumps when, in the early days of her NHS project, she built five technologies which never actually came to fruition. It was this episode, though, that taught her the importance of adoption which would drive the direction of the rest of her career to date.
“We put all our effort into building something and we did design things with people, but we didn’t realise that at least another 50% of it is implementing and adopting. We just thought we handed it over and that, on reflection, was very, very naive. I learned a lot about what to do wrong.”
Leading Tech Teams in the NHS
Managing tech teams, the question always arises about whether you need to be a tech expert. For Victoria, she has cultivated deep knowledge of the NHS as well as industry.
“What’s Important is knowing the system and how it works, knowing industry and technology enough and then knowing enough about those sort of methods and practices, but then I'm quite generalist. What I also make sure I do is bring in people who are deep experts in those things.”
The leadership skills required within the NHS can be different to those in other sectors. In such large organisations, the key skill is being receptive to change.
“You've got to be pretty adaptive because you're often working across very different environments and contexts and cultures, so you've got how industry or startups tend to work.”
Being a female leader within the male-dominated tech industry has its own challenges. Coming to leadership later in her career, Victoria brought with her maturity and confidence which have enabled her to call out inequalities where she sees them.
“I've been the only female speaker on an all-male panel or a room full of men. And I've definitely had that experience where I've said something and no one responded, and then five minutes later a man said it and everyone's going. ‘Ohh yeah, that's a great idea’ which sort of blew my mind. But I was confident to call it out. I didn't let it go.”
Everyone has things they fear within their career, and public speaking is a very common one. It is a fear that Victoria used to have before she worked on it, turning it into a strength.
“I made a decision to force myself to do it whenever I was asked. I would always say yes, even though it filled me with total dread. It's like a habit you flex, you flex the muscle, don't you? The more I did it, the more it just became a habit. I got used to it and felt confident with it. There's something about recognising a challenge and making yourself do it, and taking small steps to overcome it.”
Key to overcoming fears is asking for help. Tying into mentorship, having a network of professionals to share ideas, challenges and concerns with is extremely valuable. This is something that Victoria values highly.
“I learned the power of asking for help because I always had an idea that it was weak to ask, it was a sign of weakness or vulnerability to ask for help. But what I realised was that people, for the most part, really like it when you ask them for help professionally, because people like to pay forward and they like to be seen for their knowledge and expertise. I've got really good at asking people for help and paying it forward.”
Victoria’s advice for those at the beginning of their careers is to try to embrace confidence within yourself.
“My advice to my younger self would have been care less about what other people think about you. I think particularly for girls and women who are taught to be so conscious of how we look, how we present ourselves, what other people think.”
Victoria’s book on digital adoption in the NHS through the lens of Covid-19 can be found at https://www.routledge.com/Towards-a-Digital-Health-Ecology-at-the-NHS-Healthcare-Technology-Adoption/Betton/p/book/9781032109749#