All industries are facing the challenge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is unlike the previous three. 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – which we are living in now – builds upon the digital technology revolution that began in the 1980’s by embedding technology within society, even the human body.

Those organisations that have taken hold of the revolution are disrupting the remainder that have not, the disrupted. 

Community service organisations are simultaneously being disrupted by the collision of this revolution and the Governments’ reforms to the way services are selected and funded for consumers of aged-care, disability and mental health services. 

It’s the perfect storm for providers of services and a golden opportunity for innovative new entrants.

All organisations (for profits and not-for-profits)  seek to make a difference to society and community in some form or another and to varying degrees. 

What an organisation stands for and the way in which ‘things get done’ in that organisation can always attract talent, especially with a Platinum AMEX card. 

Attracting the right talent and keeping them for a financially sustainable period can only be achieved if an organisation has alignment between its mission (why it exists), culture (how things get done), market attractive employment offer (5 Cs), and these three things are authentically real in the work environment.   

It’s a tsunami

What happens when your mission may no longer be as relevant in a disrupted world, and the way in which things were done in the past won’t be the way things are done in the future?  

Further to that, what happens when generally there is a war for talent, not just in your own industry[i], and the technology hungry millennials are the generation most needed[ii]?

And the AMEX card is on notice of expiry because block funding is ceasing, grants are tightening and revenue potentially will be controlled through service regulated pricing?

New innovative entrants are popping up daily and billion dollar organisations can out-buy the big government contracts. 

The storm becomes a tsunami threatening to wipe your organisation out. 

The talent required to plan for a tsunami is different to the talent who, for decades, have been managing a paddle-steamer on the Brisbane River.

Paddle steamer value

Can a paddle steamer survive against a tsunami? 

Instinctively we say no, but all is not as it seems. 

Has the captain steered towards the right direction?

Has the steamer had regular maintenance? 

Has the navigation equipment been updated and is it working properly? 

Are the customers safely on board and do they feel well cared for? 

Are the crew working as a team, accessible and responsive to the customers? 

There might be a tsunami on Moreton Bay that rolled a P&O, but the paddle steamer could be docked 50kms up the Brisbane River serving afternoon tea to its’ customers. 

There is value in tradition, being sturdy and making your customers feel safe and cared for. 

‘Pay-up-front’ drinks package

Most community service organisations may have started out as paddle steamers operating on the Brisbane River, serving afternoon tea. But most have also since branched out, hosting all sorts of services on that steamer. 

The general nature of a community service organisation implies diversity. 

Most disability organisations are no longer just disability focused, or focused on a specific disability.   Mental health falls into community service also, along with services to minority groups, refugees, children’s services etc. 

The last two decades have seen unprecedented growth and diversification across service categories.

Many organisations have expanded revenue and service category delivery through opportunistic government grants and new contracts.  This has served a purpose of reducing financial risk, but it may have simultaneously diluted organisational mission. 

The large majority of community service organisations have such generic missions and values that there is very little that is distinctly different from one to the next. 

The end result is that all customer carrying vessels (from row boat to P&O) have been sailing around Moreton Bay offering everything from afternoon tea to onboard doctor, physio, butler service, dodgem cars, cooking classes, craft sessions, daily turndown service and three meals a day.

Community service organisations have enjoyed the government’s payment for the ‘pay-up-front’ drinks package because it has provided a predictable cash-flow for the organisation. 

It looked good to many, but it didn’t quite hit the spot for the customers.

Mothball is not an option

There was a time when an organisation could mothball part of a business and wait for better business conditions. 

Community service organisations cannot mothball the paddle steamer any more than a newspaper can mothball one of its print machines while waiting for newspaper sales to pick up. 

The world has changed, it’s not going back to the way it was. 

So what are the options for the paddle-steamer, send to it Singapore and do a refit like P&O does to their ships?

Singapore looks inviting but that’s a big journey for a paddle-steamer.

Re-fit or detonate

Nobody ever wants to detonate something as magnificent as a grand old paddle steamer. 

The captain (the CEO) knows how to steer a paddle steamer and how to maintain it. 

The owners and investors (the Board) like being associated with a vessel that everybody knows, i.e. the paddle steamer is a part of their personal community or professional profile.  The staff know how to operate a paddle steamer, it’s predictable and although at times it has too many rules to keep the engines and services working, the rules are easy to understand and the technology is fairly easy to work with. 

Best of all, when there is a bend, there is plenty of time to take on that bend because it’s a slow turn. 

So if nobody wants to detonate, and there might not be enough customers to keep the steamer going when the tsunami hits or when Ovation of the Seas sails in next year, what happens next?

Singapore refit

Singapore for a refit sounds scary. It’s foreign and they do things differently there. 

Instinctively keeping what is good about the paddle steamer feels right, but what’s good and valued by customers? 

