GDS Retrospective #4: transformation and mental health

Richard Pope,

Transformation projects can be hugely rewarding, but something that needs talking about more is this: they can take a toll on the people doing them.

With transformation projects, you generally can't talk publicly about the work you are doing. If it fails, it's like you never did it. And if it works, it (rightly and justifiably) has to be other people's success.

You can find people who feel threatened by a transformation project, if not quite shouting at you, or subtly trying to undermine your work, then at least being non-cooperative.

The balance between teaching, showing and getting things done is a hard one.

You have little direct control and have to accept you will never get to finish anything, success looks like getting something started, and if it does get started, then that it may head off in a totally different direction.

Being not quite 'of' the organisation you are trying to transform is also hard. And when you go back to your 'home' organisation, things have often moved on and it's not clear where you fit in anymore, and there's no career path.

I'm not ashamed to say that a combination of some of these things, and some emotionally demanding projects, made me quite ill for a while.

Something that has only occurred to me with a bit of distance is this: I think any significant transformation programme should consider putting mental health support in place.

It should also be a risk that people talk about more openly in digital. This stuff can be hugely rewarding, that's why lots of us do it, but it's also hard and we need to look after each other.