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Changing Transformation Priorities - Agile Leadership Lessons Podcast: Episode 3

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Published on 8th February 2022

As we enter different stages of this pandemic, we are seeing it effect individuals and businesses in different ways. Transformations are increasing and priorities have evolved. What was urgent and important at the start may no longer be as urgent and all of a sudden there are more pressing priorities. As a leadership cohort, how do we adapt, how do we lead and how do we engage with our teams in this fast-moving world?

Joining Watermark Search International's Managing Partner, David Evans, in our third episode is Natasha Moore, Partner in Charge of Transformational Program Management at KPMG, Amanda Cattermole, CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency, and Kieran Duck a published author on transformation. All three leaders have led through major transformations recently; Amanda was at the forefront of changing a health system to respond to a pandemic, Kieran went through a four-year transformation at Essential Energy and had to constantly adapt and rework the program due to the changing market environment, and Natasha had to rethink how they engaged with risk and amend collaboration tools to deal with the new virtual world.

Our speakers discuss their organisation’s purpose, how their priorities evolved, how they, along with their teams, got through the transformational journeys by adapting, and about the effective processes and experiences that got leaders on board with the pace of this change. They also highlight what they have done and seen that has worked well to get their people to express an opinion and contribute during this change.

Listen to gain their insights and advice for current and future leaders.

You can also find the podcast on several different apps, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, and RadioPublic. Click here to listen & subscribe on your favourite app or read the transcript below.

Changing Transformation Priorities
Agile Leadership Lessons, Episode 3, transcript:

David Evans, Managing Partner of Watermark Search International:

Hello and welcome to the Watermark Search International podcast on Agile Leadership Lessons.

On this podcast, we discuss leadership trends with experienced leaders on what is working, what isn't, and how we can all improve as a leadership cohort. As we enter different stages of this pandemic, we are seeing it effect individuals and businesses in different ways. Transformations are increasing and their priorities have evolved. What was urgent and important at the start of this may not be as urgent and all of a sudden there are more urgent priorities. As a leadership cohort, how do we adapt? How do we lead and how do we engage with our teams in this fast-moving world? To share some experiences on this, we've invited three world class leaders to join us on this podcast. Natasha Moore, Partner in Charge of Transformational Program Management at KPMG. Amanda Cattermole, CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency, and Kieran Duck is a published author on this topic, and will be speaking to his transformation experience from Qantas and Essential Energy. I'm David Evans, Managing Partner of Watermark Search. Amanda, let's start with you. ADHA is an organization taking us all on a journey and influencing change in all directions. Perhaps you could share a little more as to the purpose, how your priorities evolved, and how you and your team have gotten through this most recent period.

Amanda Cattermole, CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency:

Thanks David and thank you so much for asking me to be here amongst lovely colleagues. So yes, we have been on the big journey like everybody and I think for us, it was really interesting, because we had a really clear transformation agenda prior to the pandemic. We really had been wanting to see a significant uptick in people's engagement with digital health tools, and use all the kind of tools and technologies that we know are going to really help transform the health system. What we didn't have was a call to action and all of a sudden there it was and in so many parts of really life, but in particular around health. What it has meant for us is not only giving us a platform that just had an impetus and a sort of desire for change, that was not something we could never have otherwise had. But also, it meant that even though we had to be really clear eyed about what we want to get to in the end, and that's really is a radical transformation of the digital enablement that will provide support to the health system going forward, we had to also be really fluid so that everything we did was cast in terms of the things that Australians needed at the point at which they most needed them. And that gave us real clarity of purpose, while we also tried to make sure we didn't lose sight of where we're trying to get to the end. Just one example, probably my favourite, because it's such a stark example, is we had as part of our big plan, sort of two three year planning horizon for the introduction of electronic scripts. And it just became clear by about March last year, that as part of what was going to be a radical, radically different way of engaging with doctors and getting your medicines that you need, at a time when you almost certainly couldn't do it in any of the ways we were used to, that was going to need to be a really significant shift. And so alongside the work that health leading telehealth, they said to us, you need to turn the dial up now. And all of a sudden, we went from a two year program to standing it up in six weeks from an almost standing start. It was just remarkable. Now we're at 26 million electronic scripts, I think we're up there now and it's now just becoming a really routine part of the way people engage with their pharmacists and get their scripts like other forms. But what was really interesting about that was, it was sort of there, but it was never going to have that kind of impotence. So the ability to sort of scale up so radically, this gave us the opportunity to get something over the line that that would have got there, but just never had that sense of sitting in people's hearts and minds, being a value proposition that would work for them. The second thing, I reckon that it really did, and that we needed to get it done was all of a sudden, everybody's clarity of purpose and clarity of role just crystallized and so all of a sudden, we had this collaboration between us and the medical software industry, the peak bodies, the pharmacy sector, everybody said, "We need to get this done". That clarity just sort of emerged because of the necessity. And I've said to my colleagues in industry and in the pharmacy sector and other places, obviously GPs had to get on board as well, that's the bit we can't lose. That absolute clarity of purpose and the ability to collaborate and to peel away all of the layers of things that were going to take two years and get to the things that actually turned it into a six week story. And I reckon that's the pit of alchemy that I reckon we need to hold onto as we kind of emerge into this post emerging, whatever it's going to be, COVID world. And that was one example but it meant that we had to hold the whole, but accelerate the pieces and get them done in a really different way and I think that's our new going forward.

