The NDIS Leadership Playbook

The NDIS Leadership Playbook

Find out how two fearless leaders in the disability support sector are challenging outdated processes to innovate and overcome inefficiencies in their NDIS organisation.

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If we asked you what the biggest roadblock to efficiency is within your organisation, what would you say? The NDIS? Government regulation and red tape? Trying to locate any one of the 50-odd excel spreadsheets floating around between teams?

We spoke to two leaders in the disability support industry who are already tackling the challenging inefficiencies of delivering services on the NDIS. They gave us a very human answer to this question.

The biggest roadblock to efficiency is not a process or thing, it’s attitude.

Disability support providers operate in the most complex and heavily-regulated sector in Australia. Paired with a crisis in the workforce, many NDIS providers are in survival mode — focusing on day-to-day sustainability and meeting demand. There never seems to be enough time or resources to get on top of everything, let alone ahead.

Successfully overcoming these barriers requires leaders within the sector to be courageous. To challenge every process, to drive team members to question the way things are done. To be open to feedback and responsive when people see things that aren’t working.

Armed with insights from Kirinari’s fearless CEO, Diane Lynch, and forward-thinking IT Manager, Peter Ebborn from Fighting Chance, this guide will reveal:

  • The fortitude human services leaders need in order to transform customer experiences and remain financially viable on the NDIS
  • Tried-and-true engagement techniques for embracing change and adopting new ways of working
  • The first steps toward fearlessness: constructive tips on how to get started and take action today

Diane Lynch Image

We had to change our language as an organisation. There was a lot of “oh, but…”, “we’ve never done that” and “no, because…”.   The world is not perfect and humans are not perfect. There needs to be a willingness to give something a go, even if it means giving people permission to fail. When you try, you get the little wins, you start responding differently to challenges.

Diane Lynch
CEO, Kirinari Community Services
Peter Ebborn Image

It’s instilled in our values to be forward-thinking. When faced with a challenge, we don’t say no. We say “we can, but we don’t know how — yet.” We have a founder and CEO who displays this positivity and drives her vision right through the organisation, all the time. Our teams are exposed to these values right from the interview stage and onboarding, something we are striving to continue to expand on as we grow.

Peter Ebborn
IT Manager, Fighting Chance

How to identify and challenge ingrained processes

“We need an innovation mindset — not because someone tells us to, but because it’s what the community is demanding. This industry is risk-averse, no one wants to get kicked for making mistakes. But when we take no risks, we don’t allow people to experience things — the kind of life we take for granted.”

Diane Lynch — CEO, Kirinari Community Services

Diane Lynch is no stranger to taking risks and throwing old playbooks out the window. Joining Kirinari nine years ago, she has transformed them from a small single-focused provider to a broad human services organisation supporting regional communities throughout Australia. This flexible approach utilises their network to support as many people as possible, without waiting for government funding alone.

“Humans are not perfect, they don’t fit into neat little boxes and rigid rules,” says Diane. “We need to make things simple and faster for our customers, they don’t want to see all the red tape and processes. Our approach has been to own the problem, sort out the systems and help people to navigate the system,” she explains.

Diane believes that the only way for disability support organisations to improve customer outcomes and remain financially viable is to:

  1. Use technology to automate admin and free up staff to focus on support
  2. Make accessing services faster and easier for customers
  3. Do away with unnecessary processes and procedures if they are not mandated

Diane explains. The whole point of the NDIS is to create market-driven choices and competition. It’s scary, because we are audited to death and need to cover our butt for everything.”

Diane Lynch illustation

If we take two months to respond to a customer, they will go somewhere else. How can we compete? Technology is what will give us the edge to respond really fast, in a financially sustainable way. But we also need to question whether the processes in place are genuinely needed or not.

Diane Lynch
CEO, Kirinari Community Services

“The NDIS doesn’t give you the money or time to do that, we have to turn that on its head,” she urges.

So how can leaders in the industry adopt this fearless attitude to deliver services in a considered but fast way, overcoming the inefficiencies weighing them down? Diane says it’s not about reckless risk-taking, it’s about ensuring people are safe, but drastically cutting through the requirements.

