The LIP cohort met with CEO Roy Rogers for an impressive tour of the sprawling Flagstaff site at Unanderra. First stop, the print room (apparently bus timetables are printed and sent out on-demand these days!) then the paper recycling plant. Thankfully the staff had clocked off for the day and the machines were still and silent, but still impressive was what can only be described as a mountain of recycled 'white' paper. Roy explained that the standards for recycled paper at Flagstaff are very high and recyclers will only accept paper of a certain quality and colour.
This tour was notable for its contrasts - some of the technology Flagstaff have invested in is truly cutting edge, but it sits alongside some comfortingly old-fashioned disciplines. For example, in the print shop the huge, sleek laser printers pumping out glossy brochures are complimented by triplicate carbon-copy books with hand-stitched spines. Some of us hadn't seen these in years (and had some very fond tactile memories of them - Arj!). In the laundry building where Flagstaff have invested $3+million, brand-new super-shiny washing, drying and ironing machines are working alongside the old laundry across the yard where staff fold and separate the laundry by hand. This approach ensures that Flagstaff can compete industrially, but as Roy was at pains to emphasize, Flagstaff is about employment and engagement for people with disabilities, and having tasks for a range of abilities is essential.
Engagement and belonging are everywhere around the Flagstaff site. The company business plan is visually dynamic and displayed in plain sight, but most striking of all were the dry-wipe boards on every floor nominating an employee for recognition, updated weekly and including details of exactly why they have earned this honour. This could be anything from 'being polite and making conversation with the deliveryman last Thursday' to 'always being cheerful and productive'. In fact, everywhere you look in Flagstaff you will see a morale-boosting message. Posters, signs and banners reading "Get Hooked on Teamwork!", "Good Vibes Good Life", "A team is greater than the sum of its parts" and "Less Stress" drive home the positive work ethic.
At the fireside chat with Roy at the end of the tour he talked us through the business plan and imparted some leadership gold from his years of experience. Notable was that for every great economic statistic, Roy balanced it with a human story. For example, the impressive fact that Flagstaff contributes $11million of direct economic benefit to Australia is given equal weight to the fact that it "employs 234 people with disabilities and improves their health, happiness and community engagement".
Roy's most important leadership quality: Communication. Know your people. Talk to everyone. Be sensitive to their individual stories. We saw this in action when the staff were leaving the premises en masse and most of them shouted "Bye Roy! Bye Sarah!" on their way out the door. Roy and Sarah likewise greeted them all by name.
"The way you act and behave is more important than good intentions that are delivered badly".
Project a positive vision and togetherness. Communicate results with staff - good or bad. Be positive, even when the chips are down.
Roy's proudest achievements as a leader: Converting a contaminated paddock into a shiny new laundry, securing 8 years of Commonwealth funding, and Growth.
"My job is to provide security and longevity of employment for our staff"
And when it comes to Boards:
"Ask for forgiveness, don't ask for permission"
His message to his younger self:
"Have confidence and have good people around you. It's not all about you! Focus on growing your people."
- Beth Farmer
Blog posts written by the Leadership Illawarra Program Cohort.