Sensational Stakeholder Engagement: Unisson & the Art of Human Connection

The second DSC 2017 Sector Award is for Sensational Stakeholder Engagement.

Across the sector, everyone is hoping for a fairytale ending to their NDIS transition story. The providers who have one, will be the ones who equip their staff, participants and external stakeholders with the skills and opportunities to help write the organisation’s narrative.

The winner of this award demonstrated exceptional staff engagement. At DSC we have a saying- ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ I have my own, cringe-worthy, millennial twist to this: Organisational culture is the Instagram filter for everything you do. It does not matter how flash-hot your strategy is, the wrong filter can make it look like the 'after' photo on Melbourne Cup Day.  Similarly, the blobfish - once voted ugliest animal in the world - has only ever needed to find the right filter. Get strategy and culture both right, and you will have more likes than Kim Kardashian (that will be the last millennial reference, I promise).

With that in mind, we granted the 2017 Engage Award to Unisson Disability (previously Sunshine) for The Art of Human Connection.

DSC acknowledges a conflict of interest in presenting this award. We assisted in the design and delivery of this program. Nevertheless, we truly believe that Unisson has created a standout program for staff engagement that is an exemplary model for the sector.

Marketing and Communications Manager, Katrina Jackson, Client Services General Manager, Gail Jeltes and the wider senior management team spent two years developing a new approach to customer service. Katrina and Gail truly believe that this industry is about people and the relationships you form with them. How deeply you connect with your customers will define your success. As such, traditional customer service models, based on short-term interactions, are not appropriate.

The Art of Human Connection program outlines Unisson’s intention when engaging with the people they support. It emphasises authenticity and problem-solving, with the aim of fostering more profound connections between frontline staff, clients and their families. 

Without a substantial investment from the frontline staff, the program could easily just gather dust in a filing cabinet. As such, it was essential that Katrina, Gail and  their team invested just as heavily in staff engagement as they had in program design. After all, it was not just a new customer service approach they had created; it was a culture change project.

When launching the program to frontline staff, they took care to ensure every detail emphasised the value of staff to the organisation. Invites to the training session were sent out with balloons to create a sense of excitement. The CEO and executive team attended all seven of the training events. They greeted staff as they arrived, and moved between tables facilitating discussion. Even the catering was extra special- something which is unusual for support worker events. All of these details reinforced the message that Unisson sees staff as being at the centre of customer experience.

Unisson invested heavily in these staff events, despite not receiving any immediate financial benefit from them. According to Katrina, they were willing to do so because they genuinely believed that creating the right culture was crucial to their success. And the investment paid off. Staff responded brilliantly to the events. Despite having nearly 500 staff attend, 98% of employees provided positive feedback.

Katrina is fully aware that culture does not change overnight. She estimates that it might take up to five years before they truly see the impact of the program. Nevertheless, they are already starting to see the influence of the program in everyday operations. The training sessions are now refreshed and re-run every few months for new starters.

The NDIS has given frontline workers more power than they have ever had before. Across the country, providers are scrambling to manage a shortage of workers. And the problem is only going to get worse. Estimates suggest that the workforce needs to double during transition, growing at a rate of 18% per year, a target it is currently failing to meet. Consequently, good staff are an organisation's best resource. Failure to engage them will result in losing them to a provider who will.

To quote Richard Branson: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients."

Unisson set the example, it is not about whether you can afford to engage with your staff, it is about whether you can afford not to. They are the Instagram filter of everything you do.