The Leading Partnership News

Working the Territory – The Northern Territory, that is!

posted 6 Mar 2019, 16:31 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 6 Mar 2019, 19:14 ]

Big cities and off the beaten track

At The Leading Partnership we partner with a broad range of clients in the fields of strategy, governance and digital transformation. We enjoy the diversity of the assignments we undertake and the wonderful client relationships we’ve developed - some of which span long periods of time. Australia is a highly urbanised country. Most people live in 4 or 5 major capital cities. Although based in Sydney, over the years The Leading Partnership has undertaken several interesting projects in the Northern Territory – widely referred to as “The NT” - a challenge we enjoy. For the information of non-Australians, and to remind locals, the Territory is big, really big. Its landmass covers 1,349,129 square kilometres (520,902 square miles). It is sparsely populated, with a total headcount of only 250,000. The Territory has a rich, diverse and still vibrant 40,000-year history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait settlement. Approximately 25% Territorians are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

So, what have we been doing there? The answer is, quite a bit!

Large NGO - board review and strategic planning

For several years now we have been working with one of the NT’s largest human services NGOs. It must be noted that the service delivery and coordination challenges across such a vast, yet thinly populated geographical area are significant. The climate is hot and dry and in desert areas and hot, humid and tropical along the northern coast. In Arnhem Land, some communities are cut off for weeks every year during the wet season, known in the North as “The Wet”. It can be difficult to attract skilled employees and to keep staff more than 2-3 years. This results in a steady turn over of public servants of all kinds, for example, and difficulties in attracting technical, professional and trades folk across the board. Local organisations are resilient, however, and well used to adapting and changing in response to a whole range of quite unique “realities”. We conducted a facilitated board review for this organisation and have also supported them in completing their most recent 5-year strategy. We were impressed both with their commitment to equity and excellence in service of their clients, and their demonstrable commitment to strong governance and management.

AMRRIC,  “The Dog People” – a 10-year journey

Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities, known widely as “AMRRIC” or “The Dog People”, is a specialised NGO primarily funded by the Commonwealth Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Its purpose is to deliver, and facilitate the delivery of, animal health programs, mostly involving dogs, across the NT and the broader “Top End” of Australia. Speaking broadly, the Top End can be defined as including the Kimberly, Torres Strait Islands, Northern South Australia and parts of Queensland. Head quartered in Darwin, AMRRIC partners with remote Aboriginal Communities to ensure culturally appropriate veterinary and animal health and welfare educational programs are made available in remote communities. Dogs play a special part in the lives of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Without veterinary care, dog, and more recently, cat populations can grow to an unmanageable size. This may result in the spread of disease and even injury to people. We have worked pro bono with AMRRIC for more than a decade supporting the board, the President and management through several strategic cycles. We have also volunteered in remote communities.

Strategic planning for a national volunteer NGO serving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples

This organisation is not headquartered in the NT but operates offices in Darwin and Alice Springs. We were asked to partner with a senior Aboriginal consultant to work with the Board and Management in developing a new strategic plan. The process was held over three days in Alice Springs and was highly consultative. On the first day, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders aged from 17 to 75 years of age flew in from around Australia to spend a day “On Country” with the organisation’s board and management. On day two, the organisation’s Ambassadors and Board held a facilitated session. On day three the board worked with us to distil what they had heard and learned from the previous two days and from the detailed environmental scan undertaken in the lead up to the event. The outcome was a bold new strategic document to guide the development of the organisation over the years to come.

Remote Aboriginal health service - planning process

There are approximately 140 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) operating across urban, regional and remote Australia. They range from large multi-functional services employing several medical practitioners and providing a wide range of services, to small services which rely on Aboriginal Health Workers and/or nurses to provide the bulk of primary care services, often with a preventive, health education focus. The services form a network, but each is autonomous and independent both of one another and of government.

In 2018 and into 2019 we were engaged to support one of the most remote Aboriginal health services in Australia in developing a new strategic plan. This service operates several accredited GP clinics as well as providing mental health, public health, palliative and aged care services across a very large geographical area. Each community is  many hours drive, largely on dirt roads, from the nearest hospital.

This assignment involved visiting several communities, broad and deep engagement with health and administrative staff, extensive data analysis and benchmarking, while working closely with the Aboriginal Council which oversees all services including health.

What we’ve learned

There is more to Australia than Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra. We have learned a great deal from our commitment to work in rural and remote areas. We feel privileged to have been a part of so many projects conducted “off the beaten track”.

Philip Pogson FAICD and Stuart Jones GAICD, Directors, The Leading Partnership

Best Wishes for the Festive Season

posted 19 Dec 2018, 16:06 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 19 Dec 2018, 16:11 ]

We are writing to wish you all the best for the end of 2018 from The Leading Partnership.  Have a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, the Festive Season or just a few days off work.  (We do realise that some people work through Christmas/New Year).

As is our regular practice, we do not send cards but have made a donation to two organisations whose work we admire: Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC) and the International Women's Development Agency (IWDA).

