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Podcast: Embodying Continuous Improvement

About this Podcast Episode:  Embodying Continuous Improvement, with David Sheldon, Head of Continuous Improvement at St John Ambulance

David is one of the UK’s most experienced change agents with a career in improvement spanning over 40 years, and we’re delighted to have secured an interview in his final week of paid work ahead of his well-earned retirement.

In this episode, David shares with us his journey from early, instinctive and intuitive problem solving through to establishing one of the UK’s first public sector dedicated improvement functions in his role as Continuous Improvement Manager at the Environment Agency, and how he went on to use core improvement tools and mindset in times of greatest need at the healthcare provider St John Ambulance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of our observations from our time with David is the real-life hands-on application of the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle of improvement with some fascinating insights into the differing types and requirements of customers, the need for pragmatism, and the importance of stakeholder engagement and indeed, commitment.  It’s fair to say David’s work has been the very embodiment of continuous improvement.

His story is a great one from which we can all learn.  Enjoy!

"Let's focus on that. And I suppose it was the first time that I realised that there's a difference between the people close to the work and close to the customers."

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Interested to keep learning?

To create long-lasting change, people need to be motivated to work together – you can’t do it on your own!

The good news is that we have a natural bias towards co-operation, so it should be easy, right? But if making the change feels difficult, people might not want to cooperate, and this is where building supportive, valuable working relationships becomes imperative.

So how do you build great working relationships? In this On-Demand webinar Warren Knight discusses:

  • Relationships in the context of change
  • Considering your value
  • Initiating the relationship
  • Building and strengthening the relationship


Watch the Webinar On-Demand

Where not to start with Process Improvement​

Having the resources and commitment to kick off a process review and improvement project is a great start.  But as David’s candid account of his experience tells us – the method is mission-critical.

The expert-led ‘Process Management Division’ approach resulted in siloed working with little understanding about the way the work worked, and the ‘horrific process’ of creating documentation only to be filed away added no value.  For David, the Total Quality Management approach is where he found his natural fit.

A ‘backwards’ improvement career

Having primarily learnt on the job and only later formalising his understanding through classroom training, David has inadvertently turned the standard model of learning on its head.  His Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification took what had previously felt intuitive, helped him to see the rationale behind those activities, and developed his knowledge into expertise.

There’s no right or wrong path for a successful improvement career!

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A remarkable achievement

In a matter of months, David successfully led his team at St John Ambulance through a project to design a process for recruiting, training, and deploying 25,000 volunteers to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.

Find out more about the trials and tribulations of this remarkable achievement in David’s full podcast episode.

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