Words of wisdom with Ann Sherry

We recently interviewed Ann about her leadership experiences and the advice she would give to leaders in the aged care sector, particularly when it comes to implementing large-scale changes and shaping organisational culture.

In April, the Governing for Reform in Aged Care Program held their Service Excellence: Driving towards Innovation and Change webinar with panellists Elizabeth Drozd, Nathan Betteridge and Ann Sherry. Ann Sherry is the Chair and Non-Executive Director of Enero Group and has previously held a variety of leadership roles across multiple sectors. 

Read on for Ann’s valuable insights!

Drawing from the variety of roles you hold/have held in the financial, tourism and travel, sports, and government sectors, what are your top three learnings that executive leaders and governing body members can apply in the aged care sector?

Put yourself in the shoes of your customers. I've learnt that whether it's in the tourism industry, the travel industry, or the finance industry, you've got to put yourself in the shoes of your customers. Otherwise, you do things that you think are good for them, but they don't like! You've got to put yourself in the shoes of your customers to deliver a great service. But to understand the customer experience, you need to listen to their feedback.

Be obsessed with feedback. In my previous role at Carnival Australia, every customer was asked to rate everything. If our net promoter scores fell below 85%, then we would look at the issue that had created that and we'd go fix it or change it. What happened over time is the things that people once loved, they didn't love anymore - people's preferences change. And we'd see it instantly. At the end of every cruise, we'd have a little meeting, and we'd find things that had gone wrong on board that nobody had explicitly talked about but were in the customer satisfaction surveys. You've got to measure the feedback to find and fix the things that are going wrong. 

Select the right leaders. Leaders need to be able to balance compliance with providing a quality service to consumers - if you can't walk and chew gum, then you shouldn't be leading any business that touches people. You've got to be able to deliver a service that people really want and do it safely and properly. You're not in this job just to meet the requirements of regulators. That's one part of how you do your job, sure. But being so risk averse to the detriment of what you're meant to be delivering? You can't do that in any business. 

You've brought about many large-scale changes throughout your career, for example, establishing a disability employment program and introducing paid maternity leave to Westpac Bank. Can you share some of the tools you've drawn on to influence and empower other leaders to implement large-scale change? 

Well, I think the first thing is if you are in power, if you are a leader in an organisation, you have an obligation to users. I observe people constantly in the most fantastic jobs where they could change the world but are instead being passive. So, if you're in a leadership role, you have an obligation to use the power you've got properly – keep innovating and keep making stuff better! The world is changing really fast and people's expectations are constantly changing. You've got to be able to push forward and keep pushing your organisation to be the best it can be in a changing world. You also need to hold your leaders to account - not for the things that you think regulators want, but for the things that customers want. And then the final thing is you've got to have courage. Everyone can tell you what you can't do, but nobody tells you what you can do. You've got to work it out yourself and you've got to have the courage to do it. If you're running organisations, particularly high touch customer organisations, not everyone gets everything right. But you've got to have the courage to push towards new things and find better ways of doing the things that you've always done. 

Can you share your perspective on the importance of the role that executive leaders and governing body members can take in driving a culture of excellence and continuous improvement? 

Everybody in the organisation takes the lead from them – if they don't care, no one cares. As I said before, the governing bodies and executive teams have an obligation. Ultimately, their business is providing people the best last years of their lives. They've got these people in their care – they need to be safe, and they need to feel as though they're living in a place that actually listens to them. 

To hear more from Ann, check out the Service Excellence: Driving towards Innovation and Change webinar on the online learning platform.