Meet Dr. Francesca Leithold, COO of Epro

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Dr Francesca Leithold, COO of Epro, shares some thoughts on effective delegation for the best results

Dr. Francesca Leithold is the Head of Professional Services at Epro, a medical software company that delivers cutting-edge software for hospital trusts, designed to meet the needs of its users and “simplify administration work within hospitals.”

At Epro, Francesca Leithold brings “strong organizational skills, a passion for learning and a track record of delivering quality” in delivering “customer-focused solutions throughout large scale software projects across the NHS.” She has also earned a doctorate in organizational theory and distributed teams, which is critical for her work to deliver “operational excellence to [our] clients and support team alike.” Her work requires her to collaborate closely with all company departments to “ensure effective customer solutions are delivered on time to the highest standard.” From time to time, she even dabbles into the code.

In 2014, Francesca Leithold joined Epro, and has continually shown the brilliance required to climb up the ranks. She credits the company’s ethics and its “small team dynamic” for convincing her to stay around.

Prior to becoming COO of Epro, Francesca Leithold worked as the company’s project manager and product specialist, where she managed the company’s large scale software projects at NHS trusts. Then she became the Head of Professional Services, where she led “client implementation service delivery,” among others, until she was appointed Chief Operating Officer in August 2020.

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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Francesca Leithold: I don’t think most people plan their careers, and I certainly fall into the ‘kept doing what I enjoyed and ended up here’ camp!

My masters degree is in Information Management, and my interest in usability, software ergonomics, and the performance of distributed teams led me to complete a PhD at Munich School of Management. But I wasn’t a career academic, and after receiving my doctorate, I took some time out to travel the world and consider what I wanted the next stage of my life to look like.

By complete chance, while travelling I met some Brits who invited me to Epro, where I met the founder, and the rest, as they say, is history! The company’s purpose, to use digital transformation to support clinicians and protect patients, really aligned with me. The small but growing size of the company also appealed, and over the last six years, I have worked my way up from usability expert to COO.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Francesca Leithold: While my upbringing wasn’t exactly working class (Mum worked as a secretary at the airport, Dad was an engineer at a sand and gravel plant), there wasn’t a tremendous amount of money when I grew up, and so the idea that you have to work continuously and sometimes hard for what you want in life settled in quite early with me. Giving up has — for this reason — never really been on the menu, although the path hasn’t always been clearly laid out.

Me ending up in the UK and working for Epro was the accidental result of a series of choices and coincidences at the time (take a gap between PhD and career, travelling internationally, bumping into British people on the journey, coming to the UK, finding Epro, getting a job, deciding to stay) which in their entirety still boggle my mind. It never fails to amaze me how much of our life is driven by coincidence!

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Francesca Leithold: Visiting a client on site in a hospital can lead to very long days, and that level of tiredness alone can lead to some very funny situations!

I think looking back, my favourite one was when Epro’s founder and I were driving back after a long day. Instead of attempting to drive all the way in one go, Adam and I decided to stop at a motorway service station to eat, use the facilities, and then get back on the road.

It was one of those huge motorway services that has shops and restaurants on both sides of the road, connected by a large bridge. We ate, I visited the bathroom, and agreed with Adam that we’d meet in the carpark.

As I walked back, I thought back on our meetings at the hospital. It had gone well, but there were plenty of actions for us, and I considered them as I waited for Adam in the car park.

He never arrived.

I gave him twenty minutes, and then thought I had perhaps misunderstood and Adam was waiting by the car. I decided to go over to it, to see if he was there.

The car wasn’t there.

I have never had a moment like it, when you are honestly questioning whether you have walked into a parallel universe. It simply didn’t make sense: here I was, in the same car park, with the same signs, at the place we had agreed.

Opening up my phone, I called him, and to my relief, he picked up — sharing that he was waiting for me by the entrance. I looked up. I was by the entrance, and he most certainly wasn’t there.

Only after heading back inside and a slight panic did I remember the footbridge. It turned out that we were both standing outside different entrances before identical restaurants. I have never known relief like that moment!

It was only because I had continued to replay that meeting over and over again that I hadn’t noticed. Next time, I’ve made sure to only focus on one thing at a time!

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.

Francesca Leithold: Thinking about it, delegating effectively actually has a lot in common with project management where the same principles apply, and you need to end up at a result all parties are satisfied with. So some readers may find my point reminding them strongly of a Prince II project 🙂
(I apologise — it comes with the profession!)

  • Define your task

Think about what you want people to do. More importantly, think about whether there is anything you definitely don’t want them to do. You want a new window? Make sure to tell whether you want double or triple glazing. If you can’t stand sash windows, but a tilt turn model is fine, make that part of your brief. You need to know what the task at hand is, before you give it to someone else, otherwise you run into danger of both of you trying to hit a moving target

  • Hand it over and have reflected back to you what you both think the deliverable is

Once you have your brief in place (preferably in writing — nothing worse than both of you coming back to a task finding you remember different requirements), arrange a meeting or a handover with whoever it is you want to do the task. Explain what you want them to do, and, more importantly, have them reflect it back to you to ensure there is joint agreement.

Misunderstandings are immensely common in human interaction and within the business context, there can be a direct impact of miscommunication on business performance. To stay with the example, if you get single instead of triple glazing because of a missing specification, this will directly affect your energy bills. If you get round copper handles rather than the brushed steel ones you secretly desired, you’ll still have a functioning window but will still be unhappy with the outcome.

  • Define success or acceptance criteria

Make sure people know what good looks like when you give them a task. What are the must have / should have / must not have criteria? Are there any “nice to have” features? What would exceed expectations? Is it essential that your window is completed before November in time for winter to arrive, or are you not fussed and right after Christmas might actually be a better time, because all has quietened down after the departure of the guests? Document your criteria — formally proportional to the task at hand — and share them.

  • Accept other people’s way of working and don’t micromanage

If you entrust people with a task, there needs to be agreement (first and foremost with yourself) that you are confident in their skills to deliver the task you are delegating to them. If you do not have that confidence, don’t delegate. It’s as simple as that. On the receiving end, there is nothing worse than having a task handed over to you, then someone else checking in every five minutes to confirm you’re doing it correctly and presenting alternative ways to implement it. As part of your handover, it should be agreed how and when progress will be reviewed. Any corrective action, if necessary, can be taken then.

  • Have a handover back to the agreed timescales

When the task is done, arrange a meeting to hand it back over. Review progress, document success, and acknowledge (as formally or informally as needs be) the completion of the task — some praise might be called for, as well. Always ensure to deliver positive feedback where you can; people who think they have done a task well in the past will make an effort to do it well in the future!

In a business context, this will lead to people feeling reassured about their task delivery, and on a management level ensure all parties are on the same page. A formal record to reflect the task completion will enable any further actions or downstream activities to progress. The window installations are completed and signed off? Time for the decorators to be called in!

Jerome Knyszewski: One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?

Francesca Leithold: I would argue that one would have to consider what constitutes ‘right’.

If you’re set on the idea that the right way is the way you’d do it, and you’re the only person able to do that would be yourself, then yes, that would be a ‘my way is the highway’ approach and the saying would be true. While you can be sure it will be done to your satisfaction, the downside of that approach is that it does not scale. Over time, more and more tasks will come your way, and trying to do them all alone will lead to an unmanageable workload, tasks not being completed, and errors being made in the end anyway.

The better — in my opinion, the right — approach would be to start distributing the work, and then allow room and space for people to shine. You may learn something new from the way they work, and you will have less work in turn. Everyone’s a winner!

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Francesca Leithold: You can connect with me on LinkedIn, and follow Epro on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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