For The Leading Partnership it has been an interesting and diverse year. We have continued to enjoy our not so new premises at Berry St North Sydney, although we seem to be surrounded by building works! We've undertaken a very wide range of projects from health IT to international banking, higher education to working with a remote Aboriginal health service. Some organisations are very large and complex while others are much smaller. We are particularly gratified at the gradual expansion of our board advice and self evaluation business. Along with paid assignments this included two pro-bono board reviews for an Aboriginal health charity as well as an NGO that provides overseas aid in the Pacific. It is always a privilege to work with our clients and to get to know them, their organisation and their business. We remain very confident about the quality and commitment of the leaders and professionals we meet and admire the younger generation of managers who are now starting to take their place across all sectors.

In closing, we hope that you have some time to relax and renew yourself with family and friends over the coming days and weeks. Our office will be closed from December 20, whilst we take our own advice.   We reopen officially on Monday 14 January. If it's urgent, just drop us an email.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Pogson, Stuart Jones and Michelle Stewart

The Leading Partnership

11 December 2018

Mentoring and coaching NFP boards: the power of helpful relationships

posted 7 Mar 2018, 16:23 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 26 Mar 2018, 16:47 ]

The call came out of the blue.  A skilled and experienced colleague, Dr Jennie Churchill GAICD, had just taken over as Acting Executive Officer for a national NGO whose mission had a focus on animal and human welfare and safety in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities.  The former, much loved Executive Officer she replaced had died suddenly in a tragic accident.  This had seen the organisation lurch towards an existential crisis.  Her job was to get the organisation back on an even keel or close it down.  To this end, a weekend board meeting had been organised at a venue outside Melbourne.  Directors would fly in from across Australia.  Would I attend and facilitate?  The work would be hard, the hours long, the pay non-existent but they’d cover my travel.

Thus, began my journey with the ungainly titled “Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities, known formally around the traps as “AMRRIC” and in the bush as “The Dog Mob”.  Over that first weekend the board and Jennie Churchill, the organisation’s only employee, came up with a set of nine principles which would underpin the future focus and direction of AMRRIC.  Jennie and I moved quickly to write a strategic and business plan.  Then, in a frantic flurry of grant writing, fundraising and relationship building that is all too familiar to mission-driven not-for-profits (NFP) and non-government organisations (NGOs), a platform for the future was established.  New staff were hired, new board members appointed, services expanded.  At this point I would normally have moved on but I stayed involved.  Several years back I was made a Life Member of AMRRIC at their international conference in Darwin.  It was one of the highpoints of my life.  Ten years on from that original crisis meeting AMRRIC receives core funding from the Commonwealth Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and is in regular receipt of other national State and Territory project and grant funding. It has even received funding from prestigious international NGOs.  The issues it addresses, in respectful partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other stakeholders – largely dog health and welfare and the relationship between dog health and human health in remote communities – continue to be important in ways that are too complex to explain here

At every level of my being I believe deeply that NFPs and NGOs matter.  Large and small, they are a backbone of civil society.  The issues they deal with and take responsibility for are at times awe inspiring.  If you believe I am exaggerating, try setting up a safe and professional veterinary hospital once a year in a remote community in northern Australia.  Logistics rise to a high level of complexity when roads are cut off for months in the Wet, when food arrives on a barge once or twice a week, where there are no anaesthetic machines, no drugs, no veterinary nurses and no veterinarians for hundreds of kilometres! 

In general, if not in every case, NFP work is important work.  As governance professionals and experienced directors, we do well to roll up our sleeves, if we don’t already, and get in and help.  Often, the reality is that payment will be modest at best and nothing at all, in the worst scenario.  In the face of this spectacularly unattractive value proposition, my vision is to see more of governance and advisory colleagues take up the challenge of creating a long term, sustainable pro bono portfolio.  We need a growing army of committed governance experts who will “pick and stick” with NGOs and NFPs and stay the course not for weeks or months but for years. 

While avoiding the traps of Shadow Directorship – I never get involved in operational decision-making - I have now mentored several NFPs and NGOs across a range of sectors in health, human services and the arts.  Experience has led me to identify a range of areas where help is of use.

·         Support, mentoring and advice for Chairs and CEOs – The Chairs of NGOs and NFPs are typically appointed for one of two reasons.  Firstly, because they have deep expertise or interest aligned with the mission or purpose of the organisation while often lacking substantive governance skills.  Secondly, because they possess valuable leadership or other expertise not related to the mission.  Such folk then pick up sector knowledge along the way.  For the reasons outlined above, some Chairs have outside networks they can draw on in their leadership role, others don’t.  Similarly, CEOs and Executive Officers are often unable to afford high level coaching or training.  Non-judgemental, independent, confidential advice and support is invaluable.

·         Strategy and alignment – I have lost count of how many strategy and planning processes I have run for NGOs and NFPs.  I love the work and find it rewarding.  I can do it quickly.  Again, many not for profits cannot afford big end of town advisors who, even if they donate their time, sometimes miss the nuance and sensitivity required to be effective in strange and unfamiliar environs.  In addition, CEOs and staff have multiples roles in smaller organisations and even if they have the skills to run a planning process, they may not have the “bandwidth”.  Assistance is called for.

