In 2020 the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) participated in the Australian Network on Disability’s (AND) Access and Inclusion Index (the Index). This is a self-assessment tool designed to interrogate an organisation’s self-perception of how it treats staff and customers/service users with disability.
DCJ is a complex entity which engages with the community at problematic stages of the life of individuals and families via corrective services, courts and tribunals, public housing, child protection, as well as other support services. It was formed in 2019 through the merging of the former departments of Justice and Family and Community Services.
The Index has ten focus areas, seven of which sit squarely with the Corporate Services Division (Premises, Workplace Adjustments, Communication & Marketing, ICT, Recruitment & Selection, Career Development, Suppliers & Partners). The division was undergoing a huge upheaval as Corporate Services teams from the two departments were being merged. We decided to participate in the Index at this difficult time so we could quickly get a clear idea of where the new department needed to develop. Between September and November of 2019, the data came in.
What happened next
Part of the assessment included an independent ‘Benchmark’ report that provides feedback on self-assessment judgements, usually at a less generous level. The report also has suggestions/recommendations about where to focus efforts at improvement. The report arrived in April 2020. It is a valuable tool for keeping self-assessors honest and realistic (we tend to over-rate ourselves).
Getting a response to the report’s critiques, and action recommendations, can be a problem for people in work units already under the pump. They have priorities and adding another isn’t always welcome.
The Deputy Secretary for Corporate Services at the time was John Hubby.
The report went to the DCJ Board. I wrote the briefing paper for that. I also ensured that John got a separate briefing. John’s response was to have his office liaise with my unit in getting the attention of the various Corporate Services business units to go through parts of the report relevant to their business area and come up with actions to respond to the recommendations.
Corporate Services also took on responsibility for coordinating action in preparation for participating in the Index in 2021.
Nothing is at all remarkable about this. It is what should happen. But there’s a subtle dimension. The level of enthusiasm and commitment that came from John’s office and the leaders of most of the business units was gratifying.
I’d been around long enough to understand that when a senior leader indicates their interest in something happening, it does happen. But it does need an expression of interest that permeates the business areas – and conveys that level of interest. When that happens, it gives permission to managers who share that interest to prioritise actions. Those managers who are maybe not as enthusiastic, come on board as well. Even the more reluctant can get drawn in as well. Inclusion is not everyone’s priority.
I had an email exchange with John, who was a little bemused by the expressions of gratitude for his support for Disability Inclusion – and Inclusion more generally. He noted that Inclusion was recognised as a priority by the board, and it aligned with his values as well. So far as he was concerned, he was “just doing my job.”
Which he was. But here’s the point. There is critical value in senior executives letting their staff know that Inclusion is something that aligns with their personal values, as well as the values of the organisation. There is critical value in making their commitment manifestly evident. The support from John’s office was energetic and enthusiastic – and that was seen as a reflection of his values and commitment.
In some ways he didn’t do much at a personal level – but the value is in the quality of the act, not the quantum. That is great leadership. And, sure, it was John just doing his job.
I do not imply that other senior executives are not committed to, and supportive of, Inclusion. But there’s the difference of having a visible signal that can be seen and responded to by their staff. Inclusion must be modelled by senior leaders, either directly or via indirect means – but visibly so.
If Inclusion is valued and meaningful, the extent of that commitment must be made clear and unambiguous. It is better if personal commitment to, and enthusiasm for, the objective is also conveyed. Modelling desired change is important – being the change you want to see happen is critical at the top. More people can see you; and will know what to emulate. That is part of doing one’s job, surely.
I have since learned that John was very outcome focused. He not only supported Inclusion; he wanted to know what was happening, and what the outcomes were. That adds the dimension of accountability to commitment. It gives business area leaders something to aim at.
I am looking forward to learning how participation in the 2021 Access and Inclusion Index changed things in Communities and Justice. Maybe sometime in the next month I can find out the extent to which John’s notion of ‘just doing his job’ has paid off.