Clare Chapman profile: Healthy ambition

Q Prior to your job with the NHS, you held several HR roles with the American food giant Quaker Oats and later with PepsiCo when the two companies merged. But it was ultimately your work as Tesco group personnel director, including successes with apprenticeships and flexible working policies, that were recognised throughout the profession, and which clinched your current role. How do the two jobs compare?

A On the one hand, both jobs were and are very people-intensive, and people depend on HR. There are lots of moving parts, and they’re intensely focused on service. All of those things bring with them HR skills and knowledge and experience and savvy, which is very transferable. Then there are differences, particularly to do with the complexity involved in the NHS. This is a sector, not an organisation, and obviously that brings with it significant differences.

Q Your move from the private sector to the public sector was heralded as a coup as the sector struggles to entice high-profile names. Is there a significant difference between the two sectors?

A Some say the private sector has to make money, and the public sector doesn’t – but both have to be financially viable, and I think a very significant achievement in the past year has been that [the NHS has] moved from deficit to surplus, and as a result of that, it gives the service oxygen to really be able to improve staff experience and the quality of care. If you haven’t got financial viability, then it makes it much more difficult to do the things you want to do and make the changes you want to make.

Q Your recent staff survey found at least 70% of NHS staff are ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’, one of the more positive grades for organisations publishing results. Many employees said they were made to feel as though their opinions counted and that the organisation listened to what they had to say. How important is it for HR to keep in touch with the front line?

A Over the past 12 months, I’ve seen that life has improved for front-line staff. That’s meant that you really need to know how to listen, because you need to understand things before you can change them. An organisation like Tesco is one big company where you’re trying to get clarity of purpose, build skills, generate commitment and engagement. Doing it in one company is very different to doing it across a sector with multiple employers in it.

So from my work at Tesco, I’ve taken that belief that you learn what’s needed from the front line. At Tesco, they have one of the strongest recognised partnerships with the union in Great Britain, so I think that my tradition is to build deep relationships with unions and employees to make sure the authentic voice of staff is truly influencing the way policy is created.

Q In June 2007, you gave a speech reviewing your first six months on the job, and said staff satisfaction was one of the three essential ingredients for public value, along with customer satisfaction and cash flow. Is this still relevant?

A In terms of the health of any enterprise, it’s important to look at staff satisfaction. The best organisations have known for a long time the importance of staff satisfaction to their success. I think there are a lot of organisations in Britain that talk about it, but don’t necessarily put meat behind it.

Q In the speech, you also said that employees can tell when line managers and policy makers aren’t genuine, and this can affect engagement. How do you propose HR professionals get the most out of employees?

A You practice what you preach. You don’t decide you’re going to engage the workforce, then write a report and hope that’s enough. Staff want to feel confident that the things that matter to them also matter to the Trust. You need to get back to staff on their concerns and translate that into everyday action.

Q Lord Darzi’s report, High Quality Care For All, called for the requirement of every organisation in the NHS to publish statistics about how much they spend on staff training each year. What does this involve?

A The funding we do of education is immensely important. There are always technological breakthroughs going on in health that push the envelope just that little bit further. Meanwhile, we’ve got a lot of professional groups as well as staff groups, all of whom need to make sure they’ve got the most up-to-date skills. So now we’re going to ask NHS employers to publish the percentage of payroll that they spend on something that we call continuous professional development, so that what staff are able to do when they’re making a decision on where to work is know in advance if their practice matches their rhetoric, and if they’re really investing in workforce development.

Q NHS unions have accused the NHS of redirecting money earmarked for education to cover deficits elsewhere. How will this new era of transparency change the way employees choose where to work?

A At the moment, that data is not available, so if you want people to make informed decisions about where they want to work, often they can see physical signs of it, to the extent of which people are taking time to go and train, but it’s difficult to prove it. In a similar way that we’re providing data to patients so they have choices to get the best care, we’re providing more data for staff so they can make decisions on the best place to work.

It will probably take a couple of years to settle in, as the first year’s about sorting out what’s the right measurement, but I think eventually the data will be looked at by everyone. In reality, this is a learning sector, and that’s evidenced by the fact that in the recent staff survey, 94% of NHS employees said they receive training, but as always, there’s always more to do.

Q In the late 1970s, you were head girl of Carshalton High School for Girls in Surrey, as well as prefect and games captain. How do you bring your early experiences with leadership to the NHS?

A Through accountability. Our new draft constitution hasn’t just got the rights and privileges for patients, but it also has the responsibilities and privileges for staff. It’s articulated very clearly for the first time, ‘Here are the values of the sector’, and it’s by these guidelines that leaders of Trusts will be held accountable.

Additionally, we looked at staff satisfaction scores, and found the best of the NHS trusts are leading the way by doing almost everything right. But it’s a huge system to try and bring up to date, so there are challenges to try and do that, and achieving them will make a significant difference to the running of the NHS. The What Matters to Staff in the NHS research we did earlier this year has really made things a lot simpler in knowing what to address.

Clare Chapman on…


“If you can form a relationship with trade union partners, thereby getting the authentic voice of staff into the centre of policy-making, it’s a very good thing. Where you’ve got union partners that want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, you can make immense progress. If you feel the union is the authentic voice of your staff, then you should partner with it. If it’s not prepared to work with you, then challenge them, because it’s very important to understand why they’re fighting you. Modern trade unions recognise the importance of genuinely representing the interests of staff in improving the enterprise.”


“Regardless of economic conditions, the value of people is always important. You want to make sure that there is no waste, because if you waste something, whether it’s resources or people, you’re actually taking opportunities away from others. That discipline is well understood within the public sector.

“With the recession, I think public value is in the forefront even more. One of my real first impressions of joining here is that public value is something that’s understood within the public sector, but it’s quite difficult to actually do.”

Generation Y

“We’ve come out of an era where it’s the supplier that has driven what is needed to one where the customer is driving what is needed. I just see that the younger generation is pushing that agenda of ‘I want this to be for me. I don’t want to be processed, I don’t want to be put in categories, I want my job to be right for me’.

“I think that means that if we can make sure we move from national targets to keeping trusts accountable to the feedback they’re getting from their staff, patients and local communities, that’s really important.”

HR profession

“With HR, it’s a question of, to what extent do we understand that what we’re doing is customer-driven, rather than supplier-led? I think there’s often a desire within HR to be extremely efficient, but if extreme efficiency leads us to process people, I think they’ve got the wrong answer.”

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