·         Compliance and board processes –the relationship between directors and management can be blurred and thus actually, or potentially, fraught, even in large NGOs.  Voluntary directors may bring passion and skill to the table but may have limited awareness of good governance process let alone company or associations’ law.  Boards often need assistance to firm up their governance processes, put in place sound practices and even conduct self-evaluations.  My firm now offers access to our on-line board self-evaluation tools free or at subsidised cost to boards we work with.  For some directors, such encounters offer their first experience with systematic, deep self-reflection on their governance role.

·         Education and development –the cost of sending even one person per year to the AICD Company Directors course is prohibitive to many organisations.  Yet there are other ways to do director education.  I often distribute short governance articles to boards, chairs and CEOs and am refreshingly surprised that they read them!  Some of the boards I mentor now hold a board self-review each year and go on to discuss an article or think piece they have all read beforehand. Even though many NFP directors are “amateur”, in that they do not have more than one or two unpaid director roles, most do not want to be amateur in their approach, a commitment I applaud.

One of my consulting mentors, a man I never met by the name of Professor Ed Schein, a long-term Professor at MIT, stated that the core principle of consulting is “Always try to be helpful”.  I have attempted to apply this maxim to my professional life both paid and unpaid.  When the intent is to be helpful, and where we are careful with boundaries and wittingly or unwittingly doing a director or manager’s role for them, it is unlikely that a mentor/coach like myself will be seen as a shadow director.  Being helpful means just that: being an asset, not a liability in any situation we find ourselves in.

There is a final, secondary outcome of more governance professionals and directors taking on long term, pro bono work with NFPs: the more volunteer directors who encounter, understand and implement good governance practice, the better governed our society will be.  Over time, this outcome could be the most valuable of all for the well-being of our nation.

Philip Pogson FAICD

Director, The Leading Partnership Pty Ltd

February 2018


Renewable Cities Conference 2017

posted 27 Jun 2017, 18:33 by Stuart Jones   [ updated 27 Jun 2017, 20:04 ]

What did we learn from Stuart's attendance at the Renewable Cities conference in June 2017? 

Our insights and takeaways from the 2 day event were -

  • Renewable energy offers cities and their constituent businesses compelling benefits over fossil fuels. Key among these are greater energy resilience through distributed generation, lower pollution (particularly of CO2), a whole new class of jobs and more stable prices for citizens. Cities committing to renewable energy will make a huge impact given that most of our population is based there.
  • Business and local government are leading the way in Australia, and leading well despite challenges inherent in the lack of alignment between levels of government. States are now supportive and playing catch up and the federal government is still resisting change. City of Adelaide and ACT Govt were standouts from the presentations. Lismore council, the City of Sydney and the Qld State Govt have also made good progress and have solid plans.
  • There is a lot of jargon to get your head around and differences are important for goal setting. 100% renewable is not the same as carbon neutral which is also referred to as 'net zero' by people in the sector. They are both important goals, but they mean different things and strategies to achieve your chosen goal will therefore differ if (when!) your business goes down this path.
  • Setting goals and targets is really important. Did you know that the ACT has a goal to be 100% renewable by 2020 and Lismore by 2023? Adelaide has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2025, and The Leading Partnership (that's us) by 2019 - with the help of North Sydney Council's Better Business Partnerships program? 
  • The clean energy transition is happening faster than nearly all predictive models have indicated. Renewable power is already cheaper than non-renewables and some impressively large projects are being funded on a monthly basis. The goals and targets being set by businesses and governments are within the near-term strategic time horizon.

One of the key connections with our strategy and change consulting work is that all businesses will have a role in making this transition, and it is a Board and Executive level agenda item. Moving to renewable or carbon neutral status requires planning and forethought. If you want to explore these ideas further for your business, we welcome a conversation about it. 

Stuart Jones

Influencing with integrity - profiling for results

posted 27 Jun 2017, 18:26 by Stuart Jones   [ updated 27 Jun 2017, 18:28 ]

Nothing changes in business or life unless we as individuals change our beliefs and behaviours. Yet getting people to change is never easy. We all have an inbuilt tendency to stick with what we know. Attempts to get people to change their views – or to even consider an alternate view - typically fail, often due to lack of adequate preparation beforehand. In addition, it is often the case that we do not tailor our influencing strategy to the actual person. Rather, we create in our minds an idealised picture of how they should respond to our approach and get frustrated when they don’t. 

Yet every person is different. We have different
  • Family and cultural backgrounds
  • Ways of taking in and processing information
  • Priorities and drivers
  • Personality structures
  • Reactions to pressure or conflict

Buffet and Obama - who is doing the influencing?                 

