In Part Two we continue the inspirational story shared by Kushla Wilson on her rich learning journey through the PSMP. She shares her reflections on each of the units in the program, the impact of her workplace project on the lives of women and provides go-to advice for getting the most out of the program.
My summary of the four Units by Kushla Wilson
The below is my take-away from each of the units, potentially not the QUTs anticipated takeaway learnings.
Unit 1: Managing in the Context of Government
Unit 1 was a subject I had only skirted on the periphery of. I was a long-serving South Australian public servant of around 16/17 years when undertaking the PSMP. Unit 1 really showed me what that meant. Parliament was explained, the policy types explored which was really eye-opening to learn about (hypothesis policy is untested, objective policy is defined/intended and authoritative policy is basically politics in action) – I was able to tie these all to policies we had implemented at Dept for Correctional Services and had my own little a-ha moments.
We talked about collaborative government (public/private/NGO) to address social problems, whole of government approaches like My Gov. We commenced discussions about Public Value and Systems Thinking, topics which appear across all four units.
The assignments got me thinking, I also learnt how to reference and how to structure an assignment; all of which helped my feel confident going forward.
Unit 2: Managing Self and Others
We undertook a behaviour/communication strength survey which gave me a better understanding of my ‘why’ and others ‘why’. This activity and the discussions/assignments that followed were very tangible for me. I had big a-ha moments in this unit.
I have learned how to develop my project team’s strengths and build diverse teams. I no longer look for like-minded people for my workgroups. Previously I would have filled a workgroup with multiple experts in the subject knowledge. Now I build workgroups with diversity to ensure the discussions are inclusive and well rounded; this brings problems to the table and discussions occurring from the planning stage, instead of causing obstacles in the implementation phase. I facilitate the meetings to ensure all participate and have a say; they bring different strengths NOT different levels of the same strengths. I also set their individual tasks that strengthen their performance, not showcase their weaknesses.
In my comms strategies, I am now mindfully inclusive of diversity. I provide info prior to a meeting when possible to those who like to be prepared, I provide handouts to be taken away for those that need to ponder, I use whiteboards to support those that require visual demonstrations to grasp a discussion, etc. Basically, I understand better the differences in my audience, value, and cater for those differences.
I also understand better how my profile works for me OR does not work for me. I understand that I have in the past overlooked the relationship aspect beyond just facilitating the completion of a task. I try and take more responsibility for relationships, not instinctively yet but I remind myself to do this.
I do still struggle with impatience for those who don’t operate at a level I expect them to; but to limit this frustration wherever I can, I build my project teams with staff who have demonstrated high energy work levels. I find it easier to assist staff to slow down and be more prudent than it is to assist staff to speed up and be less risk-averse.
Unit 3: Managing Outward in a Networked Govt.
We explored the concepts of co-creation / co-design and issues engagement with stakeholders to resolve, reflect, debate, and share to achieve results. The model of appreciative inquiry was taught which included discover/dream/design/ deliver.
The process of contestability was discussed and how to apply this as a strategic assessment approach; with a focus again on demonstrating Public Value.
In the classroom, we discussed scenarios of how large public programs fail such as the Home Insulation Program. I found this very interesting as I had not been one to pay attention to Federal incentives/initiatives etc. I must have had my ears and eyes closed for a decade.
One of my Unit 3 learnings, that I apply today is that all aspects of a project plan need to be well scoped out and agreed upon and that each stage must have strong governance. I had a habit of letting the reigns go on a project once implementation started and all appeared to be going well. I have learned that projects can fall over at any stage even if demonstrating high achievement in the front end.
Unit 4: Managing Operations for Outcomes
This unit was all about strategy, governance, operations, measurement, and execution. In a nutshell is the guidance, tools, and knowledge you need to undertake and produce your Workplace Project.
As a project manager, albeit in practice only, I found this unit the easiest to absorb. Yet I was captivated by the concepts discussed; they were often the theories around why I did what I did when planning and executing projects.
The unit brought all the learnings from Units 1, 2 & 3 together and provided you an opportunity to put these into practice.
My advice would be not to make your project too big. Because you need to demonstrate your learnings (and provide evidence for your workplace project) you will need to document every aspect of your project. As Manager’s I am confident you implement many change actions in your workplace but are unlikely to be required to write up an implementation plan which prescribes your understanding of how you will measure your success, mitigate any risks, etc this work output will seem huge enough, without the project itself being too
It is an exercise that aims to demonstrate your PSMP learnings, demonstrating your use of tools, evidencing the research, and references back to four units’ modules/ readings.
