Transforming Culture –The City of Ballarat Project PEX Network Featured Case Study

The City of Ballarat is a Local Government Authority (LGA) delivering a wide range of services to 100,000+ residents of the city of Ballarat and its surrounds. The organisation employs over 800 staff with approximately 1/3rd being part-time. There is near equal representation of gender and many staff with high years of service (>15 years and up to 35).

For 15 years the organisation utilised the Human Synergistics OCI survey tool to measure the perceived culture. Surveys are typically conducted at 2 – 3 year intervals and have an uptake rate of around 60%.

The culture surveys conducted at City of Ballarat in 2009 (see below) indicated a significant presence of traits generally resulting from fear and insecurity – a likely contributing factor was that in the 4 years leading up to these surveys the organisation had experienced significant uncertainty due to a series of major restructures resulting in many senior staff either departing the organisation or changing roles.

The darker of the concentric circles on each plot represents the median score of the norming data which has been collected and analysed by Human Synergistics over many years. Each of the 12 segments is plotted as a percentile, increasing from the centre, outwards.

The executive result shows reasonable presence of constructive (blue) styles, very little passive/defensive (green) styles and a high presence of aggressive/defensive (red) styles. The most concerning contrast between these 2 plots was the degree to which passive/defensive traits were perceived by the management group. The styles included in this section are: Approval, Conventional, Dependant and Avoidance. In general terms, these traits reflect the presence of threat or insecurity. This result seemed to correlate with the often ‘strained’ communication occurring between these groups and the apparent lack of clarity in regard to roles and responsibilities and the same trend continued further down into the organisation.

Garry Davis - City of Ballarat

The CEO, Anthony Schinck, and Head of HR, Garry Davis, saw this as a timely opportunity to create a fundamental shift in the culture.

In an effort to reduce that tension and change the culture, a decision was taken to suspend all of the programmed leadership development activities and instead find a way to bring the groups together in a safe environment which offered opportunities for the groups to connect, develop shared goals and build trust. The basis to this decision was the concern that the approach being taken to date may have been seen to be addressing deficiencies (potentially creating added threat) rather than acknowledging or building upon strengths.

The first step in this new approach was for Garry Davis to engage Paul Taylor to deliver a “Neuroscience of Leadership” session to the combined group in June 2011.

Paul Taylor - The Body-Brain Performance Institute & OPEX Week’s International Keynote Speaker

The Neuroscience of Leadership is a 2-day facilitated workshop, with the content a combination of military research on leadership and resilience, combined with cutting-edge findings from fields of neuroscience, positive psychology, physiology, nutrition and behavioural change. There 5 complementary parts that comprise the Neuroscience of Leadership program were:

  • Know thy self
  • Thrive under pressure
  • Make effective decisions
  • Influence others
  • Drive effective change

Surveyed responses to this session was immensely positive and in the following few months, attendees were regularly sharing personal stories of their improved well-being or performance – whether it was more effective strategies with colleagues, partners or children, weight loss, increased fitness, cessation of smoking, improved sleep or some improvement socially.

The next observed impact was a ‘ripple effect’. The original attendees were having a positive impact on others, some of who were approaching the attendees for advice on performance and well-being, having noticed some change.

The conclusion drawn by Garry Davis was that the positive impact upon the attendee’s self-esteem and self-efficacy had effectively created a group of early adopters, who were now influencing positive change in those around them. The impact of these positive networks was quite visible and in some cases the links remain to this day.

The success led to The Neuroscience of Leadership Program being delivered to other staff within the organisation on a further 4 occasions, with similar responses each time. Participation in this program was voluntary, with attendees responding to an expression of interest request. This was consistent with the organisations new intention to capitalise upon intrinsic motivation of staff in supporting their development and to then create opportunities for staff to apply their skills both in their prescribed roles, but also through discretionary effort.

A workplace gratitude intervention, implemented by a unit manager after attending one of the Neuroscience of Leadership programs, was submitted to the 2014 Positive Business Awards hosted by the University of Michigan’s Centre for Positive Organisational Scholarship and was recognised as a top 5 global finalist.

The neuroscience program created such interest and discussion across the organisation that a decision was made to engage Paul Taylor to deliver 2 hour Performance Wellbeing sessions for any interested staff. The demand was such that 7 sessions were ultimately required to accommodate the 530 staff who attended. A number of these staff would subsequently apply to attend the full 2 day programs in following years.

At each of the 7 sessions an invite was offered for staff to volunteer to participate in an online, 13 week health and wellbeing program that would be the subject of a post graduate research project.

In 2014 the OCI survey process was again undertaken, with over 60% of staff participating. Below are the latest results for the Executive Team and the Management group.

Both circumplexes represent significant cultural improvements compared with the previous data, with increases in constructive (blue) traits, reductions in aggressive (red) traits and, in the case of the management group, a significant reduction in the passive defensive (green) traits. The improvements in many of the 12 segments in each these plots are highly statistically significant.

According to Human Synergistics, both of these groups are now considered “constructive”, by their definitions. This term applies to results where all of the constructive styles are at or above the median of the norm group whilst all of the passive/defensive and aggressive/defensive styles are below their respective medians. Similar trends were also seen to exist for the other levels of the organization.

These circumplexes (and those for the remaining groups) reflect significant reductions in perceived threat and insecurity within the organisation. This would appear to be supported with many anecdotal stories of improved morale and engagement.

Over the same period there have been consistent and significant improvements in OH&S results. There have been downward trends in both number of claims lodged and number of days lost – the latter reducing by approximately 90%. The compounding effect of these trends resulting in a substantial reduction in average claim cost.

The extent of these improvements prompted the WorkCover insurer to invite the OH&S manager to present the company’s initiatives to a senior client group.

Further analysis of HR metrics such as turn-over, absenteeism, grievances and performance review ratings could also be undertaken in an effort to confirm the full effect. However, the results at hand have been more than sufficient to justify the current approaches.

The work by Paul Taylor was augmented with the following complimentary initiatives from Garry Davis, namely:

  • A range of human resource policies to reinforce affiliative and supportive behaviours and encourage ‘family flexible’ practices
  • A number of recognition programs and events including service, excellence and an all-staff Christmas function
  • The creation of a ‘coaching culture’

The success of the program prompted the formation of “The Alumni” – a group comprising all of the graduates of the coach skills training. The intention in doing this was to maximise opportunities for these people to connect, interact, influence and motivate each other. This, it was hoped, would maintain their skills and lead to another ripple effect.

The CEO however, saw even more potential for this growing group. About 3 times each year he invited this group to lunches, such that they could assist him in thinking through organisational issues he is faced. This was so successful that a range of development offerings have also been tested with this group, both as reward, but also to gain objective opinion.

One example of the work this group has been involved in was as focus groups assisting the CEO in the development of corporate values, supporting materials and subsequent communication activities, facilitated by Paul Taylor. This work included defining example of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours for each of the 4 values – effectively, a detailed code of conduct.

The following video, explaining the Alumni work at City of Ballarat was awarded finalist status at the Positive Business awards hosted by the University of Michigan in May 2015.

Further acknowledgement of the approaches taken at The City of Ballarat came in the form of an invite from Professor Lea Waters at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Positive Psychology, to present to the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program (MAPP). The work has now been presented to the last two intakes of that program.

Join Paul Taylor, Director, The Body-Brain Performance Institute for two exclusive sessions on driving effective change and creating peak performance in leaders, only at the OPEX Week: Business Transformation Europe Summit.

25th - 27th April, London, UK


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