Therefore, if we really want to influence change for the better we must adjust our approach to the individual rather than use individual differences as an excuse for not getting the outcome we want or need. When called to speak with people on difficult, challenging or complex issues The Leading Partnership asks the following questions beforehand without judging the individual we are profiling.
  1. What drives the individual? (Success? Money? Fairness? Quality? Ego? Professionalism?)
  2. How do they like to take in & process information? (Numerical data? Written word? Face to Face? Needs time alone to process? Think out loud?)
  3. How do they behave under pressure or conflict? (Does their performance improve or get worse? Anger? Avoidance? Denial? Withdrawal? Work harder? Ice cool?)
  4. How do you get the best out of them? (Focus on the big picture? Show you’ve covered off the detail? Deal with their anxieties? Offer them several options? Apply pressure?)
  5. What behaviours should you avoid in dealing with them? (Sloppy thinking? Lack of accountability? Criticism? Not discussing a problem without proposing a solution?)
  6. Who influences them? (Colleagues? Friends? Former Boss?)
The answers to these questions provide the framework for a personalised influencing strategy that acknowledges individual differences sand treats those we are seeking to influence with integrity. If a situation is particularly important we recommend using a small group to collaboratively profile the key individuals you want to influence. Human beings “know more than we can tell” about how to best manage relationships. Team-based profiling enables us to bring to the surface what the team has already learned about influencing strategies that may or may not have worked with a particular person in the past.

Philip Pogson FAICD Director, The Leading Partnership

Leading professionals: the challenge of managing experts

posted 27 Mar 2017, 20:05 by Stuart Jones   [ updated 27 Mar 2017, 20:12 ]

In recent weeks we have been giving much thought to the nature of working with professionals.  

A decade or two back there was a lot of talk about 'knowledge-based' or 'knowledge-intensive' organisations.  It has all kind of happened hasn’t it? We are now very much a service economy, mass-manufacturing is leaving our shores and so many people now work in “white collar” or technical jobs.  We are also seeing the proliferation of low-level service jobs, often part time and casual, an important conversation for another time.
But how do we lead and manage all these highly educated, clever people?  Back in 2003, Philip Pogson from The Leading Partnership wrote an article for the Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine that explored just these issues.  It only takes a few minutes to read.  We would be interested to hear what you think is still relevant today.

Philip Pogson and Stuart Jones
The Leading Partnership

I wrote this article for the Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine back in October 2003. I had not long become a Director and co-owner of The Leading Partnership and we were working extensively at the time with elite, niche financial services experts. I was also starting to consult with senior medicos and scientists, a task I still enjoy.

I recently met with a senior surgeon in his private rooms to discuss a project I was working on which involved him and his Practice. Having clearly done a background check on me he had this article open on his desktop. He pointed to it and said: “Other professions have started to come to grips with the challenges of leading and managing very clever people in effective ways, in medicine we are still 30 years behind!”

Let me know your thoughts….

Philip Pogson FAICD, The Leading Partnership

When managers try managing experts who are brighter than they are, it can often end in tears. The trouble is, that challenge is only just beginning.

Today’s workers are the most educated and professional in history - and the trend is accelerating. New professions such as risk management and occupational health and safety seem to emerge overnight, driven by scientific discoveries, complex customer relationships, outsourcing and legislative requirements. Managers find themselves leading people who are smarter and better qualified in their area of expertise than they are. Many may have completed a qualification that did not even exist a decade ago.

Older professions such as law and medicine continue to splinter into finer degrees of specialisation, while many of the jobs that employed our grandparents for the whole of their working lives no longer exist. In addition, the jobs of the future have yet to be created.

The problem is we simply do not know much about how to lead these large and growing pools of intellectual assets. Organisations are now highly exposed to the whims of the talented individuals they employ. One or two top people choosing to behave illegally, or a high-powered team jumping ship, can bring a company to its knees.

Employees have changed but organisations have not. The industrial-manufacturing era organisation consisted of a small, elite group of professionals who headed up a much larger workforce of trade and clerical staff, and “unskilled” workers. Each of these groups could be dealt with en masse via award payment systems, or latterly through enterprise wide employment agreements. Nowadays a similar small leadership group seeks to manage a workforce that is often at least as gifted as they are and whose primary tool of trade is deep specialist knowledge. The new professional workforce is idiosyncratic, demands individual treatment, responds only to leaders that they can respect, and requires new organisational structures of a kind we have not invented yet.

Professionals are ego and achievement driven; they thrive on assignments that allow them to learn and grow professionally.  Their workplaces are in constant flux and can be highly unpredictable; job descriptions date rapidly. Yet people-management practices still assume defined job boundaries and static interests and don’t recognise the degree to which key professionals drive the success of the business.

Professionals seek out autonomy and work most effectively within broadly defined boundaries rather than under explicit rules. Stretch targets and new assignments within system-side guiding principles are motivating for professionals; close supervision and step-by-step tasks are not. 

Professionals may find structural and/or organisational uncertainty unsettling. Uncertainty breeds disengagement and disengagement lowers productivity. Professionals like to be consulted on change. But they will often give an opinion without being willing to back their view with follow-up actions that disrupt their own work focus. Managing them requires broad consultation and quick decisions.

Many professionals value the status they hold in their profession more than their status in the employing organisations. As a result, managers who threaten or cajole professionals are often ignored, undermined or ridiculed. Top professionals may simply resign if they are unhappy as they can always get a new job. Effective managers work with professionals as colleagues, recognising their need for status and seeking to balance the tension between encouraging healthy egos and meeting organisational goals.

