UnitingCare QLD: ensuring quality, consistent leadership across 26,000 staff and volunteers
Summary: How to build leadership capability across a extremely diverse group of leaders
Written by Grant Heinrich 08 Jul 2021

The challenge

  • To build leader capability across a diverse group of leaders, with varying levels of leadership experience and capability.

  • To encourage internal development of leaders through consistent coaching, language and goals.

The solution

  • Fastlead small group coaching for emerging and frontline leaders.

  • Short, regular small group coaching sessions ensure content is tailored and relevant to each participant group.

  • Monthly sessions allow participants to practise and embed learning on-the-job between sessions.

  • Managers work with participants to personalise learning.

How it happened

Established in the 1900s, UnitingCare QLD (UCQ) is one of Australia’s largest charities. Providing health and community services, UCQ empowers and helps older people, those living with a disability, people requiring health care in hospital or at home, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, children and families.

That means a large, diverse workforce.

Each year, 17,400 UCQ staff and 9,200 volunteers work with more than 430,000 individuals, families and communities in over 460 locations.

It’s also an organisation that likes to grow its leadership internally.

As Organisational Development Specialist Catarina Rogers explains, the organisation is always keen to maximise the development of its frontline leaders. This is why it adopted HFL’s Fastlead coaching program for frontline leaders in 2018.

“Leaders have such a big impact on the way our organisation operates,” she says. “They drive culture, strategy, and quality outcomes for the people and communities we serve. 70% of the climate created in a team sits with the leader. As an organisation, we aim to support our leaders to be the best they can be and bring leaders up through our internal pipeline.”

How it started

“In 2018, we ran a project to identify the key leadership capabilities that set us up for success as an organisation. We now align all of our programmes with those core leadership capabilities.”

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At a high level, the capabilities are:

  • Engaging and motivating staff to do their best.

  • Setting clear expectations and driving accountability.

  • Coaching and developing others.

  • Taking a long-term strategic view.

“Fastlead’s small group coaching approach and modular content helped significantly to coach these capabilities” Catarina says.

“Fastlead splits its coaching into regular, concise sessions undertaken in groups of four with a coach.

Participants unpack the real-world problems they face in their day-to-day work and use the time between sessions to practise and embed learning.

There’s a strong emphasis on participants learning from each other, with the coach facilitating breakthroughs in understanding, not lecturing from a Powerpoint slide. [Fastlead participants] like learning with their peers, and learning from peers they don’t get to spend that much time with” says Catarina.

“They like that the tools are really easy and practical.”

Coaching when leaders put themselves last

“UCQ frontline leaders face a number of challenges to development,” Catarina explains.

“First, leaders prioritise caring work over their own development.

“Our staff are quite selfless in that respect, recognising that they want to grow and develop, but always willing to put that aside if there’s a client need.

“Time is always a challenge. The nature of the caring we do, it really is client or customer first no matter what. In caring, there’s that really strong connection because it’s human.

“A lot of our people will think, ‘Well, that could be my mum,’ or, ‘That could be my brother,’ or, ‘That could be my family member.’ There’s that really strong connection and that sense of commitment and ownership and connection back to purpose.

“We’re dealing with people’s lives.

Coaching when participants are truly diverse

In addition, the organisation has a remarkably diverse staff, as shown by its range of frontline leadership participants.

“We’ve had Team Leaders from Aged Care Residential and Community services, Service Leaders from our Family Services, as well as Clinical Nurse Managers and Administrative Managers from our Hospitals. Because of the different technical specialties within our organisation, we find we also have leaders with different strengths and areas of development,” Catarina says.

“Some areas, due to the nature of their roles, have stronger communication skills whilst other areas may have leaders with stronger business acumen. The great thing is that Fastlead lets participants and their managers pick the best modules for their learning needs.”

Fastlead’s modular approach is invaluable.

It breaks leadership coaching into bite-sized pieces that are really relevant to the work a frontline leader does.

They see how it applies straightaway to their job, and how they can customise their coaching to really add value.

HFL has done an amazing job of making sure their coaches align to the values of our organisation and the different skill mix of leaders we have”

Personalising and practising learning

Fastlead’s small group coaching design lets clients and their participants personalise their learning journey.

First, clients and participant managers mandate specific core skills they want participants to learn.

Within that framework, participant groups pick the rest of the modules, prioritising the capabilities they feel are most urgent. UCQ mandated three modules for all participants:

  • My leadership brand is an introduction to understanding how you are perceived as a leader.

  • Setting performance expectations and Engaging and motivating others, meanwhile, offer separate but interdependent tools to improve team performance. Between them, they ask how a leader should make team goals clear and maximise team motivation to achieve goals.

As Catarina explains, “We wanted to create a foundation of skills to set performance expectations. At the same time, we wanted to move toward a coaching style of leadership.

“In hospitals, and to a degree in aged care, when you’re dealing with a fast-paced environment, you can form habits of telling rather than coaching due to time constraints.

“That’s always going to be necessary in some situations, but we wanted leaders to recognise that their role isn’t just to tell. It’s also to elicit learning from other people.”

The benefits of Fastlead

“Every participant group liked the way Fastlead encourages sharing of real experiences,” says Catarina.

“They learn from each other, and they learn they’re not alone - others experience similar challenges, and we’re in this together.

“They say ‘if they can do it, I can do it’.”

Fastlead’s manager check-ins are extremely useful as well, she says, where managers work with the participant and coach through the program to help shape the right learning.

“Multiple participants have said, ‘Having check-in sessions with my manager before and after the program really helped me get on the same page.’”

There have also been organisational benefits.

We now have consistency of language and consistency of the tools being used. We’re building our leadership bench strength by bringing core groups up to speed quickly.

Fastlead really encourages the transfer of learning. It’s a very action-oriented design.

There’s a lot more opportunity to have the learning embedded. It’s very different to inviting 15 people to a one-day workshop.”

Where next?

“We’re really focusing on execution capabilities,” says Catarina.

“[For frontline leaders, that is] how to actually get work done as effectively and efficiently as possible. Running effective meetings, linking back to strategy, communicating information in an impactful way, delegating appropriately. Frontline leaders must do all of those things well.

“Because of our size, our frontline leadership development strategy is now to provide as many leaders as possible with development opportunities.

“We’re now comfortable with the offerings we’ve got. And that the development we’re doing is the right development. Now we’re asking, ‘how do we reach as many leaders as possible?’

“That’s the beauty of Fastlead. It’s such a flexible program. We’ve got a complex and diverse organisation. To have a program that can quickly tailor to the needs of individuals across all those different areas and provide them with a really impactful learning opportunity - that is huge for us. I really value it.

“I feel like HFL gets us. They know what we’re trying to achieve.”

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Download A short guide to Fastlead leadership development