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Tracey Burton, Executive Director of Uniting is an experienced CEO, having spent more than 30 years in the Australian health sector in 2019. Tracey has a strong reputation for building high performing teams, and achieving growth in response to changing community needs.

Her previous roles have included Executive Director of Eastern Hospitals at St John of God Health Care in Victoria,CEO at St George Private Hospital Ramsay Health Care,General Manager of Corporate Services at St Vincent’s & Mater Health Sydney and,Executive Director of the Mater Private Hospital, South Brisbane.

Since being appointed to Uniting in 2017, Tracey has focused on Uniting’s strategic vision for the next 10 years, implementing a holistic, community-based approach that delivers long-term benefits.

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3 Value Bombs

1. Culture isn't built by emails. It's built one relationship and one conversation at a time. Culture is a contact sport and so is safety. Safety can't just be a manual on the bookshelf and it can't be only the safety team's job. It's everybody's job.

2. Some words of wisdom from Tracey:

“I look back to the various roles that I've had, and I can say that when I haven't been the CEO, I haven't been as loud about safety. I could have brought a voice to the nursing staff, the physiotherapists and everybody else. But I just stuck in my patch. I would really encourage people to think about the fact that you don't have to be the CEO to be the one that's loud about health, safety and wellbeing.” Tracey Burton, Executive Director of Uniting

3. It's got to be in your heart. You can't fake it. Try to walk in the shoes of the person who's been injured. Somehow you've really got to feel, live and breathe it in order to bring the energy and consistent leadership that it warrants. 

Show Notes

Getting Started

Liz: [00:03:10] So I'd like to start a chat with a brief summary of your own safety and wellbeing journey. So how does safety and wellbeing fit into your thinking about how you lead an organisation over the many years of working, particularly in healthcare?

Tracey: [00:03:30] Most recently, the change to uniting has brought me into human services and community services. The common piece about that sector is that it attracts people who really are coming to be of service to others. And so over the years I've really evolved my thinking about that. You know, going back to the 90s, there was this expectation that, nurses hurt their backs. People get injured. And over time, as I've become more senior, I've taken more and more personal responsibility for the implications of that. And so for me as an accountable leader, being responsible for keeping people safe. It's something I take really seriously. And so flipping the thinking around, oh, yeah, I've got to put myself on the line to care for the people that I'm employed to care for, too. Actually, it's really important to ask that you stay well, that you thrive, that your well-being is there, because if you're doing well, you are going to be in a much better position to provide terrific care to bring all your guests to this work.

Tracey: [00:04:38] And, you know, a big part of what you're doing is aged care. And so that's a really hard place today. So having a staff member who feels valued, who knows their safety is really important is going to enable them to bring more to the work, to the care of the residents. And then I think for me, I've now got adult kids and so I can look at the context of what happens when someone gets injured at work through the lens of their life.

Liz: [00:05:43] So how did you come to understand what excellent safety leadership looks like? Were there any significant events that impacted you along the way? Did you have a particular role model that you sought ideas from?

Tracey: [00:05:59] probably both things. I think there's been some events that have happened when I was at St George private. We had an incident where a graduate nurse the first year out of university injured her back quite significantly. Ultimately, after a long period of time, there was a good result, but still that will stay for the rest of her life. We only have one back and how that happened was exactly what I was talking about before, she was on the ward and the patient was calling out Nurse, Nurse, I need a pan. She was trying to find someone to help because she knew she was supposed to do a two person lift. And then in the end she just went, Oh, I've got to help this patient. And she lifted on her own. And, you know, it would've been terrible if that patient had wet the bed or whatever was going to happen, but the bed could have been sorted. You just can't be put at risk. And so that for me, was just a bit of a turning moment. And from that point on, I insisted on meeting, doing orientation with every set of new grads that came in. And I told them that story. And I explicitly said, we do not want you to put yourself on the line. And that that was really important to me.

Greatest Challenges & Lessons

Liz: [00:08:02] HowhHave you gone about building safety into the way you lead, what are some of the rituals and stories and levers that you've used in leading safety, and which ones have been really effective at engaging people?

Tracey: [00:08:37] I think coming to uniting, I'm feeling really hopeful. It's probably too early to tell whether it's going to be effective or not, but I'm really feeling really hopeful about the approach that we're taking to safety. When I arrived, I was really surprised to find that we weren't talking a lot about safety as it related to our people. Lots of focus on safety for the people that we serve, our clients, our residents, the children in our care, in our day care centres, you name it. That was a very high priority and remains a high priority. But it's been really wonderful to bring conversations about the safety of our people into everything that we do. So very quickly, on arrival, I found we had a really good plan, a really well thought through plan, but it was being talked about and displayed in a way that was a little bit too cryptic. So we unpicked it and advanced it a little bit. And I started talking about the big five things that matter at Uniting. And all the executive team have just adopted that now. And the big five things drive our operational priorities. They're embedded in our planning. They're everywhere. And so the first two are actually culture and safety. So I have taken every opportunity I can to talk about what safety means to me. Why is it important? What we are trying to do about it. And safety really ties to the culture.

Liz: [00:12:40] So, what's the best feedback that you've had in relation to your own leadership in terms of safety, well-being?