Professionals are paid to specialise; the more they know about a unique area, the greater their status and marketability. It can thus be very difficult - and even unproductive - to try to interest them in strategic or compliance issues outside their zone of interest. Professionals have three key assets available to them; their knowledge/expertise; the systems and processes they have developed to leverage that knowledge on problems that they can solve; and their professional reputation in the marketplace. They have to be engaged on the basis that their involvement in an issue will contribute to growing their own asset base in one or more of these three areas. Alternatively, or in addition, they can be persuaded that they will have more time to develop their assets.

There are no simple solutions to these challenges, but I would offer some observations.

First, many industries continue to experience pressure on profit margins which translate to downward salary pressure. Professionals cannot remain quarantined from this, and thus will have to be cognisant of forces such as customer service and sales performance. The high fixed costs of professional companies will drive creativity and rationalisation - and hopefully in that order.

Second, managers are going to have to find new and ongoing ways of structuring work so as to deal with the tensions of working with a professional workforce.

Finally, leaders will have to get to know their people better - to learn to hold deeper, more purposeful conversations with their staff about the basics. They will have to help staff to make meaning out of their lives and to articulate the part they want work to play. These “mini-contacts” will be short lived, often undocumented, highly individual, situational, volatile, and hopefully ethical. That is increasingly the way the professional workplace seems to function best and the first movers have been quick to learn and adapt.

This Article by Philip Pogson first appeared in Boss Magazine, October 2003

Leading innovation in Australia, interview with Mark Robberds

posted 15 Feb 2017, 21:28 by Stuart Jones

Building on the successful innovation breakfast seminar held for our clients and colleagues in October 2016, The Leading Partnership’s Stuart Jones interviews Mark Robberds, CEO of MarbleBlue Finance, about his experience leading innovation through building and launching start-up businesses in Australia.


As the founder and CEO of MarbleBlue Finance, a fintech startup, Mark is responsible for creating a business plan around a vision of the product, creating a team that can bring the vision to life, and of course find the right investors to back the idea and managing those relationships.

Stuart Jones is a Director of The Leading Partnership. Stuart has a deep interest in innovation and working with clients to achieve strategic change. For his PhD, Stuart researched barriers to innovation and strategies for overcoming barriers using techniques such as action learning cycles.

Stuart Jones: Mark, thanks very much for coming along and talking to me about innovation.  As someone deeply involved in finance industry innovation, what does innovation mean in your view?

Mark Robberds: When I think of innovation I think about better outcomes for the customer. I think that's something that the finance industry is not always well known for - dealing with the customer in in a way that they are happy and satisfied.

When you look at innovation in the finance sector and what’s happening globally, it’s usually about faster response times and better rates, be it a loan, or be it an interest bearing deposit or similar.  It's the customer that's often been neglected and that's certainly something that we're looking to rectify.

Stuart Jones:
So Mark, what is ‘fintech’... what are the elements of a fintech innovation company that makes it different from just another finance company?

Mark Robberds: When I think of fintech, I think of a lot happening in the background, a lot of reasonably complex processes and systems to make it very, very simple for the customer.  So when you look at some of the best fintechs around whether it be here or overseas, there's a lot of compliance that has had to go in the background to make that happen because it is it's an area where you really can't cut corners on compliance.

That then requires a strong correlation between the compliance teams and the tech teams to make sure that you can scale something that is going to be simple for the customer. Fintech brings that combination of complex background processes with a simple innovative, intuitive front end that somebody can just follow what's happening and intuitively know what the next step is going to be.

My experience is that it hasn't really taken hold yet here, and it's in its very early stages. I think it's really an interesting area to be talking with people about and bringing in some change and making an impact.

Stuart Jones: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience leading innovation the finance sector?

Mark Robberds: We are a fair way down the track now in setting up a peer to peer lender with a focus on renewal energy.   There's a number of reasons for that.  Our research into the peer to peer space focused on peer to peer lending at first, and we thought that would be a great opportunity.

It’s a very efficient way of getting loans to customers and it's a very efficient way of investors, small retail investors having a better return than they would have in the bank. That’s the core thing about peer to peer lending that's very exciting and strong.  

Then we unpeeled that a little bit and thought, well, what's going to be unique about what we do? What's the next layer beyond that? That’s when we started researching the focus on residential renewable energy and looking at home based solar installations and some of the opportunities coming up in in that space where there is the type of customer base you want to be building up so from a business perspective it made sense.

You're increasing demand for solar in people's homes. You're doing something that's good for the environment. From the perspective of the type of people that are attracted to your business whether it be investors whether it be employees, it opens up a whole new group of people who are keen and want to support what you’re doing.

That combination is really quite compelling and that is what we are working on at the moment.  We are very excited about what the future brings.

Stuart Jones: Looking back, can you describe a successful innovation you have led or been involved in?

Mark Robberds: I was involved in online auctions in that space many years ago. It's quite mainstream now but we were talking about it before they existed online. I set up one of the early online lenders in Australia, so there was, once again something very similar at that stage, there was really only one player.  You could have a process where you could actually go and obtain a loan purely online, and have all the credit checks and ID checks and everything done in the background. There was quite a lot to that, but for the customer it was a very simple process.