So how do leaders determine what’s really needed? Here are Diane’s six tips for identifying and reshaping inefficient processes:

  1. Be brave and challenge the status quo

A lot of inefficiencies come from the belief that there are rules or compliance governing our processes. As leaders we need to be brave and question these outdated procedures. I ask people to show me the legislation, show me the rule that says we have to do things this way. It rarely exists. If we can establish that we’re doing something because it’s a hangover from old processes, we can start looking at new solutions. I get savage on these processes: if it’s not a safety rule or legislated, get rid of it.

  1. Ask, “What would it look like if we said yes?”

Language is very powerful. When I started challenging processes and procedures, I was often met with “no, because” or “we’ve never done that”. Once you start saying yes — when there is a willingness to have a crack — you start to find solutions.

  1. Give people permission to fail

Failure is scary. But if we give people permission to try, we can see what’s possible. Ask your teams to really consider what is the worst that could happen to assess the risk. How can we try new experiences in a safe, sensible way?

  1. Create a culture of feedback

Talk, talk, talk [with your people]. When we were a smaller organisation, identifying and challenging inefficiencies came from conversations around the table. As we grow, we want to maintain a culture of feedback being given and received all the time. Good, bad or otherwise. Don’t rely on a performance appraisal once a year. If anyone sees something they think is fabulous, we want them to speak up and let leadership know. If anyone feels uncomfortable, they should question that and be able to talk openly about it. Unacceptable behaviour should be called out immediately.

  1. Make everyone accountable by giving them permission to take action

Feedback is valuable, but it’s also important that every single person within the organisation is responsible and accountable. That means empowering them to make decisions. It’s not ok to overlook hazards, to step over a problem and say “oh it’s not my job, I’ll email someone else about it”. If you want people to take charge and address problems and inefficiencies, they need to feel they can take action.  

  1. Recognise that feedback comes from everywhere

The best feedback is repeat business. Growth is a great indication that you’re doing something right — it’s no different to people choosing their favourite coffee shop. We follow the same principle, if people are walking in the door, we are doing something right. If people are leaving in droves, something isn’t meeting the mark. Find out what it is.

How to embrace change and new ways of working

“We’re not an IT organisation, we’re in human services. Our focus has to be on providing support services, not on doing admin work.”

Peter Ebborn — IT Manager, Fighting Chance

Founded in 2011, Fighting Chance is redesigning what participation in the economy and society looks like, so that disability is not a barrier. They build social businesses that close gaps, creating inclusive environments where people with disability have unbridled access to opportunity, dignity and prosperity.

Despite being dynamic agents of change in the community, like many support organisations, their internal operations didn’t match. Processes were slow, inefficient and demanded too much time from team members on the frontline.

IT Manager, Peter Ebborn, explains. “Our training managers should be writing content, but instead their time was eaten up by rostering. Our frontline team members spent two hours every afternoon journaling customer notes. It’s dead time and it’s not always accurate after-the-fact,” he says. “We were driven to find a solution that could help us focus on prioritising support,” says Peter.

What’s really challenging to leaders within the industry is that even when processes are obviously slow and inefficient, staff can be resistant to change them. Learning new systems can be daunting and it’s often perceived as easier to maintain the status quo.

“Our frontline support staff are time poor, especially with all the extra work they need to complete on top of their actual job,” says Peter. “But they work in a very dynamic environment, they need to do things in the moment and can’t wait for solutions. So they come up with their own,” he explains.

Frontline team members at Fighting Chance had long been relying on office tools such as spreadsheets to track goals and customer information. These spreadsheets quickly become unwieldy beasts to maintain, frequently crashing and even losing information. People who rely on them often struggle to keep track of information effectively, which impacts discussions with customers and family members who rely on these records for consistency of care.

So for leaders who have identified solutions and ways to improve efficiency, how do you bring the rest of the organisation onboard? Here are four insights from Peter, based on his experience implementing new systems and processes at Fighting Chance.

  1. Introduce the reasons why, not the technology

Instead of informing staff of a new piece of technology that’s coming, position the opportunities for the organisation and their customers. The technology is not the big news, it should be about how your leadership team is supporting staff and customers to have a better experience and improve outcomes.

