Leading through change
24 February 2020 at 5:52 pm
Continuing our NFP leadership series, Map consulting group’s Lea Corbett and Amanda Cornwall speak with Glenn Foard, CEO of Melba Support Services, about the experiences and challenges of leading a NFP.
When Glenn Foard took over the reins at disability services provider Melba Support Services in 2011, Australian governments were actively discussing the need for a major reform of disability services and the foundations for a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Very few people at that time could have understood just how massive that change was to be. For Foard and Melba the last eight years have been a period of constant change and challenge, but also amazing growth and satisfaction.
A changing industry
“Our organisational turnover has increased by about 900 per cent in eight years. We have been through two mergers, a major relocation and the ‘disruption’ the NDIS has created,” Foard says.
Melba Support Services – Vitals
Purpose: To open up a world of opportunities for people to live a fabulous life
Annual budget: Approximately $100 million
In 2018, Melba was also one of five preferred providers for the transfer of disability services from the Victorian government as part of the transition to the NDIS. Last year, Melba employed about 600 government staff and provided Supported Independent Living and respite services to up to 650 participants at more than 80 service sites. This is in addition to the 700 people they were already supporting.
“We have tried to grasp all of the opportunities that stem from these changes. It can be tiring and you need to find ways to maintain energy and optimism” Foard says.
Thankfully, Foard says he has a great team around him and is able to draw on his colleagues regularly to discuss the big decisions. These trusted advisers include the Melba chief outcomes officer, the executive office manager, an executive coach and other senior managers at Melba. He also has a very positive relationship with the chair of the Melba board.
“My executive office manager and I have been working together for more than 10 years. She is enormously supportive and also very wise. There aren’t many things I decide that haven’t benefited from her counsel,” he says.
“In the end it means I make better decisions and it helps to reinforce that we are in it together.”
Foard says he also has a partner who is “the ultimate source of sound advice”.
So, what are some of the hardest issues he has to deal with in the role? We asked him to name the top three issues that keep him awake at night.
The buck stops with me
“We now have some 1,400 employees in our organisation. They provide support services to people with disability and do a great job. But there is always the potential that an employee may fail in their duty of care…or worse,” Foard says.
“That definitely keeps me awake at night at times as the potential consequences are significant, in fact potentially catastrophic for a person we support. You can work to put the best quality systems in place – and we do – but no system is perfect and, in the end, I believe the buck does stop with me.”
Foard is uncompromising about Melba’s commitment to human rights, positive behaviour support and zero tolerance to abuse in all forms for those people it supports. The management team at Melba includes a chief outcomes officer and a general manager of practice, quality and safeguards whose roles involve ensuring that all staff take to heart Melba’s quality of service and zero tolerance approach.
“Our staff are encouraged to take initiatives to improve practices in the organisation, and to talk to their managers if they see or suspect behavior towards participants that is not completely respectful,” he says.
“In addition, Melba was the first Australian organisation to be accredited under the Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL), USA’s quality framework, requiring that we have measures in place to progress positive outcomes in 21 areas for each and every person we support.”
Creating the right culture and values are also fundamental according to Foard. Melba’s recruitment is based on values; they induct all staff into “The Melba Way” (culture and values) and provide ongoing learning and development opportunities to their workforce.
They also strive to develop an empowered and curious workforce, and a joyful workplace. Melba runs an annual staff survey and is currently working with La Trobe University to develop a survey of organisational culture. Bravely, as part of the staff survey Foard says he seeks feedback on the level of staff confidence in the CEO.
“To sleep well, I need to satisfy myself that I am doing everything I reasonably can as CEO to ensure that people’s trust in our organisation is not misplaced and that the services we provide are the best they can be,” he says.
“My role is to ensure that people’s trust in our organisation is not misplaced.”
Financial sustainability and the health and wellbeing of his colleagues are also significant issues for Foard.
“Striking the right balance between driving change, growth and quality improvements but ensuring my colleagues are healthy and not exhausted is certainly challenging,” he says.
Foard believes that no matter what job you do, people need to find ways to stay healthy and de-stress. This is a pretty personal thing but he views Melba’s role as being to actively care about its people and to try to pick up on the signs before problems take hold. Taking the time to celebrate the team’s achievements is another of the things he has tried to cultivate at Melba.
“Our senior management group talk a lot about celebrating individual and organisational achievements,” he says.
Melba held four end-of-year celebrations in 2019 for staff, participants and families across the state. And like many other organisations, Melba celebrated individuals’ achievements through their awards and recognition practices.
Foard also believes in the power of sharing stories.
“Stories are powerful, affirming of our work and a great way to celebrate the outcomes we help people achieve. We include participant stories in all our communications and events and it is also a standing item on the senior management team’s agenda,” he explains.
In 2013 Foard was a recipient of the Harvard Club of Victoria’s non-profit fellowship and completed the Strategic Perspectives in Non-Profit Management program at Harvard University.
He said it was brilliant and that it reinforced an existing view: that running an organisation is not just about delivering services, it is about achieving outcomes and social impact.
Foard says that anyone who wants to be a CEO of a not-for-profit organisation should have a clear view about the social impact they want to bring about.
“The role provides you with an opportunity – don’t waste it!” he says emphatically.
Foard arrived at Melba with a background in disability services and housing policy. He said that one of his main objectives was to diversify the housing choices for people with disability from the standard group home model. To this end, he has been partnering with a range of organisations to deliver more housing options that can be offered to people Melba support.
“So, my advice to anyone who aspires to a NFP CEO role is to think carefully about the change you want to see and then, of course, determine the strategy you will adopt to make it happen. It would be the first thing I’d ask an aspiring CEO in an interview,” he says.
Foard himself seems to have wasted very few opportunities over the past eight years as he has steered Melba Support Services through a time of turbulent change, and emerged stronger than ever at the other end.
And if he were premier of Victoria for the year – what would he stop, start, keep?
According to Foard, the Victorian government has adopted progressive policies in the disability field dating back to the introduction of the Disability Act 2006.
“Victoria has led the way and I hope it will keep doing so. I’d want to ensure the continuation of Victoria’s advocacy efforts in support of an NDIS that lives up to its promise,” he says.
He also believes that states have the responsibility of ensuring that those who don’t qualify for the NDIS don’t get forgotten.
“We need more social housing for people with disability and those without – it’s vital to positive life outcomes,” he says.
And while Foard is passionate about policies that advance the social and economic participation of people with disability, he believes an even higher priority must be given to preventing the potentially disastrous effects of human-induced climate change. He would close pollution generating energy sources and promote carbon neutral renewable sources, and keep investing in (accessible) public transport. And if you are driving, think seriously about an electric car, he says!
“Ultimately, nothing else will matter if we don’t address the climate emergency,” he says.
This article is the second in a six-part NFP Leadership series.
Map consulting group initiated this series of interviews with not for profit CEOs to share their insights about the role and support the success of leaders in the sector, current and emerging.