Stuart Jones: And why do you think it was successful?

Mark Robberds: It was simple for the customer. It was a very, very simple ten minute application form online.  Up until that point lots of additional documentation was required during the application process. This completely transformed it, and in ten minutes you could get an answer on your application.  It was quick, it was easy and it was also private.  

When you think about online banking now, a lot people don’t even want to go into a branch.  I can't remember the last time I went into a branch myself and so there's people just like to go and do a lot of these transactions privately and so that was a key difference.

Stuart Jones: Why do you think innovations can fail, even good ones?

Mark Robberds: Sometimes they're a little bit ahead of their time I think that's often there is the leading edge and the bleeding edge.  The very, very early players can suffer, if they don’t have enough capital behind them they can be learning all the hard lessons that the second and third wave can learn from.  I think this applies to many, many areas.

It's also about execution and it's about the people you have around you - the team that you have.  In the example of the peer to peer lending business, do you have the right combination of tech talent who can work with you to design and build scalable systems? Do you have that with the right combination of people who know about renewable energy, and people that know about credit risk? They're very different areas and they’re very specialist skills. It’s about having the right mix of those.

Stuart Jones: And if you don’t, it can be a cause of failure….?

Mark Robberds: Yes, you are going to end up where your weakest link is, and it's about covering off on all the areas. In the fintech space….. thinking of all the people that I've talked to, I've seen some people with very, very strong finance backgrounds. Some others with very, very strong capital raising investment, they've been playing in the markets for a long time. They're very strong in that space, or they’re very strong tech, and the trick is to have the combination of those and it’s not easy.  But that's part of the opportunity because if it was easy then everyone would be doing it.

Stuart Jones: That's a really interesting insight. In my PhD research on innovation I looked at at the conditions that need to be in place for innovation to succeed. Two big factors were the diversity of experience of the team, and how much related experience that team had. If you bring that all together, do you think it boosts your chances?

Mark Robberds: Yes, it certainly does. And you've got these little snippets from each area that you learn from to build something new. You know there is talk about innovation. It's very unlikely you are going to do  something that's never been thought of in every area before, but it’s about building on what’s happened in the past in unrelated areas and developing that I think is the key.

Stuart Jones: How do you think we can better support innovators across all aspects of our society?

Mark Robberds: Ok, I think that that at a leadership level, a government leadership level, we are seeing a lot of talk about innovation. I think it has got to start there. And that’s then fed through into a lot of the work that AusIndustry are doing now, the R&D grants that are available for companies that are doing some innovative work.

I also I think that there needs to be higher regard for engineers and software developers in this country and then promoting a lot more of those kind of skills in the education sector, and the courses.

Stuart Jones: Why do you single out those types of roles and career skills?

Mark Robberds: I think whenever you look at people to do your development or your code, invariably they’ve been educated overseas and been brought here, or you're actually outsourced to overseas and that in itself is OK but I think we should be building a lot more of that here in Australia.

Stuart Jones: What would a more innovative Australia look like to you?  

Mark Robberds: There is a lot of government support for companies that are trying to do innovative things but I just think we could be a lot stronger in the education sector about promoting these types of career opportunities because you know if that's where we're going as a nation and we have to, then we need more and more of those of those people into the future.

In my previous role as setting up one of the first online lenders in Australia, that was for a Finnish company, and I spent a lot of time in Finland over the years. They talk about the ratio of lawyers to engineers in that, the number is basically the inverse of what it is here in Australia - there's a lot more engineering going on in Finland and other countries in the region, and a lot less lawyers. I'm not in any way biased, but it’s indicative of where the focus is of their economy and their education sector, and I think that that's certainly a place that we could learn from.

We need to be focusing a lot more on the kind of vocations that we're looking for a lot of people to be in, to be starting to think about that. Engineering for example.

Stuart Jones: In your experience, has that engineering skill set been an important skill set for the innovative ventures that you have been involved in and had experience in.

Mark Robberds: Yes, definitely. If something's not going to scale, it doesn’t matter how nice it looks. Anyone can process three applications in an hour, but to be able to process thousands and tens of thousands in the same timeframe you need very, very good coders to build that platform. The problem that we often face is we have to import a lot of that code. That work and those jobs wouldn't be lost if we were exporting a lot more of that.

Stuart Jones: Mark it has been really great talking with you and thanks very much for your time.

Mark Robberds: No problem at all Stuart.

Improving board performance

posted 15 Feb 2017, 16:41 by Stuart Jones

The Leading Partnership has released our new 'board performance' service offering. In the document we raise and respond to three important questions: 
  1. Why should boards evaluate their own performance? 
  2. What is the purpose of board evaluation? 
  3. How can an external party be of value in board evaluations or self-reviews?

In considering the last question, our role in is to help boards identify and agree on future priorities, to shape board agendas to reflect more of what they want to focus on and less of what is not so important, and to track its progress toward stated objectives. 
The accompanying document contains our thoughts on all three of these questions. 

Please contact us to find out more and discuss your requirements. 

