When Rod Francisco CPHR arrived at Mackay Regional Council, no one had been running HR for two years – and it showed.
The week before starting his new job at Mackay Regional Council, Rod Francisco sat in on a management meeting there. It being a Friday, he was wearing one of his bright, paisley business shirts that he reserves for the final day of the working week.
“The CEO, Craig Doyle, just looked at me and said, ‘What is that shirt?’” Francisco recalls. Doyle then announced that Francisco would lead the meeting – an arrangement sprung on him. “I literally took a deep breath and went ‘wow’. The level of dysfunction, from a team perspective, was really an eye-opener.”
Francisco was stepping into the role of people and culture manager, which had been vacant for two years. During that time, the council experienced a sustained period of uncertainty and senior staff turnover. Many program managers had departed or changed roles and there had been a changeover of mayor, CEO and director of organisational services.
“Consistency of purpose was lacking and there was no HR manager in place for an organisation of 1100 employees,” says Doyle. “The focus became on a ‘survival’ mode rather than looking for continuous improvement and direction. There was more emphasis on industrial relations than core HR principles.”
Management self-assessments revealed the team was “siloed”, “protecting their backyards” and “acting like junkyard dogs”, says Doyle.
As a result, there was poor operational and capital expenditure management, disengagement, silo mentality, multiple capability redundancies across programs and a high level of resistance to organisational change.
“I came to the business in early 2016 without local government experience. There was a lack of faith in leadership in the HR space,” he says.
One of Doyle’s first decisions was to recruit Francisco, an experienced HR manager. Over his first three months in the job, Francisco sat down with the 40-odd program managers and directors for at least an hour.
“I said to them, ‘It’s not for me to tell you what I’m going to do. I want you to tell me what you want from the people and culture function – what is it you need to be more successful?’ The CEO presented me with some feedback the team had written about themselves and there were very clear cultural dysfunctionalities.”
Francisco noted that drivers of poor collaboration, such as distance or work across different business sectors, were mostly absent.
“It’s not because they didn’t want to work together – it just wasn’t embedded in the culture. The belief that they would get a better result by collaborating just wasn’t there,” he says. “The program managers didn’t always talk to each other about what they were doing, so you would see double-ups or conflicts of outcomes.”
Initially, Francisco wrote a 2016-2020 people and culture strategy document, remodelled the team and filled two vacancies. “It was probably the busiest I’ve ever been in the first three to six months of a job. But it was a fantastic opportunity to embed a new way of thinking about how culture works within the organisation. There were so many frustrations. We needed to ensure people understood that their delivery of technical, performance-based outcomes was fine, but that we could do a better job, and things would be easier for others, if we worked as a team.
“We worked hard for them to understand that sometimes their efforts reap benefits more for others than for themselves – and that’s ok.”
Now the management team meets monthly, with a focus on strategic outcomes and challenging strategic thinking, says Doyle.
“Most managers and directors have embraced the new direction. The change has been dramatic. They laugh and joke together, which wouldn’t have happened 12 months ago.
Turnover is down, we’re attracting quality applicants, we’ve become an employer of choice and there is confidence from staff that we are here to develop everyone. Our industrial relations issues have evaporated and we’ve adopted a more transparent style with the unions.”
Mackay’s transformation was documented as part of Francisco’s case study to achieve HR certification via the Senior Leaders Pathway. The submission includes quantitative and qualitative data as evidence of success. Francisco says being certified by AHRI also improved his standing among colleagues.
“I work with CPA accountants, and certified engineers and project managers, and to be able to stand alongside them and say I’m a certified HR practitioner adds an element of credibility.
“A couple of them, when they heard I was doing it, said they had always thought HR was a bit wishy-washy, but that if I was typical of someone doing certification, it would make the profession more authentic and respected.”
Find out why senior and executive HR practitioners are taking the lead by becoming certified HR practitioners and read what employers say about the impact these HR professionals are making in their organisations.