Listening to staff and redefining the organisation’s purpose helped an aged care provider move away from a military-style culture to an inclusive and supportive environment, the CEO tells a national conference.

When John Murray joined Western Australian aged care retirement living provider RAAFA as CEO six years ago, it seemed like the organisation had lost its sense of purpose, he told the Aged and Community Services Australia National Summit in Melbourne on Wednesday.

John Murray

“It felt to me that there was nobody at the steering wheel,” Mr Murray told the conference.

RAAFA, which is also known as Air Force Association WA Division, faced many organisational challenges including failing systems, no sense of leadership or direction, minimal corporate structure and a culture based on a military model, he said.

“We had serious issues with telephone systems failing, nurse call systems failing, fire system failings… There were 425 staff at the time and no human resources support other than one payroll clerk,” Mr Murray said.

“We had 2,000-plus people in villages who were in despair about the organisation and felt like it lost its sense of core,” he said.

And staff were afraid to speak up, he said.

“The culture was based on a military model and it was very much you do what I tell you, and if you dare do anything else, you’re in trouble,” Mr Murray said.

A key aspect of trying to turn the organisation around was listening to staff concerns, he said.

“We listened. We did a lot of listening and there were a lot of people who wanted to tell us what was wrong, what the issues were and where we were going,” he said.

He said they set about changing the culture of the organisaiton to create a sense of family and empower staff to get more involved.

“We had to reassure people that it was okay to make mistakes. Because in the past, if they made a mistake, they were in the chair and they were getting a blast…,” Mr Murray said.

“We had to empower staff to make decisions.”

He said it took years before the organisation was able to redefine and find its purpose again. But finding it helped RAAFA and its staff members remember why they were there, which was provide quality care for older people, Mr Murray said.

The organisation’s new purpose is to “honour the past, be in the present and embrace the future.” Its vision is “to go above and beyond in engaging and supporting our community,” he said.

RAAFA is celebrating 90 years of operation this year.

Read more from the ACSA National Summit

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Read Community Care Review’s summit coverage

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