Put on the sunnies and don't let the seagulls steal your chips

As we neared are destination the sat nav helpfully suggested we, "Put on the sunnies, wind up the window and watch the seagulls don't steal your chips". The sat nav came with an Australian accent. Helpful Australians are every where at the moment. The sunny disposition of our colonial cousins from down under is a welcome intrusion into the post election depression with in the public sector.

One such example is how to deliver culture change. The Australian navy adopted a systematic approach to cultural change a key element of which was based on peer review, that is asking and telling colleagues if their behaviour had changed. I suspect that as well as having a more positive attitude to life than us pomes the average Aussie is more prepared to be bluntly honest with their fellow workers than their overly polite and deferential British counter part. Can you imagine telling your boss to his face he talks too much and doesn't give team members a chance to say anything and your boss responding by saying "yes that's something I need to work harder on". Let's face it if you have that sort of relationship then its already a pretty good place to work.

We are more comfortable with the anonymous 360 feedback form but are still careful with our comments in case the recipient can workout who they are from.

As a senior manager I did do the road shows to front line staff and I could always rely on a few staff and the "odd" manager in the audience to " tell it like it is" but I have to admit my colleagues and I always expected some negative comments and saw the challenge as keeping the meeting positive rather than taking too much notice of individual grips. We knew that some people didn't trust senior managers and didn't agree with changes/what was happening  so it was all too easy to dismiss the odd negative response as "they would say that wouldn't they".

We were in need of a culture change and as in the Australian Navy it was about how managers behaved not what they said, it needed  to start at the top and it needed to give managers insight into how their behaviour affected other people. The approach needed to be systematic to work from senior management through middle management to frontline management. If the behaviour had changed staff should notice. There would be less complaints about bullying, lower levels of absenteeism, greater consensus about how changes were to be introduced, grater confidence and trust in management particularly senior management,  resulting in service users reporting higher levels of satisfaction. The Austrian navy approach would have been seen as too confrontational and have alienated many managers who would have felt we were giving those they managed permission to criticise them to their bosses. Instead we used "executive coaching" a term that sounds enabling not punitive and sounds like the type of thing important people have as opposed to training which everyone has. Executive coaching involved an independent management consultant observing a manager in a series of work situations (team meetings, one to one supervision,presenting reports to the senior management team or committee, meetings with partner agencies) and providing detailed feedback.

It was well received, it replaced traditional management training and development with coaching and mentoring, it was a slow process,cultural change takes years not months. Management turnover meant there were always new managers wanting to experience executive coaching. The sheer number of managers in the directorate meant we need to adapt the approach for first line managers using the same two management consultants to work with small groups rather than individuals.

But as the Aussies say "no worries".

Blair Mcpherson former director of community services, author and blogger
Australian Navy culture change initiative New Generation Navy( NGN) 


Security level: Public

More Blog Entries

Who's the Boss?

There are two types of boss, idiots and tyrants. Obviously there are few who are competent and...

It starts when you're always afraid

My dog has bad dreams I hear him crying in the night. He is not alone. Sometimes when he is...