High Involvement Has UnitingCare Australia on Fire

Action Pact founder LaVrene Norton tells the story of how her grandfather used to head out in early spring to “warm the soil” for his garden. While he accepted frost as a natural part of the cycle of life, he saw no reason to let it go on any longer than necessary. He would light a large bonfire on the garden plot, let it burn until the soil had been softened, then turn the coals over into the earth. As a result, their family had peas and lettuce sprouting in their garden before anyone else.

Similarly, UnitingCare Australia lit the fire of passion in a large team folks working with their organization. The seeds were sown to inspire staff to make changes and now a variety of sprouts are visible!

No matter what their area of expertise, everyone at UnitingCare was engaged. From nurse to manager, CFO to IT staff, hands on to home office support, they were all included in the same learning environment that challenged them as individuals, teams and a whole organization. Peter Worland, Executive Director of UnitingCare and Stephen Teulen, Director, UnitingCare Aging and three board members also participated.

Peter established cause for change in his introductory statement:

In our UnitingCare theological basis of faith (Matthew 25) Jesus calls us to act in the interests of what he calls the “least of these”. Yet it seems as soon as we set up human service systems to serve the vulnerable and marginalize…the clients of those services…the weak and the undefended…  find themselves subjugated to the wishes…the rosters…the processes etc…. that suit not the clients but the paid professionals. How to reverse this situation in favour of the clients; consistently, sustainably and over time….is our quest.

The team studied the Choreography of Culture Change, shared an amazing amount of stories, and came to terms with the depth and width of a huge commitment to their Inspired Care Principles of Safety, Comfort, Normality, Meaning & Purpose and the Cultural Pillars of Leadership, Learning, Environment and Processes.

All of these values are driving their quest to rethink and remold actions to put those they serve in the driver’s seat, endeavoring to create home and household wherever people live.

This large team, 75 strong, has been reaching its tentacles into their services by doing what they experienced: involving others in a variety of ways with emphasis on inspiring a shared vision.

Here are some of those experiences and reflections:

  • “What a different view I had of things today, as I walked around one of our homes. I truly saw it with different eyes and was itching to change a few things immediately.  I did do as I said I would and have spoken to different care staff today about their experiences and aspirations about working in aged care.”
  • “I have been reflecting on all we have learned over our 3 days together – about ourselves and one another and I am reminded of a comment by Peter Senge about learning teams. He says, ‘Learning teams learn how to learn together … This is why learning teams need “practice fields”, ways to practice together so that they can develop their collective learning skills.’  (The Fifth Discipline)”

Several team members shared illustrations of new ways of practicing together:

  • “I recently had my first leadership team meeting since the offsite and we tried the learning circle.”
  • “The meeting was opened with the reading of Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. The benefits of storytelling as a learning tool were acknowledged before leading into learning circles [on the topics of] what constitutes a resident’s home, how can we monitor for ‘institutional creep’ and the development of self-led teams for a household model of care.”
  • “At Pacifica we have been having conversations on a daily basis about our residents directing their care. The residents are getting very involved and we have one of our households about to start having meetings with myself and the kitchen staff about the food that they want in their fridges.”

One of the amazing outcomes of everyone being engaged is that no matter what their area of expertise or specific type of service, they all rallied around the same principles and are working diligently to apply them in their specific areas.

UnitingCare reduced-cropped

Steve Teulan, Director, UnitingCare Ageing shared his sentiments as team members returned home and began to integrate learning and start to take action.

I can see the beginning unfold of the realisation of a hope that I have had for over a decade that residents and clients receiving aged care could get a better deal where they can have a greater say in their lives and care. With this opportunity is the potential for our people to achieve a heightened sense of satisfaction and growth. I am so impressed with the insights, passion and commitment shown in your comments and excited about what will be created. Thank you to everyone involved in this vital work.

Linda Justin, Director, Continuous Service Improvement, has the unique charge of leading this process form the home office team serving all 73 services in their journey toward the Household model. Her job is to keep fueling the fire and to support al of the efforts toward change. She remarks

It is so heart warming to hear your stories, reading Wilfrid, trying out learning circles, wall to wall’s, food stations and keeping the momentum going, truly fantastic. Great start, let’s keep building community and sharing across our services, areas and geography. As choreographers some days can be lonely so let’s support each other as fellow dancers in the renewal process!

Team members are using a variety of methods to reach out including: storytelling, asking questions of staff and residents and listening, considering new ideas, trying to see with new eyes, and using learning circles both with residents and staff in a nursing home or at a corporate finance meeting. These are the elements of high involvement. It gets the process moving, nurtures the soil, and creates new ways of practicing that help us see, speak and behave differently. What are your High Involvement stories and successes? Feel free to share them in the comment section below.

Megan Hannan, MS, is an Executive Leader at Action Pact and has provided leadership in long-term care for over 25 years. Megan developed Action Pact’s signature train the trainer program, PersonFirst®. She is the former President of the Board of the Pioneer Network, and now sits on their Education Committee.

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