Medibank’s leaders play a critical role in driving sustainable performance through encouraging and enabling employees to “bring their whole self to work”, which in turn increases engagement, boosts discretionary effort and drives productivity, according to its head of HR.
Leadership plays a “huge role” in this process, according to Medibank’s general manager people & culture, Melissa Wong, who said this ultimately comes down to driving organisational performance.
“A lot of times when you think about performance, we think about what we need to do to drive performance for a short period of time,” she said.
“Within Medibank what we look at is performance improvement on an ongoing, sustainable basis.”
Wong, who was speaking ahead of the Aspire HRD 2018 conference, which will be held from 30-31 October at Pier One in Sydney, said Medibank’s approach to improving performance and boosting discretionary effort relies on leaders supporting people from a “whole-of-life” basis.
“Our philosophy has always been, how do you actually enable people who come to work to bring their whole self to work?
“The whole idea behind this is that if you can be who you are, and if we can be supportive of who you are, you’re more likely to support the company and work to deliver for the organisation.”
As the lines between professional work and personal life blur, Wong said leaders have a role in helping people not only become better at work, but also in creating the right context and the right culture to help people be a better parent, spouse and person both inside and outside of work.
Flexible work practices
An example of this within the business can be found in flexible work practices, and leaders go beyond paying lip service to flexible work policies and actively encourage this the uptake of flexible working (called ‘flex better’ within Medibank).
“If you can be who you are, and if we can be supportive of who you are, you’re more likely to support the company and work to deliver for the organisation”
Many parents, for example, feel that work detracts from the quality or amount of time they can spend with their family: “You talk to so many people and they say, ‘Oh, I feel I’m not a great mum or I’m not a great dad, because of lack of the work-life balance,’” she said.
“There are a lot of those conversations in the business world.
“I think leaders have an amazing opportunity to create the right context, so that when I’m at work I’m not just Melissa at work, but I’m a whole person and I feel as though I’m supported to be a better parent, a better daughter, and just a better person in many ways.”
As a health fund, Wong explained that wellbeing is important to the business, and in turn, a sense of wellbeing contributes to engagement which unlocks improvements in performance and discretionary effort.
Leaders play a pivotal role in this process, and Wong said they should “walk the talk” in being authentic to themselves and demonstrating organisational values in action.
“This requires a leader to anchor to their values and their purpose, to really get to the heart of things,” said Wong.
Finding purpose and authenticity
Medibank runs a range of initiatives internally to help facilitate this process, including a leadership program in which senior leaders are taken to a remote indigenous community in the Northern Territory.
This is a one-week immersion program focused on remote indigenous health, and Wong said the context of this is about the purpose of better health and better lives as a result.
“So how do we help leaders find their authentic purpose, their authentic self? It really comes down to what’s my core purpose? What am I here to do?” said Wong.
“From a context perspective, this is very different from the typical corporate retreat for senior leaders,” she said.
“Senior leaders are often the ones that feel the most pressure to perform, so they are the ones who first need to connect to what their core purpose is “
“When you speak to some of the people in these indigenous communities, there’s a very strong sense of community, there’s a very strong sense of family, and there’s a very strong sense of what is actually important to them.
“For many leaders, this leads them to reflect on what’s important to them. It gets you down to the basics in some ways, as quite often we get caught up in the corporate world and all the work they’re required to do.
“So taking our leaders out of their normal work environment and putting them in a community which is about connecting as people first and foremost can often trigger internal reflection and get people thinking about their purpose, what they’re actually here to do and creating a sense of purpose and authenticity,” she said.
“Senior leaders are often the ones that feel the most pressure to perform, so they are the ones who first need to connect to what their core purpose is in trying to lead through change and unlock that sense of purpose in their teams.
“This needs to be done in a very authentic way, and this comes back to the concept of wellbeing and engagement which they can actually drive for their team.”
Senior leaders who participate in this program are encouraged to share their experience with their teams after the retreat, and Wong said this process helps people to connect back in the business and demonstrate what it means to be authentic.
“Sometimes it’s a bit unpolished, but it goes to the heart of things and that is what we’re looking to achieve,” she said.
Spotting the red socks
In reinforcing its culture, Medibank also places a strong emphasis on culture from a leadership perspective, and Wong said customer, inclusion and values – underpinned by the company’s focus on better health and wellbeing – underscore company culture.
Wong describes leaders who do not align with culture as “red socks” and she provided an analogy of how such leaders affect the business.
“The minute we try and own culture or leadership, then that’s the wrong conversation to have”
“When you go to do your washing and it’s all your whites, but then you have a red sock that’s thrown in there accidentally and all your washing has gone pink,” she said.
“In terms of what this analogy means for us, particularly from a leadership perspective, we need to make sure that we identify and address those red socks early if we’re trying to shape the right culture.”
It is important for HR to have its “ear to the ground” in being able to spot the red socks, according to Wong, who also said HR needs to take action when it is clear that a leader who does not align with the company’s culture is identified in the business.
“HR is the custodian of culture and leadership; the minute we try and own culture or leadership, then that’s the wrong conversation to have,” she said.
“As custodians, we’re there to coach leaders and sometimes challenge leaders to add a different perspective, but ultimately to walk alongside leaders in shaping the culture and providing the right context in the business.”
Medibank conducts an annual employee engagement survey (through Willis Towers Watson) and Wong said that its engagement score of 85 per cent is well above the Australian national norm, while its values score is six percentage points above the norm and its diversity and inclusion score is five percentage points above the norm.
“The other point of interest is when we talk about whole-of-self, we know through our engagement survey that employees who work flexibly actually have higher levels of engagement as well,” said Wong.
The company also uses an employee net promoter score (which employs a similar methodology to customer NPS) and Wong said this helps drive a very strong customer-focused culture.
“This is led from the top by our current CEO Craig Drummond, and he sets the tone and context for being truly customer-oriented and customer-centric; we call it customer obsessed internally,” she said.
The employee net promoter score is measured through two questions, the first of which is: “how likely are you to promote Medibank products and services to family and friends?” About two years ago, this was -4, and this figure now stands at +31.
The other question is “how likely are you to promote Medibank as a great place to work?” and this has gone from a -3 to a +33 over the same timeframe.
At the same time, customer service net promoter scores have also gone up while customer complaints have dropped to 24.4 per cent from 46 per cent in FY17.
Wong will be speaking at the Aspire HRD 2018 conference, which will be held from 30-31 October at Pier One in Sydney. Aspire HRD is offering Inside HR readers a 10% discount on tickets, using the code IHR10. For more information or to register please click here.