“We were looking for a world-class education partner to help us achieve major change.”
ESTA is the call-taking and dispatch heart for all of Victoria’s emergency services: police, fire, ambulance and SES. This single centralised set-up is unique in Australia and rare in the world, with just one goal at its core. “We want to make it easier for people calling triple zero on what can be the worst day of someone’s life,” says executive director Sarah Renner.
ESTA has a 1000-strong workforce and is instituting an integrated strategic plan that runs until 2023. Its aim, explains Renner, is “to deliver better outcomes for the community, for our agencies and also to support the health and wellbeing of our own people”. To do that, it’s shaking up the culture, breaking down bureaucracy, opening up internal dialogue and encouraging people to think and act differently. “We need to make sure our leaders have the skills to deliver on this ambitious plan.”
So ESTA turned to Melbourne Business School (MBS) to create a bespoke leadership capability framework and development program that’s being rolled out across all levels of the organisation, from the senior leadership team to frontline and emerging leaders. “Senior leaders will then become facilitators to keep the learning flowing throughout the organisation, ensuring deep and lasting culture change,” says MBS senior consultant Cameron Brooks.
“We were looking for a world-class education partner to help us achieve major change and MBS has a fantastic reputation in working with organisations across all different levels to bring them together through joint learning,” adds Renner.
In some teams, tensions can be shrugged off or diffused with a joke: “Hey, no-one’s life depends on it.” But in ESTA’s case, the opposite is true so a united team is essential. MBS had to specifically develop a program that would successfully engage people at every level, including those for whom executive education would likely never be on the radar. “It was developed to be very specific to us,” she says.
A key element of the program’s success is that it has brought team members from different parts of the organisation together. “Every time we get together we change groups and we’re encouraged to go to people we don’t normally talk to,” says Sam Senn, head of emergency management and a 21-year veteran of ESTA. “It’s broken down a lot of barriers. Back in the workplace, people are now comfortable picking up the phone to call someone from the leadership team if they need to.”
Chief data services officer Jas Singh, who’s been with ESTA for less than a year, came from a commercial background armed with an MBA. “The MBS facilitators have been very smart in the way they’ve structured the program to understand our problems and then bring the teams together to solve them,” he says. “It’s a pragmatic rather than a theoretical approach. The whole point of this program was to create learnings that people can take and apply.”
As peer support program lead Stacey Robinson notes, “We have a unique operational environment; we’re a 24/7 organisation and have leaders looking after teams who are guiding people they don’t know through emergencies over the phone. That means that taking the time to put everything aside and do some work on our leadership is even more important.”
Robinson also likes how interactive the program is. “You’re not being bombarded with leadership models. It’s practical and you come away thinking, ‘Wow, I could use this tomorrow’ or ‘I could share this idea with this person’. It’s wonderful seeing the frontline and emerging leaders get together and for them to know we’re investing in them, too.”
Jarrad Lynam, a frontline leader who heads up police crews, agrees. “The program has shown me the importance of making time for self-reflection. I now set aside 20 minutes uninterrupted at the end of each shift to assess how the day played out. It’s made me focus more on the preparation I put into conversations I have with my team, my peers and external stakeholders.”
Adds Singh, “ESTA’s business is saving lives, saving property and protecting the community through improving agency responses. The changes we’re making as an organisation evolve us to the next level. MBS has enabled us to learn in a way that works for our team.”