What steps have you undertaken as a CEO to ensure a strong organisational culture?

This is something I could potentially speak to you about for hours. Everyone at the Starlight Children's Foundation (Starlight) is constantly supporting and investing in a positive culture. I believe that you must have a high performing team to be an effective and efficient organisation, and to do that you need to have a team that has absolute clarity around purpose and mission. This can only be delivered through positive leadership, which requires authenticity, accessibility, transparency and a ‘positive energy’ culture. We are totally committed to ‘positive-psychology’.

We have introduced measurements & dashboards which are visible to people so we are transparent & by sharing good and bad news, being accepting of failure we are building trust within the organisation.

How have you used ‘positive psychology’ to shape culture at Starlight?

At Starlight, everything we do is based on our mission which is brightening seriously ill children and their families’ lives. It’s all about supporting wellbeing and resilience. Everything we do is based on the World Health Organisation Social Model of Health and positive disruption. Last year we delivered over 522,000 ‘Positive Starlight Experiences’. We use distractive therapy to support these children at a time when they need it most. For us to be authentic, if our services supporting sick kids and their families are based on positive psychology then we must be supporting our team in the same way. We need to be consistent internally & externally.

We were one of the first organisations in Australia to roll out positive psychology training to our workforce. We established ‘Positivity at Starlight’ where everybody who joins the organisation is trained in the tenants of positive psychology, focusing on not only their work roles but themselves as individuals. We know if they are positive and more resilient individuals who are really understanding their own wellbeing needs and are mindful when they are in the moment, they will bring their best selves to Starlight. We do it for them as an individual which means it will help them in their entire life.

Every single person who is part of Starlight needs to have a positive experience. I always consider that with every interaction we have, we are either underpinning or undermining our brand.

What approach should boards take when evaluating organisational culture?

There are so many things you can use to measure organisational culture, and our board and executive team want to see those measurements. We want to listen really hard with two ears about the areas where we’re not performing well. Every time we get these results, we talk about advocacy. We want to move toward ‘100% Advocacy’. We want everyone to be advocates for Starlight: that includes every person who comes into contact with Starlight (including the board who form part of our volunteer force).

In our first surveys, we had an opportunity to improve ‘team engagement’ and ‘advocacy’. We implemented specific projects (Positive Starlight Experiences, 100% Advocacy) to address these areas and we now sit at an engagement score of 86% (+9% for the sector and +19% over all sectors) and an advocacy score of 91%. Our strategy to improve those scores and our ongoing results are all reported to the board and importantly the team on a regular basis. The team owns this success.

Subsequent surveys highlighted areas of innovation and technology as being areas we need to address - this is being implemented under a “Best Starlight. Best Impact, Best People, Best Future” initiative and our results have improved to 77% (+15% for the sector and +19% over all sectors). We are not satisfied with this and have now introduced an ‘Operational Excellence Project’ to develop and implement a strategy to address this from a whole of organisation perspective. All associated metrics (the good and not so good news) are tracked and reported to the board and the entire Starlight team.

The board has provided valuable input & wise counsel to our strategies to address these issues which impact our culture and brand reputation. It is important to create an environment where the board can contribute & add value.

Starlight has previously been named as one of the ‘Great Places to Work’. What sets Starlight apart?

Our culture and commitment to our purpose is owned by everyone. It’s not “Louise wants to do this” or “the executive team wants to do that”. I am constantly talking to the team and there is a whole engagement alignment positive culture piece of work that you are not able to simply ‘tick off’. You are working on it and contributing to it every day: it has to be every single person.

We are the only charity to make it into the BRW ‘Great Places to Work’, and the only charity to be AON Hewitt ‘Best Employer’ accredited. When we hear those results, I am so incredibly proud because that is owned by everyone who is part of the team. Culture is not something that one team can be responsible for and you try and get the others to toe the line. Culture is something that naturally exists and spreads, and you can feel it within an organisation.

I’m proud when we have those moments because every single person who is part of the Starlight team owns those results. Everybody who is part of the starlight team contributes to those results and us being such a positive place every day.

How do you compare attitudes to culture between the corporate sector and the NFP sector? Are there lessons the sectors can take from each-other on culture?

People tend to think that in this sector, which I prefer to call the ‘profit for purpose’ sector, it’s easy for us to have a positive culture. That’s not quite right. A positive culture requires clarity around purpose and being aligned and engaged with that purpose. As a sector, we have lower engagement scores than the corporate world because people are so passionate about the purpose, they don’t agree with the way it’s being delivered and achieved. People are so invested in the purpose that they believe it should be done in the way they personally think is it should be done. This inconsistency inhibits you from being an effective and efficient organisation, and it also means you can have ethical and best practice slippage.

Our sector could stand to learn from corporates about predictive analytics and all of the ways that all of our organisations need to be established so they can scale. That means your organisations need to have consistent replicable process.

Sharing between our sectors is something that will benefit everyone. We all have different spaces that we excel in, we can all learn from each other.