‘If Employees Don’t Believe in You, They’re Going to Resist’: Transitioning to an Innovative Government Workplace

May 15
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Michelle Johnston is the General Manager of People and Culture at State Trustees, an organisation that has implemented significant transformational initiatives to overhaul traditional Human Resources practices towards a more strategic function. Michelle spoke to us about the reasoning behind elevating People and Culture to an executive level and the impact it has had on their business.

Michelle Johnston

How and why has State Trustees made a transition to a more innovative workplace?

“State Trustees is a state-owned enterprise, meaning they operate as a private company. We have been in the process of transitioning into a more commercially focused organisation, and in the past three years, we have engaged in an intense whole of business transformation.  

Some people may have a negative perception of the experience they will receive when dealing with the government sector, and this transformation was pivotal to improving the client experience.

However change cannot happen overnight. You need to have leaders that are engaged and driven enough to make the changes happen. Even more so than technical ability, we now recruit for leadership skills and people who align with the beliefs and values of our organisation to ensure that the change is lasting. Cultural change has become a key enabler in providing an innovative workplace for State Trustees.

Another key enabler was to move our culture towards a more collaborative environment, and we have done so by relocating out of Melbourne CBD into a brand new, open planned office environment. This change has ensured that previous ‘silos’ that existed within the organisation are being broken. Relocating into a new building has allowed for more collaboration between teams in open forums, which in turn has had a significant impact on our customer experience and our business as a whole.”

Why is employee support for workplace changes so important?

“If your employees don’t believe in what you’re trying to achieve, they’re going to resist. Employees need to be brought on the change journey so they understand the benefit each initiative has on the organisation and the individual.

 Only 18 months ago we asked our employees about the impact they believed they had on the client. Half of the organisation said they didn’t think they had any impact on the customer experience – this was very concerning. If employees didn’t believe they were having an impact on the client, then why does their role exist? Although not all roles within the organisation are client facing, everything we do has an impact on the end result for the client.

State Trustees has been doing a lot of work on helping employees understand the importance of their role in the client experience and we have changed employee attitudes completely. If you can understand the emotions behind what you’re doing and demonstrate the impact your role can have on the customer, people will come along on the change journey with you.”

What unique challenges do you think the public sector faces in this space compared to the private sector?

“There can be more bureaucracy in a government organisation so you need to be mindful of the processes in place. When we started to make changes almost three years ago we were told that no government organisation had ever pulled off a transformation of this magnitude. Therefore the first thing we did was challenge that status quo by tackling both people and process changes in a 12-month company-wide program.

You also need a leadership team that truly wants to change the culture of the organisation. Once you have that in place it’s all about communication – down, up and across the organisation. That is the key to ensuring employees are committed to the change.”

What kind of results or improvements can government departments expect to see as a result of a more innovative workplace?

“The first is client experience which we measure using the Organisational Culture Inventory tool from Human Synergistics. Second is employee experience and advocacy for your products and services, then employee engagement and the overall organisational culture. And ultimately, it will have an impact on the overall growth of the business. Having a more collaborative and innovative workplace has helped us to achieve improvements in all of these areas.”

The next conference in this series, Public Sector Workplace Innovation, takes place in August 2016. Book your place by May 27th to save $600 on ticket prices. 
 Workplace Innovation

Submitted by Jessica Farrelly

Jessica Farrelly

Jessica is part of the marketing team at Criterion, specialising in content and social media. Originally from Ireland, she’s an avid traveller and moved to Sydney after a year spent living out of a backpack in Asia.

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