As the AHRI HR certification program’s international status continues to increase, we look at the strongly strategic nature of two linked case studies from New Zealand’s public service.
GIL SEWELL CPHR Director, Organisational Development, Auckland District Health Board, NZ
Gil Sewell encountered an unexpected difficulty when Auckland District Health Board employed her two years ago to establish its organisational development function.
“Almost no-one at Auckland City Hospital had ever heard of organisational development,” she says. “In my first week, someone said, ‘You’re the director of OD? What’s
that – overdose?’”
In response, Sewell made up a story where she asked people to think about the differences between someone working at a fast-food fry station and someone working in the kitchen of a fine-dining restaurant.
“In both those settings, what they do is the same – prepare food for someone to eat. Then I asked them to think about what behaviours and attitudes – what norms – they would expect to find in each of those settings.
“It was to help people understand that OD is about creating the feel and capability of an organisation, the environment and the culture, that is required for the business to thrive.”
Sewell, who started out in HR in the early 1980s, used this work, entitled ‘Establishing an organisational development function’, as her case study for gaining HR certification this year via the Senior Leaders Pathway.
Sewell’s first task was to review the status quo and report back to the board.
“Previously, they had only a learning and development team. But OD is far broader than that, encompassing performance, culture, diversity, inclusiveness, capability in leadership and so on.”
In the first five months, she talked to people in every corner of the business to understand each of its directorates – child health, women’s health, community and long-term conditions, surgical services, etc – and their internal and external relationships, and how current learning and development related to strategy.
“Based on that, I made a recommendation that the organisation needed a broader OD team and function to liaise at a strategic level with the HR business partners and clinical directors. I outlined the structure and portfolios, but I didn’t write an OD vision or strategy at that stage because I knew Fiona [Michel] was coming on board and it would need her input.”
FIONA MICHEL FCPHR Chief Human Resources Officer, Auckland District Health Board, NZ
Despite being the largest employer in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland’s District Health Board (ADHB) didn’t have a current people strategy when Fiona Michel joined as head of HR 18 months ago.
So Michel, who has 25 years’ experience in HR, set about the task of developing one – which became the case study for her successful application for FCPHR status this year.
At ADHB, she heads a team of 80 HR professionals servicing a workforce of 10,500, based mainly at the Auckland City and Greenlane hospitals, plus numerous community health care locations.
“There was a certain amount of ‘burning platforms’,” she says. “We gathered all the data and information people had already supplied and validated what seemed most important. Then we lined that up with the newly developed organisational strategy, which had a similar timeframe.”
Crucially, the board agreed that the document didn’t have to be cast in stone, she says. “It needed to be a good, solid pathway that allowed us to keep improving and making changes. A document that was going to evolve as our skills, context and people evolved.”
A year into the strategy, Michel can say that implementation has been going well. “Everything we are seeing and hearing is supportive that the direction is right. And where we’ve had feedback to keep changing, we’ve done that.
“New Zealand’s hospital certification audit has been enormously complimentary of the real changes we’ve made in the organisation, particularly the visibility of our values at work.”
Early on, Michel recognised that there was a chance that people would feel overwhelmed by the many things that needed to be improved at ADHB.
“We had to prioritise what we could do that would make the most difference and focus on those things, while not ignoring the other areas.”
The focus was put on accelerating capability and skills; making it easier to work; building constructive relationships; delivering on promises; and last but not least, ensuring a quality start.
“In an organisation that had to capture the hearts and minds of our people from day one, there was a need to completely revamp the orientation for incoming staff. Whether you are a cleaner, nurse, brain surgeon or in HR, how you feel about working here changes how you work here.
“The previous orientation process was very compliance driven – how to use a fire extinguisher etc. Now it includes the full executive team welcoming people into the organisation – and ensuring our values are very clear, to how you make decisions based on those values.”
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