Tying the Loose Ends of Culture Change

May 13, 20196 Minutes

I inherited Watercare from someone who had been running it for 22 years. He had a very paternalistic approach. It worked, but was a very controlling environment.  My own approach was sort of dictated by the fact that we were dealing with a very different world. People talk about it being more volatile, more complex, which is true.


So our ability to control what we are doing and how, for example growth is happening in Auckland and where we need to provide services, it’s all unplanned now. The rules of planning have changed. I’m an engineer and we were used to planners deciding where growth will happen. We previously took a linear approach of, ‘if growth will happen, it will happen in this timeframe, we will go ahead and build our infrastructure and we will follow the roads and in this way everything works’.


And now, all that has been thrown out.


Now, the developer, the homeowner, they can decide what they want to do, where they want to do it, when they want to do it, and it is for us to respond, and to be responsive. For that, we need to create a different culture, one that understands risk. So one of the first things I did was make sure my staff were understanding of what risk management meant. We don’t have all the data we need, we don’t have all the information we need, we don’t control everything, so how do we therefore make decisions with so many unknowns?


So risk management was one way to approach this concept of working with complexity and the fact that we are dealing with problems which are no longer linear and there’s no one answer. In fact, our actions changed the answer. So how we interact actually has important implications.


To create the cultural change within Watercare, I had a multiple pronged approach. I started talking about the fact that we were in a changing environment and making that fact known, I started demonstrating the change physically in the business where we were moving away from offices, moving away from meeting rooms into an open space and moving away from hierarchy and getting into more collaboration.


Most importantly, I had to demonstrate that we were doing all of this.


And then the beauty about our business is that shit happens all the time. And so how we respond to little incidents gives us an opportunity to prepare for the big incidents. By doing the ordinary things well, the extraordinary just happens.


And we’ve got lots of examples in recent years where we’ve had heavy rain and issues with water quality where the team responded and all I had to do was provide leadership. Leadership in the media, and to the organization. The individual components of the organization just came together and just worked like clockwork without the planning.


So the traditional analogy would be, do you have a plan for this? The answer is, no we don’t.


So incident management plans are not plans of what you do, they’re about who gets together and what the intention is rather than the prescriptive approach.


Of course there will be loose ends but there’ll be strong individuals in there who’ll plug those loose ends.


In contrast, a prescribed approach is always going to leave the loose ends loose.

Raveen Jaduram

CEO of Watercare Services, one of the largest companies in New Zealand, leading a team of over 1,000, with an additional 4,000+ contractors. Focused on service delivery and on ensuring that our Auckland community can thrive, I have championed a customer-centric culture that can support growth in Auckland, helping it to be one of the most liveable cities in the world.