Melbourne Business School News How a leadership program helped Ryman navigate the pandemic

How a leadership program helped Ryman navigate the pandemic

To build a culture of care across multinational operations, Ryman Healthcare developed a custom leadership program with Melbourne Business School.

How can a fast-growing organisation function across two countries? How can a diverse leadership team internalise the company culture across geographies, cultures and environments amid a global pandemic?

These were the questions that Ryman Healthcare, a New Zealand-based aged-care provider, sought to answer as it enhanced the structure around its growing operations and dealt with the disruptions from COVID-19.

What started as a family-owned retirement-home business in 1983 with a block of two-bedroom flats in Christchurch is now a sprawling, multinational operation: 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia, 6,700 employees and a market cap of around NZ$4 billion on the New Zealand Stock Exchange.

“We started engaging with Melbourne Business School initially on a personal recommendation from one of our board members,” said Andrew Crerar, Chief People and Safety Officer.

“They had seen the power of a Melbourne Business School leadership program firsthand through another organisation. And we knew that at the point in our growth and development that we needed some pretty sophisticated help to get us where we needed to go.”

As Ryman grew its business in Australia, Andrew said it was important that the company had some voices in the room that were both “globally recognised but also had the local nature to it that Melbourne Business School would bring”.

The conversation is what eventually led to the Ryman Advanced Leadership Programme, a 10-day program aimed at helping the firm’s senior leaders develop a values-based leadership style, improve their coaching skills, foster collaboration, and build resilience and well-being.

The program started in December 2019, followed by a second module in February 2020, just before the global disruption brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Andrew, the crisis underscored the need for a program that could help the company adapt to a new set of challenges.

“It established a level of trust and understanding among the other people around the table that they were going to battle together against COVID-19. It gave us a new set of skills to deal with issues such as ‘How do we lead our teams through an emergency?’ ‘How do we maintain well-being while also keeping an eye on a strategic focus and direction?’ ‘How do we build a sense of resilience into our leadership growth?’”

Andrew said he saw first-hand how the program brought about positive change in the organisation.

“Personally and anecdotally, I've definitely seen witnessed and observed how the program has had a demonstrable impact on the way our leaders interact,” he said. “We utilise some pre- and post-survey feedback … all of which moved in positive directions.

“We've also just implemented our second 360 assessment, which is really bringing together all the feedback from a number of stakeholders. We've noticed some really positive shifts in the leadership behaviour and the way that our leaders and team members are interacting and growing.”

Debra Richardson, Victorian Sales and Community Relations Manager, agrees. She adds that the best parts of the programs were the opportunity to develop a deeper connection with her team and learning to lead from behind. She also appreciated having greater awareness of her own leadership style and being able to adapt that to her own circumstances.

“You may be aware that you have a particular style, but some of the program allowed you to actually identify what that style was, to give it a name, and to really sit back and say: ‘You know, that's the kind of leader I am’,” she said.

“The most amazing thing for me is every single team member on Ryman genuinely believes that we have to do everything that's good enough for mum and dad,” Debra added, referring to the company’s tagline.

“And an opportunity to do a leadership program shows that we truly care about our people and that we make sure that we're investing in our people.”

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