Case Study: Office of the Workplace Ombudsman

Executive Leadership Success Program

Stronger leadership maximises performance

As a relatively new organisation with a brief but tumultuous history of change the Office of the Workplace Ombudsman (OWO) was experiencing similar challenges to those facing many rapidly growing organisations:

  • to promulgate a clear, shared vision and values for the organisation
  • to ensure the alignment of effort across a geographically dispersed organisation, and
  • to facilitate internal communication between a diverse leadership group and their staff.

The OWO made the decision to invest in a high level management program focused on the growth of participants as leaders in their own work areas and more widely as members of an executive group.

In 2007 Hay Group was contracted to design and deliver an executive leadership success program (ELS) to assist in addressing these challenges and, ultimately, to assist OWO in building ‘A Stronger Safety Net for Working Australians’.

The success of the 12 month ELS program has seen the leadership team sharpen their view of the vision and values of the organisation and learn to operate more collaboratively as a team. They are now more able to clearly communicate the evolving organisational mission, focus on the development and performance of individual members within their team and generally operate more efficiently and effectively. This all contributes to the achievement of the organisation’s overall objectives.

A burning platform for change now addressed

In 2007 and 2008, the OWO’s workload was due to grow by 30 to 40 per cent. Recognising that this was not sustainable with their current resources, the OWO decided that rather than simply employing more staff, they should develop and empower their existing managers and help them work more innovatively. “We made a conscious decision to invest heavily in our managers and look at how to develop them further,” explains Nicholas Wilson the Workplace Ombudsman

“Our management team was not especially integrated or focussed on the development and performance of individuals within their team, but now it is a key driving force,” comments Nicholas Wilson.

The OWO chose Hay Group for this program because it is a global management consultancy and able to link into the expertise of the organisation across the world. Similar experiences with other government agencies and organisations, not just in Australia, proved to be an important part of the program.

Hay Group assisted OWO to define the focus of the development effort and develop a series of workshops as well as provide one-on-one coaching sessions. Approximately 25 managers were involved in the program.

Participant, Julie Wade, OWO’s State Director for Queensland, comments, “One of the key benefits was having the opportunity to foster relationships with other members of the leadership team. Having strong relationships across the group assists in the leadership of my team, it widens my sphere of influence and has enabled a greater level of trust, leading to some really good, frank and open discussions in a non-threatening environment.”

Prior to undertaking this program, team leaders within OWO were predominantly focused on work outcomes. This focus on outcomes has now been balanced by a focus on how they are getting the performance and results they need from their people.

Leigh Johns, Chief Counsel, OWO, comments, “I found the program very beneficial, particularly the insights into how peers and ‘reports’ see you. It provided the opportunity for reflection and a good foundation for some positive conversations. It has caused me to change the way I lead my team and has moved me into a more long term, democratic style of leadership. I still reflect on what came out of the program and recently spoke to my team leadership groups to share some of that learning with them.”

The senior team now sees itself as more cohesive, with a greater willingness to trust in one another increased trust and has the ability to work more effectively and quickly, especially in cross over areas between teams. There is now a common language that’s helpful in communicating this new way of work across different areas.

“It is interesting to note that several of the people who have gone through the program have since been promoted which demonstrates a development in bench strength for future positions,” remarks Su Kearns, Executive Director, People Development, OWO.

“I personally found the workshops valuable and well facilitated with a good mix of theory and practice. The coaching was enormously beneficial and for me the strongest single component. However, the coaching probably worked so well because of the skills developed in the workshops. So it needed to be a whole package,” said Su Kearns.

Driven by their work together on the ELS, the leadership group has since drawn up a corporate plan that everyone has bought into. The program assisted them with the tools and the language to support this effort.

Additionally, each group has now put together their own plan that supports the corporate plan.

“The ELS program has enabled us to step back and take stock of where we are at. We are all now at an equal stage of development and the greatest benefit is that we can all work side by side, seeing what needs to be done and taking action. The program has given me a renewed energy to ensure clarity of purpose and message,” observes Alfred Bongi, Deputy Ombudsman, OWO.

Positive results spell success

“I am very proud of our leadership group in that they were prepared to give it a go, were receptive to trying things outside their comfort zone and open to change,” said Su Kearns. “The program was absolutely successful. The really obvious benefits have been a development of self awareness and positive change in both individuals and as a group.”

“We now have a strong management team with individual people who have taken control of their role and their career. When I reflect, there were some who had drifted, or were not strong or capable in the management and development of their people, but now they have actually changed in the way they deal with me, their staff, fellow managers, and are definitely better managers and leaders,” said Nicholas Wilson.