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The importance of values-based leadership

Employee motivation is driven by values-based leadership and culture change, says one of the first CEOs to be HR certified in Australia, Heather-Jane Gray FCPHR.

The world is changing very quickly. Organisations across the board are realising that business really is about people and that those in charge of HR and Organisational Development (OD) need to be on the ball.

Heather-Jane Gray always looks for the good in others and she knows that, given the chance, most people are kind to each other. But after a long career in the UK’s National Health Service, she has witnessed how the pressures of working inside a big institution can knock people about.

Working her way up the healthcare ladder, from her early years as a student and registered nurse, then as a ward sister, a hospital manager and eventually as an executive director of one of London’s largest teaching hospitals, King’s College, Gray never lost her passion for the sector.

She learnt that organisations that thrived did so in part because they gave their staff the “breathing space” to behave better, and she eventually decided she could have a bigger impact on patient care by stepping into health policy and consultancy.

“I was driven by my passion for continuous quality improvement and realised it’s about understanding what people truly value and how that translates into motivation at work – which led me to HR and OD,” says the UK-born Gray, speaking from her Melbourne office, where she leads a team of 50 at her consultancy, Synergy Global. Established by Gray 22 years ago in San Francisco, then London, her practice works in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors, helping clients to lead change more effectively – with consultancy, facilitation, underpinned with ICF-credentialed executive coaching.

New horizons

It wasn’t until 1996, when Gray was accepted as a Harkness Fellow in Social Policy and OD at UC Berkeley, USA, that she was able to test her hypothesis “that values-based leadership and cultural change is all about having more meaning conversations with people, to build trust – tapping into their unique perspectives”.

During the Harkness Fellowship, which she describes as the pinnacle of her career in the health sector, Gray conducted original action-research into values-based leadership and cultural change – working with leading US policy experts and Fortune 100 boards and executives.

“It was a huge opportunity, I was so privileged,” she says of the Fellowship. It was in some ways also the fulcrum of her career because while Gray was in the US she began transferring the skills she had acquired in health to other industries.

“I wanted to test my skills robustly. I worked [as a consultant] in health, then pharma, education, publishing, and media and entertainment. I wanted to look at organisations that had strong cultures, like Johnson & Johnson, to see how they strategically integrated the values that underpinned cultural change. I wanted to explore what we could lift back into health and social care, to see if we could harness the amazing values people bring into the industry, but which can get knocked out of them by the system. I was interested in igniting people’s values-based passion for what they did.”

A growing profession

Fast forward 22 years and what began as a passion for health and wellbeing, has become a passion for HR/OD. Over that time, Gray has watched the profession strengthen to become a central part of many organisation’s management teams.

HR/OD is a growing profession, she says, and professionals need credentials that are robust, measured regularly and linked to people’s lifelong learning and continuing professional development (CPD).

Some might say her long and successful career is proof enough of her skills, but Gray felt it was important to undertake AHRI’s Practising Certification Program.

“I would encourage everybody to do it because it tests your own thinking and keeps you up-to-date,” says Gray, one of the first CEOs to undertake AHRI certification.

“The world is changing very quickly. Organisations everywhere are realising that it really is about people and that their HR/OD Director needs to be on the ball”.

“I’ve served on many boards where professional qualifications are essential to protect vulnerable patients. I’ve also served on the leadership team of the International Coach Federation and know very well the damage of diluting a profession with poorly regulated, un-credentialed members.

“I believe that for all professionals to be trusted and respected by the clients they serve, they must be held accountable to their professional bodies for their credentials and CPD. This helps to differentiate us in a crowded marketplace of potential imposters.”

But Gray’s passion for learning extends to a desire to coach the younger generation. “I’m focusing on helping graduates to find their passion post-university and develop their lives and careers – the future is in their hands – so for the past 20 years I’ve run a Graduate Finishing Program,” she says.

Heather-Jane Gray FCPHR with members of the Graduate Finishing Program

The people side

To gain her certification Gray followed AHRI’s Senior Leaders Pathway, which allows established practitioners to submit a case study of work, in this case, Synergy Global’s work with Australia’s Department of Defence.

“The Department was initially looking for a mentoring program and were thankfully open to our persuasion that they needed to do a fundamental values-based leadership and cultural change program,” explains Gray.

“We partnered with the CFO Group to design a blended learning methodology that gave them the coaching and mentoring they wanted, and much more – such as using evidence-based practice from NASA to build organisational capability.”

The learning was a two-way street, with Gray’s team able to apply what they learnt at Defence to other clients. She says all clients are unique, but they also have issues in common.

“The same behavioural stuff around communication, building trust and giving more useful feedback keeps coming up again and again,” says Gray. “People will always be our greatest resource and have the biggest impact on the bottom line. It is the people side that either gets it right or stuffs it up, so caring and innovative leadership is essential at all levels.”

Use AHRI’s online HR Certification Pathfinder to find the pathway that best suits your skill level and HR experience.

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Lindsay Tighe
Lindsay Tighe

So true that caring and innovative leadership is essential at all levels and so it is inspiring to hear how this has been applied in practice – great role modelling!

Ronald Wopereis
Ronald Wopereis

Heather-Jane this is so much you! I love it.

Simon Phillips
Simon Phillips

Congratulations Heather! Recognising the value of the people in your organisation and enabling them to make their best contribution is indeed the wisest approach for every CEO.

Cristina Katzourakis
Cristina Katzourakis

Heather-Jane, congratulations on the article. Thank you for finding the positive in people and helping them to recognize their strengths.

Charlie Pellerin
Charlie Pellerin

Great read, thank you, Heather-Jane, thoughtful and from a wonderful person

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