Interview: G8 Education CEO Gary Carroll talks about start up culture
Gary Carroll joined G8 Education as Chief Financial Officer in July 2016, and became Chief Executive Office and Managing Director in January 2017. At the recent Queensland Leaders Growth Strategy and Investment Forum, Gary referred to the company as a start up – which just happened to have 10,000 employees. The Sector Assistant Editor Freya Lucas sat down with Mr Carroll to get a greater understanding of what these comments mean, and how it influences the directions for G8 in the near term.
Interviewee: Gary Carroll, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer
Organisation: G8 Education
Date: October 11 2018
Topic: Quality improvement, foundational processes, clarification of comments, future directions for G8
Freya: Hi Gary, thanks for your time today. I’m interested in talking with you about what’s changed for G8 and how you’ve built that foundation, and to learn a bit more about what’s happening for G8 – exploring some of the statements made at the recent Queensland Leaders Growth Strategy and Investment Forum.
You spoke at the forum about developing a purpose statement for G8, and how this has supported the team. Can you tell me more about the process for developing the purpose statement, and how the purpose statement is useful in day-to-day operations?
Gary: When I joined G8, while the group had done a good job in rolling out core values, they didn’t have a purpose statement, and we’ve gone through a bit of a multi-step process there, Freya. We came up with a draft statement in 2016 which was a little “corporate”. Following new people joining the executive leadership team last year, as a group we worked with an external marketing agency, and had another go at it. As the team evolved, we reflected on version two, and thought it’s still not quite working for us, so we changed the approach and engaged a sample of centre managers (CMs), early childhood teachers (ECTs), area managers (AMs), regional managers (RMs) and the support office team, to help us build that statement as well as supporting the development of vision, values and identity statements.
The overarching reason for doing that is that we are on a journey to transform the culture of G8 and we feel that as a building block of that culture, we need to be clear and provide some inspiration about things like the purpose, the vision, the values. From that point of view, it’s about how we make them more livable. For us, our purpose statement is really important to truly connect people with the organisation, it’s our “why”. Our purpose statement is the why of G8 and it should be emotional, it should be inspirational, it should be aspirational and it should be easy to remember. We had to come up with a statement that fulfilled all those requirements, and that our team are proud of. We’re actually still in draft stage, and we will be going back out to the broader team and getting their views, but certainly early feedback has been good, and we’re hoping to finalise it in the near future. We will then use it when people join, to reinforce the why, and use it in all aspects of operations. When we are looking at strategy, when people are posing initiatives, we’ll be looking at them and saying “does this answer our purpose?” because if it doesn’t, why are we doing it? It’s a really important statement to have, and if used properly, it inspires and engages the team.
Freya: You mentioned that when you came into the business two and a half years ago, there were some foundational processes which weren’t where they could have been. What are some of the improvements you’ve made since joining G8, and how have they affected change?
Gary: We have a phrase at G8: “in many ways we are like a start up – we just happen to have 10,000 people and 500 centres”, and the rationale behind that is that G8 grew so incredibly quickly – and it did, you know, at a very, very fast rate – we didn’t have the opportunity to take a step back and ask ourselves “is this the best way to do things?” and “are we providing the centres with the benefits of the scale we are building?” There wasn’t really time to do that, it was hanging on for dear life so to speak. We are now at a stage where that growth has slowed, and we’ve got the opportunity to take a step back and ask “are we helping our centres, who are the core of everything we do, are we providing them with the benefits of scale by finding the best way to do things?” We don’t have a standard way of operating any of our centres. The CMs do an amazing job every day, but they are really doing it in isolation, supported by AMs, who are propagating best practice around their network, but are we doing it as a total network? I think there’s a real opportunity to do that.
In reality, we’ve made some progress, but I would still say that we are at the start of that journey. In conjunction with the team, we are building a standard work routine for CM and AM right now and we are hoping to complete that in the next 2-3 months. That will be the centrepiece of providing CMs and AMs with a more supported and guided way of completing all the things they need to do in a day, and that will also flush out where additional training is required, whether it’s in terms of a system or a process, and we can then go back and catch up on the training that may not have occurred, as new people have joined or processes have changed across the organisation.
Freya: You also made a comment at the forum about G8 not having a core ‘product’. Can you help me understand what you mean by that and also share with me some of the initiatives that you have put in place to address this?
Gary: There’s two aspects here. We don’t have a network-wide curriculum framework at G8. CMs design and maintain their own programs at every centre. A bit like the standard processes, we think we’re missing an opportunity to provide the CMs with more support here because that’s really tough. What we’re not providing them with then, is with access to best practice, and using our 500 strong network for great ideas – so that’s not happening at the moment. As well as things like practice guides and other guides to support them when they require that support. For us, we provide learning and we provide care. So when I reference learning as a core product, you would hope that we would be able to apply the benefits of scale to assist our team in providing that. It is really one of the cores of what we do. I think there’s real opportunity there. Now that doesn’t mean we don’t want the centres to provide their own nuance and personality to the framework, but we think we can be better at providing that level of assistance and support.
The other aspect from that core product point of view is that we are clearly governed and guided by the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and National Quality Framework (NQF) and we haven’t historically provided consistent, structured training on the NQF and EYLF. We’ve started on that journey. Phase one of that training should be completed by the end of the year, and then we will kick into phase two of that training. That’s also about providing CMs with that consistent level of training and support around how to make NQF come alive in their centre.
Freya: And I’m guessing that the new Head of Education and Learning position currently being advertised is consistent with that vision, of supporting CMs and teams to fully implement EYLF and NQF to a high standard in their centres?
