How Queensland Health is becoming a more agile organisation – one leader at a time
By Helene Dyer
Senior Director, Culture and Capability Unit, Queensland Department of Health
In a world that’s rapidly changing thanks to technology and connectivity, every organisation – whether in the public or private sector – needs people who are agile and adaptable. For the Queensland Department of Health, we’ve needed cultural transformation to keep up with the pace of change, and that’s started with our leaders – not just our leaders today but also the next generation of leaders coming through the organization.
It’s meant completely overhauling the way we identify and train leaders in our organization.
Four years ago, we were doing what most organisations do: running standardised leadership development programs for our senior leaders.
The problem was that people were being promoted on technical expertise rather than leadership capabilities. While this meant that experts in their field were promoted, they did not necessarily have the right mindset to lead in a fast-changing world.
I realized we needed to identify and develop our future leaders, so we could promote people with the right capabilities and speed up our cultural transformation.
Getting executive buy-in
To do this, it was crucial to build the business case for the leadership programs that I knew we needed. Leadership development could easily have been seen as another cost instead of an investment.
I distinctly remember going to an executive forum where the Director-General at the time said: “Whether I’m here tomorrow or not, our leadership is going to be the constant, irrespective of the government of the day.”
That’s been the burning platform behind our leadership program: to ensure we have the right leaders to achieve the long-term success of Queensland Health.
With that objective in mind, we were able to achieve executive buy-in to overhaul our previous development program and commence a new approach: the Next Generation program.
Next Generation: a tailored leadership program
The Next Generation program is a bespoke program, unlike any we’ve had before. It’s a curated approach that is aligned to meet the unique needs of the cohort from a variety of education providers.
The six-month experiential learning-based program targets senior managers who want to step up into executive roles within the next three years.
Upon being selected into the program, participants go through a Development Centre run by our partner, Hudson Talent Management, where they spend a full day taking a variety of assessments to gauge their strengths and development areas. Along with psychometric assessments, the cohort takes part in customised real-life simulations. These scenarios range from fictitious health environments to critical situations involving the media and external parties.
The results of the assessment centre informs the agenda for the rest of the program as each cohort’s learning needs identified by their assessments are incorporated in the delivery of each of the workshop.
It’s always interesting to note the difference between the online test results that show an individual’s intentions, compared to their capabilities, which come out through the Development Centre.
Along with the workshops, individuals are able to choose an executive coach that best aligns with their experience and expertise to guide them over the six months’ journey. The coaches play an instrumental part in not only pointing out what the participants are doing well, but also their overplayed strengths, which could turn into derailers, if unchecked.
During this time, in addition to their daily work, the participants carry out a work-based project that enables them to practice what they have learnt through the workshops and the executive coaching sessions.
In effect, we’re training up our leaders one-by-one, to best meet their development needs.
So far we’ve had 70 future leaders in four cohorts take part in the development program and Hudson has been involved in delivering assessment centres for three cohorts.
Our follow up data shows that 80% of participants have reported that they have achieved positive ROI on their work-based projects and 76% of participants have been promoted to higher roles since being on the program.
At an organization level, rather than hiring external talent and shaping them to be a certain type of leader, we now have a talent pool of future leaders who not only know the organization inside out, but live out our values.
There have also been some other positive outcomes following from the Next Generation program.
Some participants have reported that they have seen a significant reduction in turnover, as well as benefits at a service level such as reduced costs, reduced length of stay and improved patient safety, as a result of their work-based projects.
Participants of the Next Generation program have become our biggest advocates. Their managers have seen the difference since before and after program, and have become our sponsors too, which encourages more people to consider taking part.
We are hoping to see the benefits spread to our employer brand too. My vision is that the department is known for the quality of its leadership development programs.
With the fourth cohort now complete, we are at the stage where we are reviewing the data to fine-tune the program. We are continually asking the question: “Have we been successful in attracting the right people and are we assessing and selecting correctly?”
To stay relevant and responsive to the ever-changing government environment, we have confidence that our new leaders will be agile and adaptable enough to tackle any challenge.