Pioneering Organisational Adaptation: Enhanced Lifestyles

The last of the DSC Sector Awards is the 2017 Adapt Award for pioneering organisational adaption.

More than just a Nicholas Cage film, adaptation is the story of human survival. The environment around us has been transforming slowly over thousands of years. Human beings have avoided extinction because with each generation we too have changed. We adapted, so we survived.  

Disability providers across Australia are watching the environment around them change rapidly. It is the planetary equivalent of climate change of steroids (though hopefully with better outcomes). By 2020, no disability organisation should look the same as it did in 2013. Services and systems will need to be reshaped in order to meet individual needs. What’s more, we do not know exactly what the environment will look like in 2020, or the years after that. Thus adaptation needs to flexible, ready for constant change with as few as possible fixed structures nailed to the ground. There is no doubt it is challenging, but the choice is that or extinction.

No matter how great the challenge might be, there will always be providers that exceed it. Through this award, we sought to highlight and applaud one of these organisations.

The winner of the 2017 Adapt Award for Pioneering Organisation Adaptation is Enhanced Lifestyles.

Enhanced Lifestyles is a South Australian provider that offers in-home and community supports. Their model aligns fluently with the objectives and processes of the NDIS.  Customers are given complete choice and control of their services, including how and when they are delivered.

The organisation was born out of a desire for change. It was founded nearly thirty years ago by a group of people with physical disabilities who were raised in institutions. Unhappy with the institution model, they wanted to see people with disabilities live in their own homes and the community. So they established an organisation that believed people with disabilities should have choice and control over their lives.

The organisation considers their early commitment to choice and control as key to their NDIS success. When the core philosophy is in place, the rest is just logistics.

Enhanced Lifestyles are not just surviving in the NDIS, they are thriving in it. They are managing to earn a profit while charging below the NDIS prices. Over the last three years, they have grown from having 70 customers, to now having over 200.

The secret to their success is not magic fairy dust. Quite simply, it is preparation. The organisation began planning for the NDIS from the moment they knew it was coming. They adapted their governance structures and operational procedures. Technology started to play a more significant role in their processes and how they interacted with customers. 

They also decided from the beginning to focus on the supports they were already delivering well.  Better to ensure they continued to provide quality supports under the NDIS than to try to be everything to everyone.

What impressed us most about Enhanced Lifestyles is the way that they do not just talk the talk of choice and control: this value has been operationalised through the entire organisation. Participants are central to all hiring decisions that concern them and are able to roster their own shifts through a customer facing portal. This is not just an add-on: the organisation's structure has been adapted to facilitate this technologically enabled self-direction as a key priority. Plus, the saving that is made by reducing rostering and administration hours is passed directly back to the customer, increasing participants' value for money from their NDIS plans.

To this day, Enhanced Lifestyles continues to be led by its customers. Their Board consists exclusively of people who use the service. Customers also exercise influence through reference groups and committees, and, of course, continuing to choose them as a provider. The firm embedment of customers’ wishes and desires in the organisation's structure allowed them to adapt to the NDIS while staying true to their core beliefs.

The world is going to change, that is inevitable. Sometimes we will be able to influence the tide, but very often it will be completely out of our control.  What is, and always will be, completely in our control is how we choose to respond. All providers can choose how they adapt to the NDIS, all can make the choice to survive.