David Evans, Managing Partner of Watermark Search International:

That's great, Amanda, thank you for sharing and we have seen here at Watermark Search that it's a couple of things. It's that understanding of purpose, understanding everyone's role within that. Another important part is this anticipating change, right? So you had a project that was, you know, an idea and then all of a sudden, there's something that really needs to escalate it up the priority list. And that's really where some of the magic can happen. So Kieran, you've been part of many transformational journeys. What's one you could share that really stood out for you? And how did you guys get through it?

Kieran Duck, Published Author:

I actually just want to pick up on a couple points here. I think there is this really interesting dichotomy, particularly as we've gone remote, is how to have both that real clarity of why, to keep people moving, but also having a level of detail so people know what to do, because it's just that much harder to get people in the room. When we had the situation in the electricity industry of this, even as the pandemic was starting, or just before, was this acceleration of solar energy generation and that has a fundamentally different impact on the way the network is structured. And we at Essential, we started a four year transformation program, and about a year in, we realised that the order that we'd worked out, wasn't really what was needed anymore because of this changing market environment. And we had to actually rethink and accelerate a lot of the asset management, the network structure pieces, to bring them forward, because we were seeing that the load associated with that was going up so much faster than what we expected. Now we have to rethink the processes otherwise this is just going to run over us, we're trying to change the way we work to get more efficient and the way the market is changing is actually going to just run straight over the top of us. And we had to respond quite quickly to that, to think about how we rework the program. Still doing the same elements but in the same way, just accelerating the pieces that were coming at us faster than we expected. And I think a critical piece of that is actually, you've got to be able to have all the pieces of the puzzle in front of you, and be able to adjust the priorities as you see the world changing.

David Evans, Managing Partner of Watermark Search International:

Great. And, Tasha, you are in the fortunate position, you get to see a lot of companies and how they do it and then you're also advising your own firm, on how best to do it. How have you seen people adapt to this change? How have you seen good processes and experiences get leaders on board with the pace of change?

Natasha Moore, Partner in Charge of Transformational Program Management at KPMG:

