Jude Barback asks TODD PERKINSON, New Zealand-based chief executive officer of RDNS, about running a trans-Tasman organisation and the challenging funding environment of the home-based support services sector.

INsite: You have previously worked in a range of industries. Why the healthcare and community support sector more recently? What differentiates this sector from other industries in which you have worked in the past?

I have worked for a number of commercial organisations. However, I ‘stumbled’ over healthcare a few years back through my consultancy services. The health organisation was over hauling itself and the entities that it operated under its group, therefore my skill set was well matched. As I got more heavily involved with the organisation, I felt a greater sense of achievement with the work that I was doing as the sector is well intentioned however sometimes lacking commercial intent to ensure that we remain sustainable and viable into the future.

What differentiates the sector from others is the passionate people that work within it. People are passionately driven by the quality and level of services to people in less advantageous positions and do the work under the banner of strong values, both from a personal and organisation perspective.

The sector is no different from other organisations I have worked in as there still needs to be a quality service that someone is willing to engage with. This needs to be coupled with ensuring that the organisation is run efficiently and effectively, and in this business in particular, has the ability to make a return, which, in turn, is in reinvested back into the people and infrastructure.

When RDNS first started to expand into the New Zealand market and competed successfully for some major contracts here, the organisation was perceived with a degree of animosity from some who felt the contracts should have been gone to New Zealand-based organisations. Is the tide changing? Do you think there is more acceptance of RDNS’s footing in the New Zealand home and community support services sector these days?

I can’t comment back in the time that the contracts were won as I was not here, however, even though we are part of an Australasian group, we are very much independent in the services that we operate and how we operate from a day-to-day perspective. I have a very strong working relationship with the executive team within Australia, but I operate autonomously and report to a New Zealand board.

We are a charitable limited liability entity registered in New Zealand, employing and investing in the New Zealand workforce and communities that we work within.

As part of a larger group, we enjoy the benefits that any subsidiary would whereby scalable services become cheaper as the group grows. We also enjoy the history of lessons learnt from our parent, which has been around for over 100 years and has a very good reputation; we are looking at replicating this within our New Zealand services.

I do believe that the tide is turning in regards to opinions that may have circulated back in the time and that is due to the level of services that we are delivering. We are working very closely with the funding arms we contract with and this is all with the client at the centre of this premise.

I’m curious to know what the key challenges are with leading an organisation with one foot on each side of the Tasman. When I interviewed Stelvio Vido some time ago, he said New Zealand’s system was more integrated than Australia’s – that in New Zealand, the client has a more seamless access to service regardless of whether they are an older person, a person with disability, or an ACC client. The Australian system, by contrast, is more segmented, and Stelvio felt there were opportunities to inform Australian practices with aspects of what is working well here in New Zealand. Do you agree that there are opportunities for the two different systems to learn from each other?

In many ways – my recruitment has been to focus on the challenges that New Zealand faces for delivering services into as opposed to a foot in both camps.

I am heavily involved with what is happening at group level, and where applicable, we share the IP across the Tasman for best practices. I know that we can learn off each other, so working collaboratively as a group, we will succeed in that perspective.

Australia is about to embark on a period of significant change, so we are learning about their model about the same time that they are aligning themselves, therefore, we can apply applicable components to our own operations. One of the largest areas we are sharing is the ability to leverage technology across the group around mobility devices for our workforce and the efficiencies that can be gained, which is timely for the recent ‘in between travel’ discussions.

Funding levels continue to be one of the biggest concerns for the home-based support services sector, in New Zealand at least. What would you like to see the new New Zealand Government bring to the table for the sector, in terms of funding, but also any other policy variables?

I agree that services within the community have struggled to attract appropriate funding over the years. However, community-based services are now becoming part of the health options that are available to people, and people are becoming more aware of the effectiveness of these models. The maturity of the model is becoming increasingly better understood from both the client and funding in an outsourced model to providers like us.

I would be excited to see greater integration between the funding and provider arms to make it as seamless as possible for the client’s experience. I believe that value could be created from offering a seamless service from pre-natal to older adult and to do that we need a workforce that is skilled to deliver the needs of each and every client.

I would like to see the sector collaborate more efficiently and get the most out of the Crown’s funded dollar and to achieve that will take input and leadership from all parts of the sector.

In the past you have specialised in business transformation. Do you hope to drive any significant changes to RDNS while you are at the helm?

Thank you – I seem to follow change around and normally have greater clarity the murkier it gets.

I try and keep things as simple as possible and not to over complicate issues or functions. I have a very autonomous way of working that allows people to get full ownership of the function they are working within and have a high sense of accountability and responsibility. I offer advice and direction where I can.

I would love to see RDNS NZ with a national footprint and being a leading healthcare provider in the sector, with a highly talented and engaged workforce.

Since I have been here, I have already conducted a restructure of the support services to the services that we provide and that was to ensure that we have the right people doing the right job, delivering fundamental information that is timely, accurate, and allows effective decision making, both internally and externally. We now have the structure in place to allow ourselves to deliver comprehensively more services to a wider stream of funders, who can enjoy the quality services that we provide.

We are still currently reviewing our statement. However, I am more than willing to share our ‘draft’ statement with you, which is: “RDNS delivers proactive, personalised care that improves quality of life through self empowerment, family engagement and caring about the little things”.

I am also extremely passionate about the use of technology to assist with transforming the sector; we as a sector need to embrace technology and remove the complexity of using it especially for clients as a consumer. I see this as a key differentiator for ourselves.

What have you enjoyed most about your time as CEO for RDNS so far?

I have thoroughly enjoyed making that first CEO move and the responsibilities that come with it. As with any leader, you are only as good as the team that supports you, and I am more than confident that I now have that team in place to drive leadership and growth within RDNS NZ and been seen as an influencing factor within the sector.

I have also enjoyed being part of a larger team (as a subsidiary) and also the autonomy that the governance of the organisation has allowed me to make change and have faith and confidence in us to deliver the desired or planned outcomes.

Additionally, I have also enjoyed the role that we play in the services; they can be seen as being complex in some circumstances, but I understand that everybody is different and the needs are individual. Therefore, we as a business need to be accommodating and ensuring that this is delivered in a meaningful and efficient manner.

What has been the biggest challenge or steepest learning curve?

I believe the steepest learning curve is understanding the overall sector and how it all hangs together and understanding the sector landscape, which is quite different from previous roles. However, I am all too familiar with the drivers for better outcomes and more independency for our clients, especially within a home environment.

When you’re not at work, where can you be found?

I have a wife and two kids (Louis, 4, and Ava, 3) – both of them occupy my spare time sufficiently and they are both at a great age to enjoy as both are finding their own personalities. Louis is into tennis and rugby so my weekends are occupied carting and teaching him around the various grounds.

In my spare time I enjoy tennis, golf, rugby, travelling, cooking, socialising with friends, and reading various books.

We spent a lot of time whilst in the UK travelling around and would love the opportunity to take the kids back to south of France, Spain, and Italy whilst they still want to travel with us both.

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