#encompassproject – when good ideas become reality

by Isabel Wu

Last Thursday it was my privilege and pleasure to be invited to Encompass Community Services by CEO, Elaine Robb, to attend the launch of the Encompass Revolution.  Staff gathered to hear Elaine, and Board Chairperson, Dr Alyson Miller, explain the purpose of the ‘revolution’ and to watch the launch of Encompass TV.

Elaine gave an impassioned speech on the remarkable work that the team of loyal and committed Encompass staff performed every day and the difference this made to the lives of many.  BUT, Elaine continued, there was more work to do.  Times change and new challenges continue to arise, prompting the need to ensure Encompass was always adapting.  Elaine told her team that the Encompass Revolution would be many things, including new ideas, better systems and more services, however it would not be reducing staff or removing positions.  The team at Encompass, she concluded, was the ”best staff in the world” and the Encompass Revolution was about removing barriers that prevent them from doing more for disability services, not-for-profit organisations, Geelong and wider community.

Alyson spoke simply of the opportunities ahead for Encompass to pursue greater things using a community of the motivated, talented and skilled people who were sitting in the room.

Encompass TV launch

Encompass CEO, Elaine Robb, addresses her team

The inaugural episode of Encompass TV was launched to the delight of the team.  Its producer (and for now director, program manager, sound and camera person and editor), Fritzie, managed to capture the spirit of Encompass and some stellar grabs of team members and clients.

Elaine generously allowed me to speak to the team to explain the background the #encompassproject and the work I had done with the organisation over the years.  One thing that Encompass and Elaine has achieved that many organisations never do: every person in the room knew word-for-word the Encompass Vision and knew exactly what it meant to them and their work.

Organisations regularly implement programs, policies or procedures to increase employee participation.  There is always a new trend; twenty years ago it was flexitime.  Ten years later we had employer of choice with massages and birthday days off all the rage.  Casual Fridays is still considered a ‘bonus’ in some workplaces.  The success of initiatives that interfere with positions and status, particularly for full time workers, are typically the least successful.  The ability to work outside what is still for many organisations the ‘backbone structure’ of rigidly managed full time work often ends up little more than good intentions; they like the idea but not the changes needed to allow them to happen.  As one industrial relations lawyer once wryly remarked to me, “Employers are happy to offer many flexible initiatives, but they’re always surprised, sometimes resentful, when anyone tries to use them.”

In this, the 21st century, employers need to understand their workers differently.  The platitudes of being the “most valuable asset” will no longer wash.  Perhaps once when people were human-powered production – basically the parts of production that could not be performed with a combination of electricity, mechanical parts and computers – there could be some argument that the employer owned (an asset being a resource that an entity owns or controls) the labour which is how a person came to be a legal entity’s ‘asset’.  In the knowledge economy, the workers own the assets – their knowledge.  The organisation leases this knowledge.  In place of rigid positions and inflexible rosters the organisation creates a positive workplace culture to promote innovation, considered risk-taking, and the ability of staff to continuously self-evaluate and self-moderate.  The organisation ‘partners’ with the knowledge asset owners to maximise the value of intellectual and social capital, resulting in on-going opportunities for both.

It’s a paradigm shift that few understand, for a large part because it has only had a few years to develop, against the 150 or so years of the industrial economy.  The companies using what software company Atlassian calls ‘Ship It Days’ (giving time to employees to work on any project of their choosing for a set amount of time) have been the progressive ones.  Encompass, to its enormous credit, took a giant leap last Thursday, making a commitment to its staff to become a partner to the vast untapped resources of its employees for the good of its community.