I also recommend you make it real and valuable. Pick an activity you are already responsible for implementing; that way you already have your workplace buy-in. It doesn’t need to be delivered in the timeframe of Unit 4, it may be something you’ve already started and potentially won’t finish in this timeframe. However, your project will need to detail what you have done, what you’re doing, and what you will still undertake to complete the project.
I thoroughly enjoyed Unit 4 (and delivering the workplace project) as I reaped the rewards from my efforts. I was able to undertake ‘on the job’ so was able to test and trial some of the theories I had learned.
It would take me several more pages to provide a full outline of this project from the scoping exercise to determine what’s in and what’s out, to the methodology used to undertake it but I won’t go into that level of detail.
My project was an action I was already scheduled to deliver on, an operational model for a newly redeveloped accommodation unit. My learnings through the PSMP program assisted me to expand my thinking to be bigger; the what-if questions?
My project name was: Development of a therapeutic community treatment approach delivered within a structured living unit environment.
As you have read in my brief bio in part one of this tale, I don’t have a professional background to write such a ‘therapeutic approach’. However, I do have an operations background so have the operations knowledge for the ‘structured living unit environment’. The project gave me the opportunity and enthusiasm to apply many of my Unit 2 learnings, those that I shared earlier in this write-up.
I formed a working group of specialist personnel (a strength-based approach). My selection for membership was planned with an emphasis on the need of ensuring it included stakeholders who would be impacted by the new model from both a strategic and operational perspective and staff who could negatively impact any of the outcomes. This ensured I had a working group of people committed to the outcome and opposing views had a platform throughout to be heard, discussed, and worked through.
The key function of the working group was to develop a well-informed business case and an achievable implementation plan; so as I had learned through the PSMP, I needed to demonstrate: Should we do it? Can we do it? And What do we need to do? Because of the planning that went into the formation of the workgroup, it was highly functioning, delivered the above deliverables with enthusiasm and the project was implemented on time. Obstacles were worked through with all invested parties as they arose. When we came to the consultation phase of implementation, I was well prepared to discuss the mitigation strategies.
The Unit 2 learnings gave me the confidence to use my strengths of honesty, leadership, fairness, and teamwork.
This helped me navigate through several of the hard conversations that were raised and hopefully provided an opportunity for all group members to take away some learnings. It is worth noting that I would have previously been very frustrated at certain working group members’ behaviours and may even have ended a membership due to my own insecurities. I now value the opportunity to have these discussions within a working group format as it prepares me for challenging conversations.
The long-term outcome of my workplace project is that the Adelaide Women’s Prison opened a new accommodation unit, with a different model of operation than that previously performed. Yes, teething issues occurred, and tweaks were made to iron out the creases however the women living in this new environment were incredibly vocal about the positives of living in this accommodation unit and how it had assisted them to ‘do time’ with a different mindset than previously achieved.
You are all aspiring leaders or seeking higher levels of leadership so see your group as a team, and act like it’s a team:
- Lead with your strengths, it’ll help you feel confident to talk openly; what I mean by this is – speak about personal work experiences that you’ve had or witnessed a colleague have and use this as your platform to talk.
- Help each other, try and involve those that don’t appear engaged.
- Do the unit pre-readings – the true value of the reading material is realised when all participants have reviewed the information and are able to bounce off each other their thoughts and experiences.
- Set yourself a study plan; there is no specific time period for you for each Unit; because that will depend on your own learning styles and what knowledge you bring to the program. I have trouble reading, so I know that I need to allow a much longer length of time than others to absorb the material and I also need to take notes.
- Unless you have a memory like an elephant please keep summary notes whilst doing pre-readings and in the classroom. You will be writing assignments weeks and sometimes months after being exposed to the learning. It is time-consuming and frustrating to have to trawl back through material to find information you need to reference. Another benefit is that you will have this notebook after the PSMP course, and it is a valuable resource to have. I have used mine on many occasions when I’m needing to get my head around a situation and developing my approach on how to manage it.
Read the first part of Kushla’s story here.
The Public Sector Management Program (PSMP) is a nationally recognised and dynamic study option catering specifically for mid-level managers in the Australian public service and non-Government organisations.