Thanks, David. It's lovely to be joining Amanda and Kieran on this chat as well. I just wanted to call out that I'm coming from the Ngambri and Ngunnawal Country and to recognise the contribution of our first Australians to this great country as well. I was listening with interest to Amanda's example and although we weren't at the forefront, internally of changing a health system to respond to a pandemic, we had a similar experience. And I like to think of it as rethinking how we engaged with risk. And in the past, it would previously be what's the risk of not getting this right, what's the risk of if we don't have 100% certainty and surety and very quickly, almost overnight became a what's the risk of not having this, like we absolutely need to get on board and be able to collaborate? So instead of having the lengthy testing cycles that we previously would have had in standing up Microsoft Teams, for instance, how about we say that there's probably a minimal risk of it ever not being 100% perfect so let's just run with what we have. And so whilst we weren't standing up e-scripts, we were certainly standing up collaboration tools, and we did them over a weekend where in the past we've taken a much longer period of time for that. And so we certainly saw that internally and as you called out, David, we are in an incredibly privileged position to be able to help our clients also transform. And I think I'd like to note that one of the key changes in those organizations that have responded probably best out of some of the opportunities and those necessities that COVID have brought around, are those that have approached the transformation, much less as a thing we have to do but as the change of mindset and of an absolute cultural change. So I can put in an IT system but unless people respond and react differently with that system and use that system in a different way, we're actually not transforming as well and so I think they're some of the key experiences and lessons that I've seen in organizations that have been able to transition and build that or build on that momentum that Amanda was talking about. We had a burning platform, it's provided us a different way of working, it's provided us a different experience, how do we continue to capitalize on those really good aspects, without losing those and continue to evolve? The other point that I'd like to make is just around, I think those organisations that have found their purpose and at KPMG we really like to talk about the importance of how you grow, and how that matters. And I think in also building up trust, and trust obviously means many things to many people but you know, from our employee perspective, them trusting us to do the right thing for their well being, our clients obviously trusting us to do the right thing for them, but equally the role that we can play in helping our clients to be trusted by the stakeholders that need to engage and interact with those. So I just wanted to call out that, which I think is a really critical aspect of 2020 and 2021 is showing us that we can engage with risk, that risk provides opportunity, that we need to think about things probably from more of a mindset and a cultural change perspective than just a pure process perspective and the importance of being trusted and building trust, to drive purpose as well.

Amanda Cattermole, CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency:

Yeah, and detach. It's really interesting, you should frame it in that way, I feel exactly the same. And one of the things I've wondered a bit about is, as you say, standing up an entire new virtual way of working on a weekend is absolutely engaging with risk differently. But I also wonder whether on the trust point, because staff know you haven't spent months agonizing, everyone's having to really work together in an incredibly uncertain environment, probably knowing it isn't going to be perfect on day one, even week one or month one. But in a sense, that sense that leadership is bringing everyone with us on the journey, because our engagement is different. We're all saying, listen, we've stood this up on a weekend, we all want this to work well, probably won't be perfect the first time, we're going to work that through together. That sense of kind of visible, open leadership that tells the story together of, we haven't spent forever and it's not going to be perfect, this is going to be a journey. I think actually not only engenders that trust, but it's really created a sense of the whole organization then engaging with these things really different. It's almost given us more license, I think, to experiment, and to together work that through. I wonder what you see, has that kind of played out like that for you?

Natasha Moore, Partner in Charge of Transformational Program Management at KPMG:

Yeah, I think that's spot on Amanda. We often talk about transformation, the need to build agility into transformation. 2020 has been described as safe to fail but now it's really safe to try. So we're happy to have a crack and to try things out. And also have that real authenticity to say, look, this has happened overnight or this has happened in a really compressed timeframe. It's not going to be perfect, but we're absolutely all trying to head in the same direction, we're trying to help us to be able to respond and we certainly saw that within KPMG. Just the recognition for our IT guys, that they're also dealing with everything that COVID has brought on them from a personal perspective, and you know, some of them in lockdown and the like but they are still trying to make a difference and we are absolutely appreciate it for that. And I think that's brought out a real degree of humility and caring and a sense of belonging, in this together, and it's going to be okay, we're gonna get through and it's not going to be 100%. 80% that's pretty good and we'll kind of accept that with the view that we can continue to evolve in an agile way. So yeah, I think It's spot on.

Kieran Duck, Published Author:

Yeah and I've also seen that real need to shift from a planning focus to a learning focus. To design is often talking about make to learn and learn to make, we're putting it out there, we're going to see what it tells us about the world and it generates a curiosity and stronger feedback, a more positive feedback loop I think, rather than one that is complaining about, oh this doesn't quite work, rather than switching that language to be more of, well that's great rather than trying to find the faults so much just looking to improve it.