Figuring that out and deciding what to change, that’s hard work and takes honest, deep, reflective thinking.   

Planning what to refit and how to refit – that’s also hard, it takes an excellent planner. 

Decisions made: doing the refit – that’s really hard. 

How do you keep the customers and crew feeling safe whilst their boat is changing? 

Getting the crew of the paddle steamer to run a refitted, very different boat will have its challenges, a harbor pilot for a period of time is likely to be needed. 

New boat is not enough

It is easy for the decision makers to focus on the planning and changing of how things will look, operate and perform on the new boat with its fancy new technology. 

Unfortunately, far too many decision makers will have missed considering (in a deep and meaningful way) the most important thing that effects the customer: the bar tender.

The bar tender is the person the customer has come to rely on to make their favourite cocktail just the way they like it. 

Or the bar tender could also be the person the customer has come to loathe, fed up with poor service. 

That ‘pay-up-front’ drinks package is gone and the customer can move from boat to boat, bar tender to bar tender, and pay as they go. 

The pressure is on the bar tender, 10 different cocktails a day and each one has to be done with absolute focus on the way that customer likes it. 

There is no tip in it, but net promotor scores, and star ratings will be coming soon. 

Martini, earl grey tea, or both

Moreton Bay can’t fit hundreds of Ovation of the Seas, so the community service organisations of tomorrow will be of all sizes, shapes, colours and designs. 

Those that survive and thrive will have a few critical things in common. 

These are:

  • a person of vision had the courage to change the mission and values of the vessel to be relevant in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and they leverage the government reforms so they catch and ride the tsunami wave.  This person had the full support of the Board, and the Board was prepared to allow the break-down of what they might have built
  • a person of mental resilience was there to transform the paddle steamer.  That person had the intellect and experience to design and plan the refit.  Their job was finite, they completed the change and left.  The person was an expert in change management
  • the person responsible for Human Resources was a change agent, a culture builder. They put in place a workforce that is empowered and enabled so the head of Service Delivery and the service delivery frontline staff are totally supported to meet customer needs
  • the head of Service Delivery lives and breathes for the customer, they are the voice of the customer, and they coach the crew.  They have inspired great customer service throughout the entire organisation
  • together the heads of HR and Service Delivery had the people skills to identify the paddle steamer crew members to keep, and they knew how to respectfully release those who were not appropriate for the new vessel
  • a harbour pilot was engaged for a while until the captain came up to speed with new skills
  • the Captain needed new skills to sail the new vessel because although the vessel has the same hull, the technology is completely different 
  • the Captain never broke the behaviours expected by the values of the organisation
  • the Captain is no longer the most important employee in the organisation, the people serving the customer are
  • less lieutenants and less ranks.  This vessel is more nimble, more response, has better technology.  The Captain and Head of Service are really close to the customer
  • kick-ass bar tenders.  They’ve got personality, they know how to make every customer feel great and nothing is too hard when it’s on the menu.  The traditional martini made on gin is still available, as is the pot of earl grey tea.  A James Bond vodka martini can be made on request
  • the bar tender no longer stays behind the bar waiting for the customer to come into their space. They are mobile around the whole boat ensuring the customer gets their cocktail, bowl of nuts, serviette, information about the amenities etc. The bar tender provides a full service of various needs even though he/she is a kick-ass cocktail maker
  • The bar tender has the confidence to give the customer what they want because that’s the real and authentic mission of the organisation.  

Talent attraction, what are you offering?

Attracting and retaining talent is not about what you want, but what you are offering, and living up to the psychological contract you make with new employees. 

As organisational consultants at Ferris, we advise our clients to consider the 5 Cs when developing talent acquisition strategy and employee value propositions:

  1. Company
  2. Culture
  3. Community
  4. Career
  5. Conditions.


Brand reputation and employer of choice are measures of desire for people to want to work for your organisation. 

The stronger these are, the lower the cost of acquiring high performing talent. 

The weaker these are, the trade-off is higher remuneration or lower performing talent. 

Your organisation has been decades in the making and this is not changeable overnight, so you may need to consider either a bigger pay check or skills and experience will need to be either compromised or thought about differently.


Get specific.

Respect, integrity, honesty these are all a given. 

Too many community service organisations have generic values that do not distinguish the organisation when compared to the next. 

What values and behaviours will create and support the culture that your customers want when receiving services. 

Focus on the values and behaviours you want in your frontline staff first and foremost; they are your most important talent to attract and retain. 

Once you define the service and values for frontline service delivery staff – it is easy to define for the rest of the organisation, because they are the same. 

As an example:

Your accounts payable person should have the same shared values as your frontline service staff to achieve a culture that is consistent through-out the organisation. 

This does not mean all your staff are the same, most staff will have some or several personal values that are not the same as the organisational shared values, but they cannot be in conflict.