Tracey: [00:12:47] I feel really blessed that I have the opportunity of getting some lovely feedback. So this week, for example, has been, Are you okay? Day. We send out a broadcast e-mail to thousands. We have nine thousand employees and they don't all have e-mail addresses, but we pushed it out. And, you know, I've got a couple of handfuls of people writing back saying, thank you for that. Are you okay? Tracey. And I love it that people feel that they can write to me and I really make every effort to respond. And, you know, last week I was out at a site visit at one of our aged care homes and one of the chaplains there wrote to me after the visit. She wrote and said, just wanted to tell you, I'm really sorry I missed your visit but when I got back and you'd been there, the staff were just a buzz that you had made them feel valued and that you really were engaged and interested. So that sort of thing is priceless, really, unsolicited, but really encouraging.

Liz [00:15:44] So on the flipside, where do you think leaders get it wrong when they're leading safety and well-being, what are some of the common pitfalls?

Tracey [00:15:57] I think we get it wrong when we think we can just grab a hold of the latest program. You know, let's be all about take five. The staff just go, oh, here we go again. And I've certainly participated in those in the past. And it's that quick, reactive stuff. We've had a crisis. We've got to do something. So it's just hold your nerve and have a steady program of trying to lift. And it's just got to be genuinely ingrained into the culture. It can't be an add on. One of the places where I really struggled was we were having a big focus on safety. We had like a short term incentive scheme, a bonus scheme and some safety KPI is went into that. And I was really uncomfortable, sort of really offended by it.

Actually, I thought if you think I could care more about safety because I might earn a bonus, yeah, I find that really, really grating. So being careful about the rewards or the incentives or the motivations, you just want it to be purely about really taking care of people. And luckily, I've never worked in a place because I've worked in health care and human services. And so I've always felt that strong sense that's what it's about.

Liz: So what's been your greatest challenge in relation to health, safety and wellbeing, leadership?

Tracey [00:17:50] At Uniting the big challenge is the fact that we have almost 9000 staff and two thousand volunteers and there they are out there in all different settings doing different jobs, and it's such a disseminated workforce. So I think the big challenge is how do you influence and make sure those every one of those 9000 people are alert to the safety risks and certain that we just don't want them to put themselves in harm's way.

Liz [00:20:04] So what about metrics? How important do you think they are? What do you think some of the pitfalls of using metrics and what have you seen?

Tracey [00:20:13] Well, I think metrics are absolutely vital because the resources, the time and effort you've got to apply to improving safety are limited. And so if you're focusing on a program to address slips, trips and falls and in fact, your biggest risk is sitting over here in lifting you've just you've got to be data driven in terms of where you put your effort. So being able to measure is really important. Being able to see the outcomes. If less people are getting injured, then, you know, you're pulling the right levers. And if people are still getting injured in the same way, you've really got to dig into the root cause and try and figure out, what other lever can we pull? Metrics, I think are really vital.

Liz  [00:22:39] What do you think are the emerging issues for the C suite boards in relation to managing health and well-being? What do you think is coming at us?

[00:22:48] The big challenge is that there's lots coming at us. Financial stewardship, regulation, everything. And so how does safety continue to get a focus?

I think that's the biggest challenge that we really face at the moment at a board and executive level. I really like that for us here. It is integrated into so much of the success that we're looking for.

Liz So what still worries you about safety and wellbeing? How do you personally keep safety real?

Tracey [00:24:40] What still worries me is that we are still seeing a number of people getting injured and we'll always have people doing dangerous things that we have because we cover the whole of New South Wales.

[00:24:49] We have people driving cars on country roads and the most basic of activities, but they're out there doing it in our name in service of others. And so. Yeah. It really worries me that we do still keep having people be injured.

[00:25:04] And I think in terms of keeping it real, it's just knowing the stories, understanding why, asking the questions. Staying on top of what's happening out there. You know, we occasionally get psychological harm injuries and they're small in number. But the potential impact for that staff member and their families’ psychological harm is a great worry. So keeping tabs on where is at up to where, what are they? What's the story behind that? What can we do? That's how I keep it real.

Pearls of Wisdom

Liz [00:25:38] Fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing this story. Just to to end, it would be really helpful to extract a couple of pearls of wisdom from you. What would you do differently if you had your time again?

[00:25:49] I look back to the various roles that I've had. And I can say that when I haven't been the CEO, I haven't been as loud about safety. So somehow I've sort of thought it's the CEO's job to sort of set the tone and do that. I think I actually could have brought a voice that was about the nursing staff, the physiotherapists and about everybody else. But I sort of just stuck in my patch. So I think, yeah, I would really encourage people to think about the fact that you don't have to be the CEO to be the one that's loud about health and safety.

Liz [00:26:39] What advice would you give executives of the future for what they could do to demonstrate leadership in health, safety and well-being?

Tracey [00:26:50] It's just got to be in your heart. You can't fake it, if you walk in the shoes of the person who's been injured or just somehow you've really got to feel it and live it and breathe. I think in order to bring the energy and the consistent leadership to it that it really important.

Liz [00:27:27] Well, your genuine us and authentic approach to it absolutely shines through. Last question for you. One word or phrase, what does safety mean to you?

Tracey [00:27:49] It means living well, keeping you safe for your life. No job is worth sacrificing who you can be to those that you love.

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