Natasha Moore, Partner in Charge of Transformational Program Management at KPMG:

Did you see in that Kieran, a sense of empowerment? That was one of the things that I observed as people might not have tried before because they thought a hierarchy might prevent them but now, everyone's trying really hard, that's my opportunity to also put forward my innovation or good ideas.

Kieran Duck, Published Author:

Yeah I mean, one of the harder things I certainly found was to generate those free flowing conversations, we will put in the remote tools but I did find when I managed to get back into the office that couple of days with a whiteboard was much more powerful than a couple of weeks, trying to draw people out remotely. And so yes, they were still willing to contribute but I don't know if you guys have had any good examples of it but all the way through I struggled to find a really good way of having that real generative conversation that passes the pen round, in front of a whiteboard, yes, we've got all the various tools that you use. But there seems to be something lacking in this remote operation, I don't think we've really, really cracked yet, in the way we can generate better than actually having people in the room.

Amanda Cattermole, CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency:

Yeah it's interesting Kieran. I've had mixed experiences of it. So I think this is fascinating, this is now one of the live conversations as we go forward. I started this job remotely. So if you had told me two years ago that you would get your first CEO gig and start it from your home office, which started off as the dining table, I would have said, no, absolutely not, not for me. Particularly because I'm the person who starts a role dropping in on everybody, having a yarn, that's how I build my kind of way of engaging in a new place. So I just thought it was every degree of nightmare for me. But what I did find and when I reflect on it now a year and a bit into the job, I reckon I'd say it was at least neutral and I reckon, arguably better. And what I did think was better for me, it almost was like it saved me from myself a little bit because what it did make me do was to engage in every domain, in the right amounts. Particularly when I was coming in, everyone had done all this lovely set up to ensure that I met with everybody and I understood all the bits. And instead of me going to my default pieces, which is really mostly about staff engagement, it actually meant that I spent an hour a day facing the budget, an hour a day facing the kind of governance structures, an hour day engaging with the board. I've got board and a number of advisory committees. It meant that I got across all the domains far more equally than I would have left to my own devices. And when people popped up on the screen, for at least the first few months, I frankly had no idea who most people were, nor did I know where they sat in the scheme of things. And there was a great kind of democratisation to that. Because I took everybody as I saw them, and things weren't being filtered in them, not that everyone means to, you know what it's like things go up the line. That just didn't happen. And I'd say to someone who I wasn't sure where they sat in the scheme of life, that's a great thing, I love that. So there was all this sort of, I just felt like I got to know people in this really flat way and just engage with people as they came up, and also gave me structure. So I actually felt like that was quite enlivening and I felt like I got to know people in a much broader way than I might have otherwise. But I also think you're right, when you want to get your whiteboard story. Yeah, trickier. And I actually in a funny fusion of old and new actually bought a whiteboard, and had it behind my computer when I was with my executive and they'd go, oh Amanda, seriously, you're supposed to be running the Digital Health Agency. But it was kind of quite handy in a weird way, because we'd write it up and they could all see it, then we take it off, and we'd send it to each other. So we tried to build a bit of fusion, which didn't always work, but it was really trying to just draw on whatever you could to create that dynamic and I think we've got better at it. I think the team were better at it now than we were six months ago.

Kieran Duck, Published Author:

And I do think that. The one that I did struggle with was that generative piece, but I think it added, particularly in the likes of Essential with a massive remote operation, the ability to drop in on a toolbox talk in Wagga this morning and Dubbo the next morning and get everybody, all the frontline leaders, on one call for an hour and have exactly the same message go to everybody was a real beneficial piece that we certainly don't want to lose. The fact that you do have that interaction available to you, without having everybody to travel a few 100 kilometres to be in the same room.

Natasha Moore, Partner in Charge of Transformational Program Management at KPMG:

David probably wants to crack on. This is really interesting in your perspective, Amanda. I might offer, for a senior and an established operator, it could be that the new ways of working could have been quite beneficial. I certainly know for our teams, where we have sort of people newer to the workforce, that it's been quite a challenge, especially in a business where being highly networked and understanding services and skills and capabilities. And so you know, as soon as borders have opened up, the teams have absolutely embraced the chance for face to face contact, just because that is such a critical part, introvert or not, such a critical part of the way that certainly consultants need to grow and learn. So I think it's probably appealed to quite a lot of people and for others, it's been incredibly challenging. And we need to, in our new ways of working, sort of recognize what's the best of that? And what do we absolutely still need to hold true to that we require sort of face to face interaction or is best done as a face to face conversation?

