Patrick Cameron asked the CEOs of leading disability organisations how they are steering their ships through the challenges that have been created by the NDIS.

Storm or OpportunityIt’s undeniable that the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is the biggest social change in Australia! By 2022 the full implementation will see investment in disability funding grow from $7 billion to $22 billion nationally. With this comes tremendous leadership challenges for the CEOs of disability service providers in terms of staffing, funding, vision and risk management.

“Staffing a fully implemented NDIS will undoubtedly be a major issue for service providers: CEOs will be faced with the reality that nationally, they will need to find 90,000 additional staff to fill the increases in permanent full and part time positions, as well as an enormous explosion in the number of casual staff required,” said Scott Holz, Principal of Peregrinus Consulting, and former NSW State Manager of the National Disability Service, the Australian peak body for disability services.

Managing staff through change and growth

For Claire Robbs, CEO at Life Without Barriers, the question is, where will organisations look to address this labour shortage? “We are looking at values-based recruitment and a key consideration is the training that will need to be provided,” she says. “We will need to be looking widely at other industries, for example where they may be downsizing, as possible sources of labour supply. Within this it is critical that we ensure we recruit the right people with relevant expertise and values, and provide a strong and supportive training program to increase and expand their skills to deliver high quality support.”

“A new paradigm of thinking is essential for current staff who will be supported in the process as the relationship with clients change,” said Kerry Stubbs, CEO at Northcott, who believes it is the responsibility of the leader to communicate clearly to staff the cultural change that is going to take place. She points out that leaders must value the attributes of their staff, such as passion and commitment, and provide current and future staff with the tools to be more efficient in a new and competitive environment.

Andrew Richardson, CEO of House with No Steps, explains: “the NDIS is all about human rights and social reform. We must bring staff on the journey, while, in parallel, re-engineering our underlying business model in a capital constrained environment. It is a time of major transition, so we must stay focused on our vision, mission and values.”

What about funding?

In terms of funding, Life Without Barriers’ Claire Robbs believes the main concern in CEO’s minds is how to manage the unit cost, in accordance with the price list published by the National Disability Insurance Agency, and how to manage the new funding in an arrears system. “Ultimately, all organisations need to understand their financial model and how they can reduce costs without impacting service quality,” she says.

Andrew Richardson of House with No Steps agrees that: “Organisations must be smart with their balance sheets. It’s not going to be easy as there will be growth and re-engineering costs and an 8-9 week deficit in funds as we move from block funding paid in advance to service payments in arrears. We now have an increased commercial focus to make sure everything we do is sustainable, while always coming back to the mission of the organisation.”

Scott Holz of Peregrinus Consulting describes the dilemma as: “No money, no mission”. In other words, you can be as altruistic as you like with your mission, but if you don’t have any money, you’re not going to get very far. But to be successful in an NDIS world, CEOs need to understand it’s still all about the mission.

Holz believes CEOs “need to lead their organisation to develop a culture that is ‘warm and fuzzy, with a hard edge’. In the past, many not-for-profits have spurned modern business practices because they feel they contradict the values of their organisation. My belief is, modern business practices need to be adopted, in order to gain the efficiencies that create greater capacity for delivering more mission.”

A shift for risk management

Regarding risk management, the usual risks are changing and there are known and unknown risks.

Kerry Stubbs explains: “At Northcott, obviously we have a risk management process, but the key is to know what the risk is and manage it without becoming too bureaucratic. Northcott has partnered with CBA in an Observation-Ship Program as part of their risk management strategy. The CBA is providing staff and resources to Northcott for months at a time at no cost to assist with understanding the science of segmentation and customer relationships at a strategic level.”

Another risk management strategy being implemented at Northcott during this time of transition and as part of the Observation-Ship Program is including a CBA employee as an observer at board meetings providing an outsider’s perspective. “As CEO and leader I have to be open to disruption to my own thinking and that of my staff and learn to let go – you can’t continue to be comfortable to succeed,” Stubbs adds.

New skills are required for frontline workers, cultural change is taking place and the environment is now person or customer-centred. The risk has changed from government to consumer. This is a plus and a growth opportunity.

Becoming ‘customer-centric’

Life Without Barriers has undergone an internal change campaign for the last 18 months that has been driven by a structured internal communication strategy. Staff members were prompted to consider their roles in adding value to the client.

“There is a huge change taking place particularly for direct support workers involved with customer care and families: part of their role now involves elements of traditional ’sales‘ as well as customer care, and we have to think about how we support a shift in these expectations,” says CEO Claire Robbs. “The future is certainly bright for good disability workers.”

House with No Steps’ Andrew Richardson points out that: “Our people, policies and systems must become more customer-centric and customer-focused.”

The NDIS is a customer-focussed new world! The client is also the customer and no longer the government, and organisations must successfully reorientate themselves to keep the customer at the centre of all they do.

As this transition continues for the disability sector, good leadership has never been more critical in order for organisations to succeed. Good leaders will thrive in times of change and uncertainty, so the NDIS is a perfect opportunity for leaders of these organisations as they continue to implement changes to meet the demands of the future.

Patrick Cameron

Patrick Cameron ( is an associate with 360HR, an innovative and professional organisation committed to providing the ‘full circle of human resource solutions’ to clients and candidates while maintaining a strong focus on the community. Previously he was CEO of FSHD Global Research Foundation and an award-winning professional fundraiser of 15 years.


Main image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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