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Melbourne Business School News Change skills are helping Johnny O'Connell cut psychologist waiting times

Change skills are helping Johnny O'Connell cut psychologist waiting times

Learning to understand organisational change has helped Johnny O'Connell improve access to mental health services for patients in New Zealand.

Fresh Minds CEO Johnny O'Connell

As the CEO of New Zealand's largest primary mental health service, Fresh Minds, Johnny has led a national change initiative over several years to make the organisation more accessible to patients.

In the midst of that challenge, Johnny enrolled in the Leading Transformational Change course at Melbourne Business School to learn new skills and help ensure the project was a success.

"When I started the course, I was the organisation's general manager and then later on I transitioned into the chief executive role," he says.

"In both roles, I was leading a large national transformation program of models of care and mental health as part of our overall redevelopment."

Part of the ProCare network, Fresh Minds was originally called ProCare Psychological Services before undergoing its transformation.

"Fresh Minds delivers primary mental health services in support of general practice and lighter contexts in the community, schools and youth settings," Johnny says.

"For a long time, we experienced challenges with client engagement. Our clients felt we were inaccessible in many ways, and we knew we had to change.

"I understood what change management was technically, but I wasn't clued into what were the systems of thinking, approaches or concepts around leading a culture of change – which is a very different thing."

Taking part in the course helped Johnny broadened his people management and leadership skills, and ability to reflect on his own role during a period of change.

"This process helped us understand the significant amount of change we had on the go," he says.

"I learned how to frame up where we were in our change journey, the pitfalls and our thinking traps – and we're still continuing with this way of working today."

One tool in particular from the Leading Transformational Change course helped Johnny keep the project on track and accelerate its progress.

"It was basically a map of transformational change. I was able to map our change journey with it for the range of things we were trying to do," he says.

"It led me to talk with teams in our organisation and explain how, with just the right type of push, we could start to ascend towards a better place within weeks."

Meeting other senior leaders with challenges similar to his own while on the course also helped Johnny better understand his own project.

"As it goes with these sorts of intensive programs, you develop a good bond with the people you're there with because you get to understand what other people's change challenges and opportunities are through the weekly activities," he says.

"It's useful for knowing how to translate all this great theory into practice."

One of the achievements Johnny is most proud of has been the reduction in waiting list times for patients to access psychological services at Fresh Minds.

"We challenged ourselves to take down our waiting lists from weeks to days, so people could get to our therapists quicker," he says.

Johnny's advice to other leaders embarking on a change initiative is to be themselves, be clear about their purpose and empower colleagues to take part.

"Be passionate, be authentic and try to find good people that have a purpose that is aligned with what you're trying to achieve and support and enable them to do great things," he says.

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