David Evans, Managing Partner of Watermark Search International:

I think I think you're right, Tash. And we can be reminisced to think that everyone has responded to these new ways of working the same. Everyone's responded differently. And we need to give people opportunity to hold that pen for that whiteboard or use whatever tools appropriate. And a question for all of you, what have you done or what have you seen that's worked well, to get some of those people to express in some of these new media, express an opinion, contribute? And what have you seen work potentially not so well. Kieran.

Kieran Duck, Published Author:

Just on that point, in terms of different styles, and different individuals. I certainly saw early on in the pandemic that we had some people yeah, not cope very well, they are used to sitting next to somebody having a chat and now they've got to sit in their one bedroom flat and talk to people over the phone. And some people really struggled with that. What we saw, generally, were those people who had fairly, almost process jobs, where they knew what they need to do and get through in the day, operated quite well remotely. But those who definitely relied more on learning from others, whether it's sitting in a call centre, and talk to somebody next to you about what just happened. Those were the ones that struggled more in that early situation. And so what we looked to do is absolutely keep the remote operation to keep our people safe, keep our communities safe, keep the power on at the time, but also in what ways can we get people to interact and achieve that social connection that they wanted? And certainly I saw when we did get back together, that lift in energy, as people started to come back in. Particularly in projects, we had project managers, in fact, one person started and finished completely remotely. And I saw on projects, it's a very difficult thing, the startup process was that much slower in a remote operation as you're trying to build those social norms and understand people around you and missing out on the chats that you have about the weekend as you leave the meeting room, all those elements weren't there. So we worked harder to get those people in those situations, where you're starting up, trying to get them back together as soon as possible so they could build that relationship and then disperse again to maintain the safety.

David Evans, Managing Partner of Watermark Search International:

Amanda, what have you seen work?

Amanda Cattermole, CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency:

So I share Kieran's views, as been really variable depending on where you are, what kind of role, how you normally experienced the workplace. And I think that is going to be the continued work we do together going forward. For me, we built, really quite early, a really strong platform around mental wellness and well being, which we used as a framework for a whole range of initiatives that were designed to kind of hold people and hold our togetherness as we kind of walked through the last 18 months. And it was staff led so it was really designed by a group of a wonderful group of our staff. And then continually iterate, it's on that same sort of premise of, we're not going to get it perfectly right but we're totally here to make sure that we can support you in as many ways as possible. And through that prism, we did a bunch of things routinely that worked well. So we did things like, we had a mental wellness engagement twice a week, one of them was a stretch exercise, and other one was a meditation type exercise. That sort of everyone knew was part of the rhythm. And so you could dip in and out of that whenever you wanted. And what was really important, of course, was seeing leaders dip in and out of that. So I made, it was extremely beneficial I have to say, but I also made a real point of being there, as well as I found it really useful. And in fact, we encouraged people when they had their kids remote learning, or they were in a caring situation, for others to join. So people quite visibly had, my kids did the meditation and the stretch a couple of times, as did many others. So we build sort of a structure that was the holding, kind of bundle if you like, and then we experimented with a range of things. And the ones that worked the best were those that were a virtual version of something that we would engage in normally. So we did a lot of walk and talks, where you put your hat in the ring, we would pair you up with a colleague from wherever, and you'd go out for your lunch break. And you'd walk and talk and we'd give it a theme for fun but frankly, it was just to engage with a colleague and learn something in the way that you might if you'd gone into the kitchen and started talking. And those went really well. And they did, I think Kieran's right, it's the energy in a sense, it meant that the energy levels went up again. I think what can happen in remote learning is, it feels a little bit flatter, you don't get that vibe that happens. And it created a little bit of that vibe, and then it was able to sort of dip in and out a bit. And so that I think that went well. The other thing we did is we held periods of the day where we said no meetings. So there were no meetings between 12 and 1 and nothing after 4:30. And that just gave everyone that ability to manage, you know, the remote learning experience of some parents, the need to get that exercise that's going to help your mental health. So I think those things worked well, and my view is they're all applicable really strongly to this new contemporary working approach we should be taking and probably should have been taking for a long time or just hadn't had that the kind of impetus to make that an absolutely embedded part of working life.