  1. Be transparent and engage early

Don’t wait until roll-out to engage your teams. Inform people of what’s happening and ensure that the message is coming top-down from within the organisation. Be transparent and realistic about timelines and how people can assist or provide feedback.

  1. Enlist champions outside of the executive level

Create working groups from a diverse mix of employees across the organisation, who can provide feedback and inform the executive team of the impact on their roles. These people will become your champions for the project and can help advocate to other staff. They will give you a different perspective that you may not have considered before and provide opportunities to address and overcome red flags before they become a barrier.

  1. Engage through face-to-face interactions

People in our industry are incredibly time-poor and this shouldn’t be overlooked when trying to engage them and asking to change their processes. Don’t send them emails and links, people won’t read it. Host face-to-face sessions and include them on the journey.

“Don’t wait for perfect. Just start something”

If you know you’re facing inefficiencies and outdated processes, what is the first move? How do leaders go about taking the first step toward fearlessness?

Diane’s advice is to accept that it won’t be perfect, but try anyway.

“Be brave. Don’t wait for perfect. Just start something and be prepared to review it if something fails” she says. “Any change is scary, it requires a leap of faith and fierce determination. But my advice is to have a go and start something. If we wait, nothing will change. You need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and optimism, finding opportunities where others see risks. If you’re not that kind of person, start by challenging yourself to say yes. That negative mindset is the biggest roadblock to change. Embrace your passion for people and use it to drive change. For me, there needs to be a really good reason to say no to someone doing something that will bring joy to their lives,” explains Diane.

Peter agrees, suggesting that organisations look to the future and question whether the systems in place will support you down the line, especially as you expand. Document your current processes and look at where parts of your organisation aren’t aligned or where responsibilities are falling to the wrong teams.

“We put together a catalogue of processes and document what we can examine,” says Peter. “We have parts of the business that are very process-centric and it’s somewhat disjointed from the rest of the organisation. So we looked at how to get that back-of-house admin aligned with our frontline. It doesn’t make sense for frontline support staff to be doing our admin work,” he explains.

Here are four ideas from both of the experts on getting started:

Start small and review often

Both Diane and Peter are advocates for starting small. Rather than trying to overhaul entire systems and processes and forcing it on staff, bring them along for the journey. Start small, trial a system with a section of your business to gain feedback and learn from rather than trying to do everything at once. Look for technology partners who support this step and won’t lock you into unwieldy contracts or software that won’t grow and adapt as you do.

Embrace new ways of working

Every year it gets less difficult for people to accept new technology, it’s become a part of our daily lives. Most people these days are comfortable with the reality that you need to use smartphones at work now, for example. Diane says most of the resistance comes from staff concerns over their work/life balance. Be open to discussions and help set boundaries to assure people that the technology will support their work, not add to it.

Look at ways your organisation has already adapted

Innovation and adaptability is something that every disability support organisation has faced in the last few years with the COVID-19 health crisis. Examine the ways in which your organisation has adapted successfully to change and see where this can be replicated across other parts of your operations.

Diane gives the example of working with cash. “Our staff were uncomfortable with the use of cash in houses, it’s risky and hard to track. Switching to cards was considered too hard. Then COVID hit and overnight, cash was gone. The community adapted. The learning is that fundamentally, we’re so capable of change. Some of us are flexible, some need to be directed. The challenge of a leader is to be responsible for that change,” she says.

Examine anything that isn’t working

If you’re unsure what processes to start with, look at what isn’t working. Customer complaints, survey results, incident reports — even the results of the royal commission. What can be improved? How can you ensure things don’t continue to happen in the same way?

Where to get help

Identifying inefficiencies is only part of the journey. The next step is finding a technology partner to help drastically improve your operations, while staying in step with current regulations and pricing guidelines.

GoodHuman is partnering with both Fighting Chance and Kirinari to transform the way they deliver disability support services. Together, we’re improving their customer experiences, cutting admin for frontline teams, and streamlining business operations with a purpose-built platform for the sector.

To learn more about introducing new NDIS software to enhance efficiency, download The Digital Transformation Playbook: 3 Steps to Future-Proof Your NDIS Organisation. Or to see if GoodHuman is the right fit for your organisation, set up a time to speak with our team.

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