Leading innovation in Australia, interview with Amanda Hagan

posted 18 Dec 2016, 18:49 by Stuart Jones   [ updated 18 Dec 2016, 20:17 ]

Building on the successful innovation breakfast seminar held for our clients and colleagues in October 2016, The Leading Partnership’s Stuart Jones interviews Amanda Hagan, CEO of Australian Unity Healthcare, about her experience introducing and leading innovation in the organisation.


As the CEO of Australian Unity, Amanda is responsible for all healthcare operations and strategic development of the business. She is also responsible for executing the Australian Unity Group’s digital agenda, leading the newly created Digital Transformation Centre.

Stuart Jones is a Director of The Leading Partnership. Stuart has a deep interest in innovation and working with clients to achieve strategic change. For his PhD, Stuart researched barriers to innovation and strategies for overcoming barriers using techniques such as action learning cycles.


Stuart Jones: As someone deeply involved in health insurance innovation, what does innovation mean in your view?

Amanda Hagan: At Australian Unity, we are embedding a culture and practice of innovation and we have been really clear from the outset of our journey what innovation means to us.  We have a definition that it is ‘change that adds value’.  I do think it’s really important when you go on these journeys that everyone understands what innovation means to their company.  It’s not a right or a wrong, or a one size fits all, but having what it means to us in common language.

Stuart Jones: So you've actually gone to the effort of describing and it’s in words and everyone has the same understanding?

Amanda Hagan: Everybody knows what it is, if you asked anybody involved in it, they would tell you the same thing.

Stuart Jones: What form does this innovation take in your experience with leading Australian Unity, and how have you brought it to life?

Amanda Hagan: Australian Unity decided to take a very structured approach to embedding innovations... we believe in healthcare there is a bit of a burning platform, and that people involved need to innovate or we will become irrelevant in the longer term.  We can’t just leave it to chance, or the skill of an individual leader. We needed to invest in an end-to-end process.  It has three core pillars - structure, leadership and people.

On the people side you need to work on capabilities like how to developing and test hypotheses, interview customers, run experiments, make decisions and so on. These are not natural ways that people work, it’s a more scientific approach to it, so you do need to really skill your people up and get them practicing over and over again.

With structure we decided to develop a process that drives all the way from idea through to market, so we needed to look at resource allocations, dollars that we put into it and how you put the right people in the right amount of time... it’s taken us 24 months to refine, how we allocate our resources, whether it’s full time secondment or part time.

We also looked really heavily at measurement.  Innovation effort has to be able to be quantified, but not in a traditional manner that we all go about doing business cases on ROI, we look at different metrics such as speed through the cycle, the number and duration of experiments that you are running, the conversion rates through the implementation, the number of staff trained, the capability levels through the cycle. Because it is a journey, if you are really going to embed an innovation culture you have to be able to demonstrate progress to the board or other stakeholders towards revenue generation, because it’s not going to just come over night.

Stuart Jones: Are you saying, in terms of setting and managing expectations of a board, it’s a three-year journey?

Amanda Hagan: I think so, you can’t just start turning out new products into market, that hit the target market and deliver revenue in a short period of time.  I imagine you can get lucky, but to develop a pipeline of things that you are innovating on an ongoing basis, I think it takes 2 to 3 years to build the capability of people and a pipeline of things that keep you going beyond random ideas that people have.

Stuart Jones: Are you talking about innovation that is externally visible, as an impact to your customers in the market, not just internal things?

Amanda Hagan: Yes, we have done a mixture of both. I think you also need to look at internal incremental innovation, just to get people learning as well, how you do it, but the majority of what we are focussed on has been customer facing ideas, and testing real ideas in market on real customers.

Stuart Jones: Could you describe one particular innovation that you have led, or been involved in that has been successful?

Amanda Hagan: I led the development, literally from a blank sheet of paper, of a business called Remedy Health Care, and this business has just passed delivery of its one millionth episode of care.  That business looks to disrupt current pathways in healthcare for things like rehabilitation after a knee or hip replacement.  So we have successfully implemented rehabilitation in the home, instead of it happening in a hospital. This has dramatically lowered healthcare costs and simultaneously delivered better health outcomes than the standard care. 

Another example and a passion of mine involved changing the model of healthcare itself. We recently put a new model of care in for anxiety and depression, that was bought out from the UK and this is achieving 60% recovery rates in people with anxiety and depression... The key is that it delivers the care at a time and location that is convenient for the patient, rather than the provider, because our whole healthcare system at the moment is geared around the provider.

Stuart Jones: Picking one of those two that you have just described, why do you think it was successful?  Was there a key to success, or were there many factors?

Amanda Hagan: I do think that there were a couple of keys to success.  We were very clear from the outset what the problem was that we were trying to solve, and how we would measure success, and how we would keep going or not.

It’s been a really, really tough journey.  Those two ideas were 8 years in the making, of idea to market, because you are disrupting traditional care models in the private system, where all the incentives are designed to reward activity rather than outcomes. Being very clear that we were going to systematically collect data to answer the question on whether or not we were making a difference, has actually developed into a key strategic advantage now, beyond just helping us make decisions on how to create the business model.

