Sue Belsham and Jean Fagan at the Summit
Sue Belsham and Jean Fagan at the Summit

I walked away from the Australian Healthcare Summit 2013 last week with an overwhelming sense of the scale and pace of adaptive change required of health leaders, managers and the workforce across the board.

So many people are rising to the challenge of the ‘cognitive in-tray’ overload of juggling today’s business as usual whilst looking ahead at tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities. Conrad Groenewald (COO Healthshare NSW) referred at one point to what keeps Shared Services management awake at night, aside from contestability issues of course, and I couldn’t help but wonder at his exaggeration at being kept awake given it is difficult to see when he and his colleagues get time for sleep at all. His map of the phases of introducing and delivering a Shared Services system was underpinned by an imperative for continuous improvement – rigour, discipline, focus and execution. Conrad will be talking to some of our Learning Set members about the opportunities and challenges for Shared Services and stakeholders. 

Our colleague and friend Sue Belsham (Sue was an HGI Set Facilitator for eight years), now Chief Executive North West Hospital and Health Service Queensland, presented a case study that was a lesson in the imperative of what Henry Mintzberg refers to as ‘Companies as Communities” (Harvard Business Review; 2009). Mintzberg states that organisations must become places where people are committed to one another and their organisation – creating a community where people have a sense of belonging to and caring for something larger than themselves. He goes on to say that the notion of leadership being separate from management not only isolates people in leadership positions, it also undermines the sense of community in organisations. Fostering a sense of community is to create the glue that binds a workforce together for the greater good and builds a collective creativity where everyone feels they are part of something bigger. Conrad Groenewald touched on some of this theme when he referenced Harrison Interactive’s findings that what motivates us is not money, but rather the ability to influence an outcome.

Sue Belsham’s case study demonstrated in my mind, the positive impact of dispelling the notion of an ‘heroic leader’ (HMintzberg) and the power of a dispersed and engaged management with ‘organisational community’ leaders who engage others so that everyone can exercise leadership in order to transform, revitalise and turnaround a situation and a workforce.

Julie Hartley Jones, Chief Executive, Cairns and Hinterland, Queensland had a different but equally compelling story to tell of success through creating organisational community. In tackling ‘burning issues’ she has taken an ” Inside Out” approach to redesign. Through an expression of interest approach, 32 staff were formed into 8 teams and had 6 weeks to strategise and redesign specific, real organisational challenges. Supporting the process and acting as sounding boards were a number of “Critical Friends” from Queensland Health who met with each ‘community’ weekly. Kevin Hardy wrote about this same concept and the value of ‘critical friends’/ peers as consultants for each other ( instead of paying external consultants) and building community in his article Lessons from leaders who are quietly changing our world.

Other speakers addressed a number of significant trends that are changing the broader healthcare landscape. Many of which we could not have imagined five or even two years ago. Over-arching the success in each and every dynamic change context was – trust, transparency, listening and communicating, communicating, communicating!