Serving the ones who serve
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services are the selfless people we thankfully depend on in the worst of times; fire, natural disasters and emergencies are the day-to-day work situations for a committed workforce of over 5000 people and a volunteer group 40,000 strong. But the work of rapidly reacting to crisis is driven by a proactive pursuit of leadership excellence. Wanting to continue a shift from command-and-control style leadership to a more influence-based leadership style, we worked alongside the Commissioner, Deputy and Assistant Commissioners to custom build a leadership program designed to promote coaching skills and methodology.
QFES, otherwise known as Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, are the heroes we rely on across Queensland to protect and serve our community.
As an organisation they aim to protect person, property and the environment through the delivery of emergency services, awareness programs, response capability and capacity as well as incident response and recovery for a safer Queensland. The legacy of QFES across Queensland is felt by each community they serve. The people and volunteers have a strong connection to the work they do as first responders.
We began our work with QFES back in 2017, at a time where the organisation was undergoing transformational change on a cultural and leadership level. Upon the completion of an existing leadership development program, QFES identified a need to develop the coaching capability of their leaders in order to incite long-term behavioural change across the organisation.
Specifically, the challenge that lay ahead of them was an organisation-wide shift within their leadership culture from one of command and control to one of influence. Developing leaders with the skills to ask rather than tell, and coach rather than instruct, was a critical starting point. These skills are essential in both emergency situations as well as during planning and preparation procedures.
Getting to know the organisation and the legacy within it was our starting point. After a three month immersion, connecting with leaders from across various levels as well as regional centres, we began to map the solution.
We worked closely with QFES to develop and deliver a bespoke training program, Step Up, focused on strengthening the coaching skills of their senior leaders. In order to embed the skills to the point where they became everyday behavioural patterns required leaders to feel like they had ownership over the initiative. One of the ways this was achieved was by designing the program and accompanying collaterals to look and feel like QFES. This wasn’t an outside-in program, but rather an inside-out cultural shift.
One of the core components of the program was the QFES coaching framework; a clearly defined approach to coaching conversations to ensure consistency across the organisation. A common language for leaders to come back to.
Prior to the rollout of Step Up, we designed and delivered a collection of internal marketing materials to generate curiosity and anticipation for the launch.
In total, the Step Up program was facilitated in 18 locations across Queensland with 350 senior leaders from the commissioner through to deputies and assistant commissioners taking part. Step Up was delivered as a five week coaching program: commencing with 2 full days of coaching skills development where participants were provided with a completely customised QFES coaching kit and then given four weeks to put coaching skills into action, followed by a final day exploring coaching excellence and ongoing application.
To further embed the learning outcomes and ensure the long-term success of the program, participants were provided access to an online Step Up portal where they could access additional learning resources and reference materials.
Step Up was rolled out in regional centres across Queensland. Sessions were oversupplied with participants eager to attend due the success of both the internal guerilla marketing created for the program, as well as fellow colleagues raving about the experience.
The way that leaders communicated with their teams, stepped into managing up conversations as well as connected cross-divisionionally shifted within the organisation, from the top down. Program participants had developed the necessary skills to be able to get results from feedback conversations, deal with resistance to change and had the capability to use coaching on the go to solve problems as well as coordinate long-term formal coaching sessions.
Due to the noticeable improvement in coaching and communication skills amongst program participants, QFES decided to continue the change and collaborated with Pragmatic Thinking to tailor a program for frontline leaders. Step In is the extension of this initiative aimed to provide frontline leaders with the skills to influence others in all areas of their leadership.
Pragmatic Thinking worked closely with us to understand our organisation, crafted what it means to be a leader at QFES and provided us with the aspiration to step into this vision. Partnering with them has helped to create a seismic shift within our culture for the better.