Using organisational health research Barnardos Australia devised key initiatives focussing on talent growth, execution excellence and system shaping to strengthen their organisation.

The Barnardos Australia team have been working on strengthening its strategy and are mid-way through Towards 2025 – their current strategic plan. They used organisational health research to develop key initiatives for their teams which have realised a significant rise in scores for their organisation.

Deirdre Cheers, Barnardos
Deirdre Cheers, CEO, Barnardos Australia

Deirdre Cheers, Chief Executive Officer, Barnardos Australia joined the Australian Scholarships Foundation community to share how Barnardos is accelerating its organisational health. Deirdre shared the activities making the most impact for their teams following their Organisational Health Index work with McKinsey & Company over the past three years.

Barnardos Australia has the vision to empower every child in Australia to have the opportunity to reach their full potential. They are a large charity operating in New South Wales and ACT, and in 2021/2022 assisted over 14,000 children, young people and adults.

The key factor connecting and driving the success of our organisational health is ‘alignment’ across our strategic initiatives. There’s always lots to do, however, our strategic project management framework ensures we select, prioritise, and deliver on projects that only align back to our strategic choices.

Deirdre Cheers, Chief Executive Officer, Barnardos Australia
About Barnardos Australia

Improving organisational health

An organisation’s health—its ability to align around and achieve strategic goals—is critical for long-term performance. The Australian Scholarships Foundation collaborated with McKinsey & Company to understand how to sustain and improve the health of the not-for-profit sector. The research is based on McKinsey’s ‘Organisational Health Index (OHI)’ a survey-based tool that provides a clear method to measure and improve organisational health. The OHI is not a measure of sentiment or engagement; rather, it examines outcomes (how healthy is your organisation?) and practices (what behaviours does your organisation adopt to stay healthy?).

Looking at the healthiest organisations the report, Building from purpose: Unlocking the power of Australia’s not-for-profit sector, found a pattern of three essential capabilities: talent growth, execution excellence and system shaping (Diagram 1). To ensure robust health, an organisation needs to achieve effectiveness in all these capabilities; however, the research shows that most organisations face challenges in at least two of these areas.

Table showing 35% of organisations are above median benchmark for Talent Growth, 40% are above benchmark for Execution Excellence, and 60% are above benchmark for System Shaping

Initiatives to support talent growth, execution excellence and system shaping

Deirdre Cheers notes that, “it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘over-engineering’ solutions to our strategic goals. As an Executive Leadership team, we focus our conversations on the essential high-value components of our strategic initiatives that will deliver outcomes to our workforce”.

The Barnardos team focussed on the three areas highlighted in the Building from Purpose report and are working in the following ways to strengthen their capabilities:

  1. Talent Growth

    Talent growth focuses on creating a performance culture for people to grow more than they thought possible. Ensuring honesty, transparency, and candid dialogue is a foundation for talent growth. The Barnardos team focussed on a range of initiatives, including:

    • Learning, Development & Talent Strategy
    • Performance Development Framework
    • Enterprise Agreement
    • Employee Wellbeing Framework.

    But those initiatives making the biggest difference include:

    • Revamped intranet to support ‘single source of truth’ and information sharing and interaction mechanism
    • Cross-portfolio fit-for-purpose working groups to empower leaders and engage employees to understand what the organisation needs
    • Leadership development program designed to encourage collaboration, problem-solving, and continuous improvement across programs.
  2. Execution Excellence

    Execution excellence focuses on establishing the operational discipline to enable mission execution. The Barnardos team look at the importance of role clarity and getting clear on what everyone is responsible for, has authority over, and who to work with is key to execution excellence. The team focus on:

    • Reviewing Position Descriptions
    • New Risk Management Framework and risk appetite statements
    • New Adaptive Insights financial software
    • Delegations Framework.

    The initiatives which have made the most significant difference include:
    • Standardisation of roles, responsibilities, and duties through revised Position Descriptions
    • Management lead review of our Delegations Framework, underpinned by organisational restructure
    • Adapted SCRUM practices increase shared ownership, reduce silos, manage risks and opportunities, across Board and management.
  3. System Shaping

    System shaping supports innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurship. By focussing on strategic clarity and creating a plan with specific goals, targets, and milestones that is tied to the vision has been the core to addressing system sharing for the Barnardos team.

    Initiatives include:
    – Internal cross-portfolio collaboration and business partnering
    – Agile Strategic Project Management Framework.

    The initiatives making the biggest difference include:
    • Holistic, robust, and inclusive consultation across our entire organisation in the development of Barnardos’ Strategic Directions
    • Agile values and principles underpin and influence our strategic and operational mindset and behaviours
    • Strategic Project Management Framework supporting the identification, selection, prioritisation, and monitoring of projects.

Planning for the future

Deirdre Cheers highlighted that this work is not just a one-off but is ongoing for their team to further strengthen Barnardos in the years ahead. Their future plans include exploring meaningful ways to reward and recognise employees, through an Employee Wellbeing Framework. To support our modern workplace and operations, Barnardos is utilising digital solutions and automation to streamline and integrate business processes and systems, so that they can be more efficient and effective.

The team are also undertaking a ‘Strategic Directions Refresh’ to reassess priorities and pinpoint the drivers that will enable us to achieve our goals for the remaining two years of the Towards 2025 strategy.
All these initiatives support the Barnardos team in gradually building their organisational strength and capacity to achieve mission. They continue to assess the effectiveness of the programs and their scores have shown great gains over the last year.

You don’t need to release an entire strategic initiative in one hit. We’ve found that smaller releases, more frequently, build confidence with our employees and enable us to receive feedback that we can use to improve subsequent phases. This agility has reduced over-consultation and ensured we’re more likely to hit the mark with our project releases.

Deirdre Cheers, Chief Executive Officer, Barnardos Australia
Barnardos Australia – Because every child needs a chmapion

To read more on the three capabilities identified to support not-for-profits in building healthy organisations download the full Building from purpose: Unlocking the power of Australia’s not-for-profit sector report.