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When change works and why

by Trish Maluta, Director of TM HR Consulting.

A culture improvement case study

Trish Maluta is a seasoned leader. With over 25 years’ experience, Trish has worked in the HR and leadership space within the public sector, the higher education sector, for NGOs and consulting firms. Now as an external consultant, Trish’s work focuses on building healthier, positive workplace cultures for her clients. She’s currently working with the University of Tasmania’s School of Medicine, supporting their Professional Practice Pathway, an IML partnered course. In this article, Trish shares a recent example of the success she had with a major culture change project. Read her case study below:

In 2022, I was engaged to work with the Tasmanian Public Trustee to work on a program of significant cultural change. The plan was to create a client-centric culture, where everyone in the whole organisation would focus on the needs of their clients and on delivering the best of possible client experiences.

Public trustees work with some of the most vulnerable people in our community and the experiences that some Tasmanian clients had been having were very negative. Several highly distressing stories from clients were reported in the local and national media, and this triggered a formal review. The outcome of the review was, essentially, that the organisation needed to train and support staff in delivering more client-centric services, amongst other infrastructure and legal measures.

More information about the review, and how all recommendations have now been implemented, can be found here.

My brief was to initiate and bring about the cultural change component. After nearly 18 months of steady work, the organisational culture has substantially changed for the positive, and these are the factors that I think made this program so successful (loosely based on several change models).

  1. Starting the Momentum, Operating with Transparency and Building Urgency to win Hearts and Minds

    Both the Board and new CEO were very clear that they wanted to be fully engaged in the change process. This culture component of the change program was identified as a key priority, and this was not just a matter of cooperation, but of whole-hearted, enthusiastic buy-in from every Board member and the CEO and a commitment to complete transparency.

    When I recommended being partially embedded within the organisation, so that I could become a close and trusted figure for staff, yet still maintain impartiality through being an independent consultant, the Board and CEO immediately agreed and enabled me to work in the way I needed to.

    I was given free rein to speak confidentially to as many clients, staff and stakeholders as were willing to speak to me. In the end, I was able to speak to a large number of staff, the majority of stakeholder (mostly advocacy groups) representatives and, initially, a small number of clients.

    I also trawled through a range of other data sources, including the formal review paper, various sources of internal data, media reports etc.

    This investigation gave me an opportunity to begin to understand what was happening at the front lines and start to gain insights into each experiential perspective: client, stakeholder and staff.

    This process allowed clients, stakeholders and staff to feel heard and valued and provided invaluable data to inform the direction for change.

    The entire organisation was ready for change and the experience, knowledge and wisdom of clients, staff and stakeholders substantially influenced my change recommendations.

  2. Working towards a coherent and achievable vision

    The recommendations drawn from my investigations and the review document were combined, and together provided a set of clear and achievable goals that merged seamlessly with the organisation’s strategic vision and were specific enough to translate to tangible operational deliverables.

    A project team was established, and I was a part of that team, with my focus being on the cultural change component.

    The CEO and Board provided regular clear and consistent communications about the direction of the organisation, the specific goals we were working towards and information about the progress of each recommendation.

    Their enthusiasm and belief in the change direction was tangible and there was no confusion about what needed to change and why.

    I was given every opportunity to encourage the engagement of clients, stakeholders, and staff through collaborative design processes every step of the way.

  3. The Guiding Coalition

    Throughout the change program, the CEO and Board were strongly united and all pulling in the same direction. Importantly, there was also a genuine sense of excitement forming as the momentum built and this communicated itself across the organisation. It was infectious.

    There was transparency, consistency and honesty with clients, stakeholders and staff throughout. Wins were celebrated and setbacks were honestly and realistically discussed, and solutions formulated.

    Throughout the program, the CEO and Board modelled strong leadership behaviours and created connection between themselves and staff. The commitment to change was clear across the whole organisation.

  4. Creating the Change

    There was substantial investment in training staff and bringing in new staff with client-centric service skills. The organisational readiness for change and the influx of new staff created a critical mass all working to achieve change with little to no resistance as a result.

    The investment by the organisation in bringing in the right skills, upgrading organisational infrastructure and technology and focusing on delivering the right experiences to clients, stakeholders and staff carried the whole organisation forwards and the momentum for change went into high gear.

    Clients, stakeholders and staff were engaged throughout the change process through a range of collaborative co-design processes.

    The CEO and Board were able to demonstrate to clients, stakeholders and staff, that every issue raised through my initial investigations and through the formal review was being addressed through their regular communications.

  5. Sustainability

    While the initial changes were highly encouraging, the CEO and Board understood my recommendation to put a range of measures in place to secure the changes for the long term.

    These measures include:
    • Ensuring front-line staff really connect with their strategic plan – that they understand how the way they carry out their day-to-day work is critical in achieving those goals.

    Revisiting the vision, mission and values of the whole organisation and understanding how these are lived out.

    • Continuing to invest in building strong leadership and supporting front-line staff in how they deliver the experiences out to clients and stakeholders.

    • Maintaining relationships with key stakeholders, keeping them in the loop and working as a collective to support clients – leveraging each other’s strengths.

    • Most importantly, the organisation understands the need to actively listen to their clients and consulting with them when they make changes that have an impact on them.

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