Kieran Duck, Published Author:

We also saw that around some of the deliverables, on the projects where you run really hard and then when we'd block out time for to be okay not to contact anybody. Particularly around the long weekend, we had some deliverables close to those. So we made it a four day weekend, leader led, basically the leader saying, we're not going to be checking email, you don't need to do it, we're not going to be online, and forcing people to take more of a break, because they're so used to being in this one spot and their daily exercise is the 12 steps to the fridge, rather than creating a space for them to be more active, to step away from it.

David Evans, Managing Partner of Watermark Search International:

Wellness is such a big thing we're seeing more and more focus on and I hope that it continues into this hybrid model, if that is the next step that we go into. Tash, what have you seen that has worked really well?

Natasha Moore, Partner in Charge of Transformational Program Management at KPMG:

Thanks David. It's been really interesting, isn't it? It's invited a whole different type of conversation between teams. I mean, some of the best openings to meetings have been dogs needing to go out or kids or other members of the family not being appropriately dressed for the meeting. Actually a partner in Melbourne, who has his bookcase colour coded, which provided endless hours of ribbing from the people on those conference calls listening. So I think that's helped to be able to have a conversation with people on a more personal level and say you are wearing your footy jersey, you'd say how'd your team go, how are you sort of feeling about that? And so I think that was a really pleasing aspect of it. It empowered you to have or gave you permission to have that sort of a conversation. In terms of some of the things that certainly worked well in our workplace. We've set up a range of programs. One was called Buddies where a senior member of the team was joined up with a junior member of the team and had nothing to do with work, or it could have been if that was where the conversation went, but it was just an opportunity to get to know each other. And that interaction may not have happened in a face to face sense. So it was kind of forced, but it was very non-structured when the interaction happened. We had a national Managing Partner of Management Consulting chatting with the new graduate that's joined, and they're just having a really authentic conversation. Use of technology helped to enable a different way of working as well. So there previously may have been presenteeism expectation and certainly the fact that you can now record a meeting in teams, and people can look at it when they're able to, sort of empoweredlife to go on around what it was that we need to do in a work sense, and transcription of meetings obviously helped to do that. Much like Amanda and Kieran have called out, we did things like digital detox as well, recognizing that people were actually working longer because they had no, I guess, that third space, no break between home and an office. I think Thursday afternoon, digital detox, you can do whatever you want but don't expect if you're sending emails that people will respond. I've also invested heavily in workplace mental wellness programs that sort of focused on how to set your day up for success, making sure that you are getting the relaxation and the rest and recovery that your body and your role requires of you, how to sort of re-engage back into the workplace now that we are returning as well. And so yeah, they were some of the things that I thought worked really well. But just to reflect the changing of the narrative and the changing of the conversation that it is okay to have a life outside of work, it's okay to have other competing commitments, to be a real person, to have a real life and for people to see that. So it was really one of the key benefits, if there has been benefits out of this crisis.

David Evans, Managing Partner of Watermark Search International:

Well I would like to thank all of our panellists today. Thank you so much for your great contribution and I hope all of our listeners have taken something away from it. Natasha Moore, Partner in Charge Transformational Program Management at KPMG, Amanda Cattermole, CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency and Kieran Duck, published author. We will put the link in our website for “The Complex Project Toolkit” if you are at all interested. Thank you all for your contribution.

Amanda Cattermole, CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency:

Thanks David.

Kieran Duck, Published Author:

Thanks David.

Natasha Moore, Partner in Charge of Transformational Program Management at KPMG:

Thanks David and thanks Watermark.

David Evans, Managing Partner of Watermark Search International:

That concludes the podcast. I hope you've enjoyed listening to the leaders sharing their experiences. If you're interested in hearing more, please subscribe and stay tuned to our publications from Watermark Search International.

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