Talking courage with a General Manager

(~4 minute read.)

melissa palframan Melissa Palframan, General Manager of Operations, has built a high-level of expertise over 25 years in both service delivery and management roles, working in homelessness, housing and domestic violence fields.  Her particular interest is in working with marginalised groups.  She has formal studies in community development, work health and safety, and quality assurance management.

Melissa’s goal is, as always, to create positive social change; challenging disadvantage and disempowerment that exists in society. She does this by delivering quality customer services and outcomes by leading, supporting and motivating teams to sustain and build strong, resilient communities. 

Join us Melissa shares her perspectives and experiences of courage.

How would you describe workplace courage?

I would describe workplace courage as being honest at all times. Owning mistakes and speaking up about them, calling out bad behaviours including your own. Humility definitely helps to get you to a space where you can be in your integrity to sustain honesty at all times.

What does courage look like in your workplace?

Committing every day to being your best self and not letting your stress or feelings of this impact on others. Offering feedback to others in a respectful and honest manner.

Please describe 1-2 examples in which you have been courageous.  What did you do?  Who/what enabled you to be courageous?  What was the outcome? 

A good example was my first role in managing a program.  I quickly learnt that the program was inefficient, not providing good quality services to its clients and administratively over burdening on staff.  It was like a culture where no one wanted to change because it would have implications on staff and other services – no one wanted to ‘rock the boat.’  I discussed these observations and the ineffectiveness of service delivery  with my manager to seek his support to change the programs that I was responsible for.

In setting up the changes, I consulted with all my staff and faced much opposition and complaint;

  • Resistance from my middle management team was ‘but this is the way we have always done it’
  • Secondly, other programs within the organisation seemed sceptical that the changes would work [and had a sympathetic ear for the staff that did not want to change which I think influenced their perceptions of the changes]
  • Thirdly, from some of the community agencies in the region – they initially were not embracing of our changes either; I think through our changes we were placing extra pressure on them to step up their work with our mutual clients

The changes I sought to make included restructuring the service to increase staff presences in client services; reviews of existing clients and their exit case plans and outcomes; and setting up systems that streamlined the administration and management of relief funding.

I received a visit one day from the Managing Director who came in to see what I was doing. When I outlined my findings and reasons for change, I was supported by the Managing Director to keep going! Then I had a visit from the Department funding body who stated that I had caused quite a stir in the region. Again I explained my findings, goals for a more efficient service to clients which was in line with what the program was intended for, and gained their support.

I would describe workplace courage as being honest at all times. Owning mistakes and speaking up about them, calling out bad behaviours including your own.

It was hard doing this in isolation! I decided that I needed broader support so reached out and regularly communicated with another program in the region that offered the same services. This was beneficial as I realised they faced other similar challenges.

I now had the support not only from my manager who consistently encouraged me to keep going, but also from another agency in the region. It gave me the strength to maintain my perspective, focus and motivation to achieve the intended outcome. It was rather intimidating to be a new manager and create such havoc in trying to create better quality outcomes! I kept saying to myself – “Melissa what are you doing? What if the changes don’t work?” I had flung myself out there in front of everyone in the sector and it felt like make or break; but I kept coming back to the inefficiency of the program and lack of service to the clients – it just wasn’t fair to clients or staff.

The overall result was achieved! Post the changes, staff expressed their relief at how, even though the changes bought about more work with clients, I had actually halved their workload with discarding the over burdensome and unnecessary administrative processes. Clients received a much improved service as well.

I did all of these changes in six weeks from commencing in the role. Staff became more resilient and innovative. I honoured their wonderful ideas that started to be generated and the programs continued to grow and improve. It became an exciting and positive place to work. We started to work better as a team. This was a stark contrast to when I started the journey in which it felt like I was the adversary of all!

I had flung myself out there in front of everyone in the sector and it felt like make or break; but I kept coming back to the inefficiency of the program and lack of service to the clients – it just wasn’t fair to clients or staff.

From your point of view, to what extent are Australia’s leaders leading with courage?

When you say Australia’s leaders – I think about State and Federal Governments. Generally I don’t think Governments show good leadership. Most leaders I have seen are about their own survival and self-preservation and within this their behaviour is to seemingly bring down others and any opposition to maintain their leadership. This is the opposite of showing courage, which in turn becomes destructive. The leadership style creates distrust and divisiveness. An example of this would be to look at the Government leadership spills of the last decade or so, along with broken election promises.

What is interesting however is how the Governments are working now, during this unprecedented circumstance with the COVID -19 Pandemic. Governments are listening to key sector experts; both sides of Government are working better together, with some helpful criticism/feedback from the opposition [it seems as if we can ensure all issues are covered for good democratic decision making].  Despite each State being slightly different, on the large this is respected by Federal Government.  People are being put first [ironically] to support economic stability. It’s actually closer to how things should be governed on an ongoing basis. There appears to be good leadership occurring and it is having good results, compared to other countries.


Over the past 12 months, I have had the opportunity to work with Melissa and her colleagues.  There is no doubt that Melissa is passionate about her work as a leader, enabling others to be their best self.

@CourageChick

DTL-Seal-Certified-Facilitator-silver


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