The Hierarchy of Needs – As Applied to NDIS Transition
15 February 2018 at 8:45 am
When applying Maslow’s hierarchy to the NDIS, what sits at the bottom of the pyramid depends on where an organisation is now, and how significantly they are affected by NDIS, writes Jane Arnott, general manager of consulting and business services at Community Business Bureau.
Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs has become a useful model to adapt and apply to organisations and system paradigms. In our work in supporting organisations to transition to NDIS, we’ve had some interesting internal debate about what should sit at the base of the pyramid – ie what’s the critical area for organisations to get right in order to transition to NDIS? Is it culture, business processes and systems, or product?
For many of the organisations we work with, it’s business processes and systems that take first priority. That doesn’t mean that they have culture and product sorted, but as their primary income stream switches from block funding to NDIS plans, they need to get the processes and systems in place to take service bookings, and make payment claims, and to do this accurately and efficiently.
For organisations who don’t have a luxury of a strong bank balance, being able to secure cashflow and keep the revenue coming in is a critical reality. More fundamental issues of whether they are offering a product that the new market wants, or whether their staff are culturally aligned to offer positive customer experience against a backdrop of billable hours, will just have to wait.
That’s not to undermine the significance of product and culture. In a competitive environment, product and culture will become critical aspects of your customer value proposition that set you apart from other providers. Getting your product ready for market is definitely an essential foundation block, and it is business critical to understand how you design and resource your product to ensure that it is profitable, and how much you need to sell for it to be viable.
Organisations are approaching product development on a spectrum that starts with doing nothing (confident that existing products are exactly what NDIS customers want to buy), through adapting existing product, to greenfield opportunities to explore new products and markets. All of these approaches carry risk, but perhaps the biggest risk is of being too rigid in your product design.
NDIS data shows that whilst clients tend to stick to familiar services with their first NDIS plan, once they’ve tested other options, they start to develop their agency and exercise more choice and control. We’re challenging providers to question how long their product will continue to be relevant, and viable, in an NDIS context. If NDIS participants start demanding more individualised services to satisfy their personal interests and needs, and less group supports, can you respond?
And then it comes to culture – the “long tail” of NDIS change. In many ways culture is the hardest issue to fix, and the one that takes the longest time, particularly for large, well established and geographically distributed organisations. It’s also the change that could have the most profound and lasting impact on organisational viability in an NDIS market.
NDIS presents huge challenges to the cultural paradigm of many not-for-profit service providers. The shift isn’t just about moving to a more commercial model, where revenue and costs are based on tightly specified units rather than blocks of services. For traditional service providers that may have assumed that they know what a person needs and deliver a product accordingly, the NDIS values of choice and control resting with the participant challenges some inherent assumptions about the capacity of clients to be agents of their own lives. This has downstream impact on product design, and frontline delivery. Under the NDIS model, your frontline staff are your front of house. Participants will be making decisions whether to purchase services or to remain with a provider based on their experience of engaging with the person that answers your phone or deals with a service query, as well as their support workers.
Your culture needs to walk the tightrope between commercial business practices and a values base that is focused on service quality and participant dignity (and risk) and rights, whilst at the same time being open to change in response to market demands.
This interplay of factors has taught us that the Maslow model doesn’t translate well to the current NDIS context of a market in transition. What is critical for survival depends on where an organisation is now, and how imminently and significantly they are affected by NDIS.
The relationship between the different elements that point towards a strong NDIS provider are complex and changeable. The beautiful, but rigid, simplicity of a pyramid model lacks the sophistication and flexibility required for the volatile, ambiguous and emerging NDIS environment. The NDIS model is more a series of complex threads. Deftly woven it can create a beautiful fabric that pulls together client services with business acumen. In the wrong hands you risk an unravelling mess. This is where the truly critical factor comes in – leadership, and the capability of leadership to manage change, across the organisation.
This isn’t just about the CEO and your general manager of services or operations. You need strong leadership across every function and layer of your organisation. Your board and CEO need to be setting direction and securing buy in. Your senior leadership needs to know where to invest energy, how to prioritise, communicate and engage, and to be able to make – and execute – difficult decisions. Your corporate services need to be aligned to shifting your HR, IT, marketing and finance functions towards engaging customers and adding value to the customer experience – an outside-in approach, not inside-out. Most of all, your frontline leadership, with their position at the sharp end of change, need to ensure their teams continue to deliver high quality, responsive services within the budgetary framework of the NDIS price guide.
As NDIS continues its roll out, it’s too early to make accurate predictions of which organisations will thrive in the new market, but we see those organisations where leadership is able to adapt and keep its staff on top of the bucking bronco as the most likely to succeed.
Community Business Bureau provides fee for service consulting to not for profits on NDIS transition, marketing and human resources. Jane Arnott is CBB’s general manager of consulting and business services.