I think another key to the success of this, because it is so hard in healthcare to change business models, is the passion of the leadership team, to take an idea to the market and persist through all the barriers that still get thrown at that business, even though it’s quite established now.  It is really key, if you don’t have the people who truly believe in this idea and that it can make a difference, it can pretty easily fall by the wayside.

Stuart Jones: We have just talked a bit about successful innovations... why do you think innovations fail, even good ones?

Amanda Hagan: We have had many failures, way more failures than we have had successes, and I think there are many reasons for it. Sometimes I think you can be ahead of time with the idea. I’ve seen plenty, particularly if you take the view that you are going to try and disrupt an entrenched market.

Sometimes you have a great idea, and you just can’t find the customer who has the need at the time. I do think it’s not just about the customer need, but you need to be able to find a path to market, and most of the ideas of ours that have failed, we have proven that there is a market, but finding the person at the right time, has been where we have failed. 

I think that they can easily fail if they don’t have the right champion.  I know for sure when you are in an established company, if you don’t have the person with that burning passion to persevere through the hurdles, there is a really high risk of failure, even if it is a great idea that has a market for it.

And conducting many iterations of experimentation before you heavily invest in any infrastructure would also be part of my advice.

Stuart Jones: Looking more broadly at Australia, how do you think we can better support innovators like Australian Unity across all aspects of our society?

Amanda Hagan: I go to the US quite often to look at what is going on in that market. The US seems to have invested in collaboration between different institutions.  For example I was recently in Philadelphia at a Healthcare accelerator, and they are bringing together really bright individuals, who have this burning passion to solve the difficult problems existing in healthcare, putting them together with a large medical institution, with a large healthcare funder, and then the accelerator sits in between them. They are bringing together the idea, the technical know-how, the funder and the customer so that they can test in the real world on customers, and really focus on rapidly de-risking the key assumptions in a new innovation in the real world.  I’m sure this must be happening, but it’s not as obvious in Australia, this collaboration…

Bringing all the key players together, who often could be at war with each other, I mean in healthcare the funders and the providers, they often don’t play well together, but if you can get someone in the middle and particularly these really bright people who are trying to solve problems, you can get past some of those natural barriers that are within systems so yes, it would be really good if we in Australia could somehow invest more in that.

Stuart Jones: What would a more innovative Australia look like to you?

Amanda Hagan: Well, I’m in healthcare, so I know I’m biased. But I thought of a really big one: given that we are spending more than $150 billion dollars per annum on healthcare - and it’s growing year in year out at between 7 and 9% - an amazing innovation would be one that simultaneously lowers that cost and delivers better outcomes. This is entirely possible. You can lower cost and get better outcomes at the same time.

What that would look like to this country would be the budget deficit coming under control, because healthcare is such a driver of our deficit, so it means that we wouldn’t have to ration healthcare to achieve it, we would be able to invest in other areas of the economy. Money would be freed up to be able to be spend in other areas. 

I also think it would look like less of our people having to go to Silicon Valley to progress their ideas, I think if it happened more in Australia, people wouldn’t have to go offshore.

Stuart Jones: Amanda, this has been a great insight into your experience with innovation, thanks very much for your time.

Amanda Hagan: Thank you Stuart, it’s been a pleasure.

Innovation That Works

posted 5 Sep 2016, 06:15 by Stephen Hind   [ updated 18 Dec 2016, 19:34 by Stuart Jones ]

Date: 27th October 2016
Venue: UNSW CBD Campus, Level 6, 1 O'Connell Street Sydney

7.00am Buffet breakfast;
7.30am Let's talk about INNOVATION
9.00am Conclusion


The Leading Partnership provides you with a unique opportunity to come together and discuss a timely topic, “Innovation that Works”.  We thought that “now” is the right moment nationally and internationally to explore this important but often misunderstood idea.  In true Leading Partnership fashion, we guarantee to avoid the hype. Professor Bruce Dowton, Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University, and former COO of Harvard Medical International,  will present a keynote address, followed by an expert panel discussion. 

Professor S. Bruce Dowton

Professor Dowton is the Vice-Chancellor and President of Macquarie University.  He is a paediatrician, clinical geneticist, molecular biologist, researcher and academic, and has served as a senior medical executive at a range of universities, healthcare institutions and consulting organisations.

Ms Amanda Hagan

As CEO, Healthcare & CEO and Director of Australian Unity Health Ltd & Grand United Corporate Health Ltd, Amanda is responsible for all elements of Australian Unity’s healthcare operations and strategic development of the business. She is additionally responsible for executing the Australian Unity Group’s digital agenda, leading the newly created Digital Transformation Centre.

Mr Mark Robberds

Mark Robberds, Principal, MarbleBlue Finance Pty Ltd.  Mark has extensive consumer lending, recoveries management, online marketplace and start up expertise. Mark developed the business plan and successfully launched one of Australia’s first online lenders, Credit24. Prior to this Mark held senior management positions at Fairfax Digital and Yahoo, where he developed marketplace & ecommerce brands including online auctions.

The Leading Partnership Trust t/a
The Leading Partnership
ABN - 15 730 703 878

Suite 105 / 25-29 Berry Street
North Sydney NSW 2060, Australia

Phone +61 2 9922 2569


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