The 2016 Workforce Challenge

While there are a vast number of organisational issues and opportunities the NDIS will bring in 2016, here’s my prediction: the single biggest challenge for most organisations is going to be finding, attracting and retaining talented staff.

It might be a little while before the size of this challenge becomes evident but the sector will become very much an employees’ market. The best workers are going to start to shop around, and there is going to be plenty of opportunities for them.

What will you make your service an employer of choice, so that you not only attract but also retain great people, who really engage in their work and give their best? And how do you do that if, like most organisational leaders, you are frantically trying to find cost savings?

The first step is to drop any idea of finding your cost savings in frontline staffing. The best practice models are those that pay staff more, not less. And not just in financial remuneration, but in valuing, developing, supporting and investing in staff.

Frontline staff are the heart of disability work. All organisational functions should revolve around what they need to deliver great services. The organisational structure, role design, processes and practices need to be focused on maximising resourcing to frontline staff, ensuring they are well supported and engaged. Do this well and you will actually save money.

Many of you have heard us speak about Buurtzorg, a community nursing organisation in the Netherlands who have achieved cost savings while paying their staff a premium and achieving extraordinarily high levels of client satisfaction and health outcomes. How do they do it? The core features are:

  • Local – teams operate in their neighbourhoods

  • Autonomy – teams are self managing

  • Mentoring rather than management

  • Higher pay

  • Using technology to increase efficiency

To paraphrase their catch cry: How do you manage motivated and skilled people? You don’t! You support them. We are starting to see some local services that are innovating and share some of these features.

We need to shift the way we view the function of management, from directing to enabling, from controlling to capacity building. The skills needed for management in the new world will be that of empowering, coaching, collaborating and innovating.

The managers who will be most sought after will be those who see their supervision time with their team as an investment, those with a passion for capacity building and those prepared to let go of being in control and focus instead on helping others build their ability to solve problems independently.

These managers will be the ones supporting innovation and experimentation, and utilising technological systems that make it easy for staff to do their job. The very best managers will aim to do themselves out of a job, to build a team so autonomous and high functioning that the manager becomes redundant.

I can hear screams of ‘but who holds staff accountable?’ Well, who holds you accountable? I hope you do. Most adults are capable of holding themselves accountable in their role. The conditions for this are that they need to understand and enjoy their role, and they need the necessary skills as well as alignment with the approach needed. They need to feel their contribution is meaningful. They also require the resources and systems that make it easy to meet accountability measures. Set up these preconditions, then get out of their way.

For most people in management and leadership, shifting to a true capacity-building approach is first and foremost a shift in thinking. It’s our mindset that has to change. Once that’s done, changing work structures, processes and approaches comes more easily.

But how do we change mindsets? Firstly we need to reflect honestly on what we are doing that diminishes other’s capacity. Then we need to start having some honest conversations that challenge the assumptions and beliefs underpinning our current ways of working.

We need to par down to first principles –capacity building for our staff so they can do likewise with the people we provide services for – and then put everything else that we do as managers on the table. Because in the new world, almost everything we have assumed to be a given is up for grabs. Fleets of vehicles, offices, 5 layers of management, personal assistants, all if this is up for grabs. If you don’t find a way to deliver quality service differently, someone else will.

So create opportunities for dialogue, and bring an attitude of radical open-mindedness and a willingness to put everything on the table.

Letting go of old ways of operating doesn’t tend to happen incrementally. It happens in leaps. Those who thrive will be those who are able to make the mindset leaps.