Building Organisational Capability for Future Challenges

Building Organisational Capability for Future Challenges

By Paul Clifford

FBG in partnership with Australian National University presented “Building Organisational Capability for Future Challenges – Victorian Public Sector Forum on Tuesday 24th November in Melbourne.  A cross section of Victorian public sector leaders attended and took part in some very interesting conversations examining practical strategies to build people capability to position organisations for the increasing complexities and challenges ahead. 

Building Leadership Capability for Future Challenges

The forum commenced with a presentation from Professor Giles Hirst who posed three important leadership questions to the audience.

  1. Should we focus on training leaders in specific capabilities or facilitate leaders’ exhibition of values-driven behaviour? 
  2. Should we change our annual employee engagement survey to a more agile pulse survey?
  3. Should we build leaders or leadership communities?      

Whilst a lot of attention is paid to ‘up-skilling’ in leadership programs, there is evidence to suggest that focusing instead on values-driven behaviour in leaders may be more successful in achieving desired organisational outcomes.  Allowing values to guide behaviour is likely to be more motivating for leaders and bring out a leader’s inherent strengths.  People who like what they do, do it more often and get better at it, producing superior performance.  As such capabilities naturally emerge when values driven behaviour is unleashed, as opposed to building capabilities that are neither motivating nor one’s strengths.   

There is evidence to suggest that focusing instead on values-driven behaviour in leaders may be more successful in achieving desired organisational outcomes

The more agile pulse survey was posited as a more effective way of identifying what’s going on and what needs to change in an organisation.  Annual surveys are too reliant on one point in time being a reliable indicator of employee thinking across the year.  In answer to the third question, Professor Hirst also demonstrated the potential for improved organisational performance through the innovative use of network mapping.  This strategy provides a much clearer and compelling view of a range of key forces and drivers in an organisation whether it is communication, influence, collaboration or other relevant leadership behaviours.  An example provided was a VPS organisation who utilised their network mapping information to create the impetus for leaders and employees to move out of their existing silos and start collaborating with others across the organisation.   

Creating organisational wellbeing for future challenges

Susan Crawford talked about the enormous opportunity ahead that exists for organisations to build their wellbeing capability. The main thesis of her presentation was that true organisational wellbeing involves a partnership between employees and the organisation and that an organisation must develop a strategic rather than ad hoc approach to implementing wellbeing initiatives.

Susan's first slide 'if it is to be is it up to me?' asked participants to consider how likely we are to make an impact on wellbeing if we leave wellbeing up to the individual employee, simply asking them to be more resilient. The answer, not very far when we think about the research that shows that the quality of manager and peer relationships, work culture and role clarity are the primary factors that determine employee wellbeing. Unless these leadership, cultural and structural issues are managed by the organisation, employee wellbeing is going to be hindered no matter how resilient they are.

The strategic v ad hoc approach was a subject of much discussion with the iconic fruit bowl in danger of becoming the star attraction of the morning. This discussion centred around the relative effectiveness, in terms of improving wellbeing, of rolling out a package of measures including yoga, pilates, gym memberships and fruit bowls versus implementing leadership, cultural and structural change driven by wellbeing data. The latter is far more effective and yet many organisations settle for the former. We stress that there is nothing wrong with implementing the former but if it becomes the basis of your psychological wellbeing strategy then it is going to fall well short of making the kind of impact the latter will do.

What Susan's presentation also highlighted was the danger in developing your wellbeing strategy separate from your leadership development strategy. So often HR and OD departments are structured to develop these strategies in isolation. This is the silo effect Professor Hirst talked about in his presentation. Silos can limit our thinking and lead us to repeating past mistakes. If our wellbeing and leadership strategies were developed with each other in mind through a collaborative approach, we are likely to find leadership programs that focus leaders on behaviours that produce engaged and mentally healthy employees, together creating the sustained high performance that are the hallmarks of great organisations.       

Transforming capability for future challenges  

Our third speaker was FBG Director Simon Brown-Greaves who reminded us about the prophetic Jetsons who back in 1964 predicted many of the technological innovations we take for granted today. So Simon's question to the group was ‘What can be expect the future of organisational behaviour to look like?’ His headline prediction?  The demise of change management in five years.  Simon’s view, shared by his FBG colleagues, is that our focus on empathising with the ‘grief’ of change is akin to telling the blood donor “this is going to hurt”.  In fact it doesn’t have to hurt and in many cases doesn’t, particularly when the nurse distracts you by getting you talking about something you are interested in.    If we focus employees on the opportunities for them to get involved in re-designing work to improve organisational performance, we are far more likely to engage employees in the change process.  Why manufacture a problem that doesn’t exist for many.  A provocative idea that many may disagree with but one that we have seen work with our clients.   

Empathising with the ‘grief’ of change is akin to telling the blood donor “this is going to hurt”       

Finally, our panellists, Alicia Goddard from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Sally Graham from the Department of the Environment Land Water Planning talked about their challenges and strategies for creating workforce change.   Sally highlighted the high ratio of males in certain roles in the Department and how the issue of diversity must be tackled in the public sector to improve organisational decision making.  Alicia talked about the changes ahead for Peter MacCallum as it goes from a somewhat isolated organisation in the health sector to a central part of a new hub of health providers in Parkville.  This will provide staff with an opportunity to build and enhance capabilities such as collaboration with other health agencies. 

Feedback received from participants about the session was very positive and a number of them have nominated other topics for future FBG events.  So stay tuned for what’s coming up in 2016!       



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