Having narrowly defined, clear, distinctive values helps to attract the right talent and reduces the resources required to manage recruitment. 

Less people will apply, and talent quality in the candidate pool will increase.


What difference does your organisation really make to society and community?

Be real, honest and authentic. 

Not-for-profit, public benefit organisations sometimes have lofty, almost unattainable missions that they alone are unlikely to achieve. 

People emotionally attach to a mission or cause, but they choose their employer by what that employer alone is doing towards that mission. 


Flippantly an example to ponder.

To support every person to have the cocktail of their choice




Shaken cocktails, served with a twist and made to order


Do a Seek search for Support Worker and read the advertisements of several organisations.  

These Seek ads have the tone and communication of a ‘job’, focused on the organisation’s needs not on the career needs of the person you want to attract. 

Most organisations can’t offer a career, they offer a piece of the jigsaw of an individual’s career goal. 

What unique jigsaw piece (or pieces) does your organisation offer to attract the talent you want?

Attracting kick-ass bar tenders needs a kick-ass recruitment engagement mechanism.

Surprisingly, there appears to be no innovation in this space. 

Consider how different the tone would be if you invited bar tenders to send you a video making their favourite cocktail and telling you about what they are looking for in their life and career. 


Forget the employee benefits scheme and pizza once a month.  What are the employment conditions that will attract the best of talent, and is yet affordable?

Consider more flexibility in the conditions and structures within the organisation instead of a one size fits all conditions structure. 

Even consider providing more flexibility within the same roles. 

Organisations spend too much money on bells and whistles when that money could be better invested focusing on the requirements of each individual. 

Customers want choice and control, so do staff.

Skills, experience and values – what do you REALLY need?


Technical skills in a role are a given. 

Focus on the transference and application of those skills to identify talent.  This will broaden the talent pool that is available.

An example are people who work at McDonalds because they are renowned to have been well trained, are good at customer service and may be looking for the next step in their career. 

A talent acquisition strategy looks beyond the industry you are in and looks to those industries and organisations that are known for developing the skills you seek. 

The hospitality and retail industries should be given a lot of thought as a skills acquisition opportunity.

Community service organisations need to consider that the talent required to challenge current thinking, develop a vision, plan change, make change, and steer the organisation out the other side is not the same set of skills that manage existing operations. 

Change management expertise, can be sought from any industry, their value to your organisation is their skills in managing change. 

These skills combined with ten years plus experience are a high cost. 

Alternatives are to focus on short term contracted skills or employing younger people with energy, mental resilience, excellent qualifications and a few years of experience. 

Offering them a project to make significant change in an organisation will be attractive to their career and they will see it as a stepping stone. 

This jigsaw piece will fit nicely into their career goal.


Ideally organisations want to attract people with the right values, skills and experience. 

Sacrifice experience for values and skills when faced with a budget challenge. 

Less experienced people will be grateful for the opportunity and will be keen to do a good job to add value to their resume.


Relevant values

To survive, organisations must re-evaluate and change their values and mission/purpose. 

The values and purpose of yesterday are unlikely to be relevant, appropriate, customer valued, or discrete enough in the near future. 

Respect, integrity, person-centred etc. are the paddle-steamer examples of the common values of thousands of community service organisations in Australia. 

Being relevant is critical for survival.

Useful resources for workforce and role design

Workforce Design

National Disability Services together with PeopleAdvantage developed a collection of resources[iii] for workforce design, structure and capability for all roles typically found in a disability organisation which can be utilised for most community services organisation (see 

Role of the Support Worker

The design of the NDIS and the principal of ‘choice and control’ has been influenced by the state based motor accident schemes. First published in 2003, still as useful today is the NSW Motor Accident Scheme ‘Matching client needs and support worker skills’[iv]

About the author

Leanne Ferris

Ferris Management Consultants

Leanne Ferris. Community Services Industry Alliance. ignite post

Leanne Ferris is a qualified Accountant, holds a Masters of Business Administration from Monash University and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.  Ferris Management Consultants is a team of Psychologists and Organisational Consultants who for the past 25 years have been providing advice and people solutions to enhance organisational effectiveness. Leanne joined Ferris Management Consultants in 2016 to utilise her extensive organisational and marketing expertise to focus on the people element of the challenges facing the human services sector across aged-care, community and disability as a result of the government’s reform of social services. 

Leanne’s background in retail and fast moving consumer goods is aligned to the government’s reform philosophy of choice and control of consumer-directed care and the associated social inclusion that community services can provide.  Leanne is specifically working with organisations which are needing independent analysis, advice and recommendations for a pathway forward through the reform process which could entail governance transformation, merging or acquiring, consortium collaboration, organisational strategy for new business and/or service models, go-to-market and value proposition planning and the requisite people strategies to navigate and guide the workforce changes.  







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