How one AHRI Fellow is taking on the massive challenge of government overhaul

government overhaul
Steve Packer

By

written on May 1, 2017

The future of HR as a certified profession is reflected in AHRI Fellow Erica Gallagher’s role and status at the Public Trustee of Queensland and her part in a significant government overhaul.

The Public Trustee of Queensland celebrated its centenary last year. It was also a year in which Erica Gallagher joined the organisation as its senior director, HR, marketing and communications; Peter Carne returned as the Public Trustee and CEO after two years away; and the organisation launched a strategy for government overhaul; to bring about major change in its workplace culture.

Going through such major change is a daunting task for any organisation. But for a government body steeped in tradition and legislative dictates, with its array of complex services, undergoing constant public scrutiny, it is doubly so.

But Gallagher is upbeat. Asked if leading the process is the biggest challenge in her 30-year career in private, public and not-for-profit HR, she says: “No. It’s a different challenge. Each organisation comes with its own challenges.”

Central to her optimism and resolve is her boss’s attitude to what needs to be done – and HR’s role in it.

“Peter is visionary in his direction for innovation and culture change, and he’s very focused on the workforce,” she says.

After Carne became the new CEO, Gallagher’s role was elevated to the C-suite.

“I asked him why he thought that was necessary and he said, ‘First and foremost, people are integral to any strategy, and HR is integral to people. Secondly, business can’t happen without people. And third, we need to get the right people in the right positions to deliver on strategy.’

“He sees HR as a credible and trusted business partner.”

 Leadership elevation

In this context, Gallagher is in the process of gaining AHRI certification via the Senior Leaders Pathway, using the employee engagement aspect of the culture change as her case study.

She is also encouraging the HR contingent in her team of 30 staff – two managers and 21 other practitioners – to undertake certification. In a 16-month period before she moved from Western Australia to Queensland in January 2016, Gallagher was AHRI’s WA state president and a strong advocate for the introduction of certification. HRMonthly will be following Erica and her team’s certification journeys in the coming months.

“The elevation of HR to CEO reporting and being part of the executive is the future of any organisation. Not just the future of HR,” she says. “So you have to ask, how do the next generation of HR people come up into those leadership roles? It’s through professionalism and certification.”

 

“Elevating HR to report to the CEO and be part of the executive will increasingly become routine for organisations in the future”

 

She recommends that HR practitioners become certified as soon as they can.

“Going back 30 years, you had to earn your stripes. Certification gives you one of the stripes straight away.”

Gallagher also asked Carne why he thought certification was important.

“He said it ensures that HR staff are up-to-date with their learning and it revitalises their interest in seeking to upscale and improve their skills and expertise. And for him, it means he’ll have an assurance that he has highly skilled individuals in HR practice.”

The beautiful workforce

The Public Trustee’s services to Queenslanders include trust administration, finance, accounting, property auctioning and management, IT, wills, document making and deceased estates.

“With wills alone, we write about 25,000 a year,” says Gallagher.

In his online introduction: ‘Welcome from the Public Trustee of Queensland’, Carne says: “My belief is that the greatest strength of the Public Trustee is our staff. They are passionate about making a difference and are dedicated to serving the Queensland community across 16 regional offices. They are also strongly committed to providing a high degree of professionalism through our accessible and cost-effective services.”

If that sounds like so much puff, Gallagher assures it isn’t. “We have a ‘beautiful workforce’. We have about 600 staff who are dedicated to making a difference in the community through the work they do.”

However, it’s also a workforce that is changing in nature, while having to adapt to external change.

“We are now in a different paradigm, looking at what will happen in the future,” says Gallagher. “It’s forecast that by 2020, 50 per cent of our workforce will be millennials, which is going to put a different emphasis on how we do business.

“As well as affecting the services we offer, the culture of the organisation is going to have to shift and that involves digital technology, workplace flexibility, work-life balance and  engagement factors. Engagement and culture is what is going to keep the right people, with the right attitudes, skills and competencies, working for us.

“We also have to consider the community that we serve is an ageing population. How do you handle a workforce of 50 per cent millennials providing services to an ageing population?”

Runs on the board

With this in mind, the Public Trustee already “has some runs on the board”, says Gallagher.

“Since I arrived, there has been a need to build a team of HR and marketing professionals to meet our strategies. I worked alongside the CEO to review the executive structure. We started top down, but we didn’t ignore the bottom-up process.”

“We looked at our strategic plan for 2016-20, then at learning and development pathways, and creating continuous learning and a centre of excellence for our staff development. We’ve already rolled out a number of things there and have recognition through UNSW of our in-house technical training for trust officers.

“We then looked at leadership. The first cohort of middle managers is currently going through a 12-month leadership program delivered by Queensland University of Technology.

“Also, in November last year we commenced the first public trustee orientation program for all new staff.”

Gallagher can also cite advances in values and practice.

“That’s actually a big piece of work and a critical part of the cultural shift,” she says. “We’ve adopted the Queensland government values and rolled out to every member of staff the first phase of the values and practice program – which aims at behaviour change. The aim is to get a commitment on behaviour, reflecting on it and aligning it with values. Because values without behaviour or accountability mean nothing.”

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