Gary: It’s a pretty important role, and one that we probably should have had before now.
Freya: With respect to quality specifically, are you able to share with me some of the specific initiatives that G8 has been working on to ensure that quality ratings continue to improve over time? What do you see as some of the core initiatives in the quality space, moving forward?
Gary: I think there’s two key aspects here – one is around providing training to the team. Secondly, more resources have been devoted to that area. So we created a new role – General Manager of Safety, Quality and Compliance – that role didn’t exist, and we’ve boosted a number of people in the quality team. They can do two things – provide support and guidance around quality areas. So, for example, at the moment, we have 500 quality improvement plans (QIPs). CMs currently draft and maintain those QIPs themselves. Is there the opportunity there to provide more support, in ensuring that those QIPs are at the requisite quality, and fully up tp date with G8’s current policies, and how they flow through, and then CMs inserting their centre specific pieces, but a lot of the ground work in ensuring it’s up to date and to the requisite quality can be done in a supported and standardised way.
In 2019 we will be establishing an internal quality assurance team, and they will be getting out in the network and visiting centres, providing feedback on performance relative to NQF and improvement. So we’re investing a fair bit in that space.
We’ve increased our relationships with regulators to work collaboratively with them. We are part of a couple of pilot programs, one in Victoria and one with ACECQA, where some of our centres are participating in pilot Assessment and Rating training programs so we can upskill out teams in those pilot centres, and improve our relationship with regulators in relation to quality.
Freya: Great, thanks Gary. What impact have the changes you’ve made so far made to the quality landscape at G8?
Gary: If we measure them in terms of assessment and rating results, we are just now starting to see an improvement in terms of the results we have been getting. It took a little while at the start of the year, in terms of the changes, to get our team up to speed with what the changes were, and fully flow them through, but we are seeing improved assessment and rating results, and we expect that trend to continue.
The other change is that we want quality to be the starting point of any conversation when we are actually out in centres, and that’s certainly happening. At the end of the day, quality is the key to what we are providing to our families, so it should be front and centre, and guide how we operate our centres.
Freya: And in terms of staff turnover, I noticed in your annual report that in the CM space that your turnover has decreased, and I suppose in that space, as quality rises, you’d be looking at staff turnover as another measure?
Gary: Yes, and feedback from CMs recently is that they are starting to see the investment that G8 is making in quality – in themselves and in their teams. The appointment of the Head of Education and Early Learning will be a big milestone for the company, and the CMs are excited about that. We have increased our investment in quality training, even things like our investment in uniforms and first aid training, and some of the benefits programs like rewards gateway, the impacts of those are starting to be felt which is a great thing.
Freya: Now that the foundations for the business have been put in place how much scope is there for you to start to leverage off these platforms and explore new sources of revenue for the business?
Gary: We’ve started three pilots for different products. One a literacy program, one a learning environment in a preschool centre, and one a health partnership. These are our first forays into broadening our offer in a consistent way. Centres, historically, have done a great job themselves, and some of them are quite entrepreneurial in what they do, in terms of providing additional services for families. We want to see if we can do those things in a scaled way, and access partnerships with a small number of providers, and in so doing work out a revenue sharing model that works for both parties.
Freya: Further to that, you’d mentioned working with an allied health provider, in a pilot scheme. Can you share a bit more about this?
Gary: The pilot will be running on the Sunshine Coast. Four to six centres are involved, and the pilot will focus predominantly on speech therapy and occupational therapy at this stage, although the provider we are working with does have podiatrists, psychologists etc on their books, with future plans to expand into doctors etc down the track.
As part of the partnership, they are keen to work with our team to identify issues and challenges earlier, and that early detection is something we are quite keen to explore.
We are quite excited to provide that to our families, it’s certainly a growing area, where people recognise the benefits of getting those services at early stages to help children, particularly as they transition to school, from a speech point of view, and if there are any occupational therapy related issues or challenges, the earlier you pick up on it, the better.
We’ll wait and see – the pilot will run for a number of months, then we can assess how it’s working from our perspective, the perspective of our partners, and the parents perspective, and go from there.
Freya: And what does the future hold for this type of initiative? What else is on the horizon?
Gary: We are doing a broad piece of research around building out our offer generally. We think that it will cover four buckets – health and wellbeing, learning and education, value and convenience, and one around “other”. The intent of the research is to uncover current needs, desires and pain points for families and then work on what our priorities are from there. We will work with partners to see what we can do. Our early timing on launching that revised offer to families is July/August 2019. We want to convey to families that regardless of what G8 centre you’re at, here’s the services we will be providing
Freya: Terrific, thanks Gary. Just to wrap up can you help me understand the phrase “occupancy agnostic”? I am assuming that you mean revenues that are not specifically tied to the number of enrollments that a centre may have? Is that right? And if so why is it important?
Gary: We think we have an advantage due to our scale to provide that broad base offer to our families, and in so doing, we will develop revenue sharing models with our partners around that, and, clearly dependent on the model, but there is this opportunity for us to develop a revenue stream that’s not dependent on occupancy – so it might be based on the number of centres etc. It does two things for us. One, it enables us to manage through the various cycles of supply and demand, because you’ve got an additional revenue stream which supports you to manage revenue growth.
The second is that our prevailing view is that a business model that is reliant on fee increases that are well above the rate of wage growth is not a sustainable model long term. So part of developing the additional revenue streams, is that gives us some capability to not pass on the same level of fee increase that has happened historically in the sector. This isn’t a G8 challenge, this is a sector challenge, then we think that’s a good thing.
Freya: Wonderful, thanks again for your time Gary.
Gary: Thanks Freya.