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8 NDIS Lessons from 2015

Roland's last article 'Rabbit in the NDIS Headlights' went viral with over 4,000 readers. In this follow up he reflects on the big lessons of the NDIS in 2015.

By Roland Naufal

Updated 15 Apr 202422 Dec 2015

I’ve used our ‘8 Steps to NDIS Success’ framework for reflecting on the year in the NDIS. We have been using the ‘8 Steps’ in workshops, in readiness audits and in our management coaching and the feedback about it has been terrific, so here are my thoughts.


Step 1. LEARN about the NDIA

The NDIS is even more complex and prone to change than we thought possible. We all got sick of hearing about ‘the plane being built in flight’ but wow, the level of change has simply been phenomenal. Just by way of example, at the start of the year I would have bet my house there was no way the NDIA would outsource its planning function and allow external organisations to decide participant eligibility and funding. By the end of the year, I would have lost my house when the Agency outsourced planning and combined it with Local Area Coordination in Victoria (and I think the combination is a pretty big mistake, it’s a vastly different skill set).

The lesson: Learning about the NDIS is not a once off event, you have to keep learning all the time. To succeed you will need a lot of NDIS expertise that is distributed in a range of people in your organisation. Having one person manage your NDIS transition is a high risk, low impact approach (aka bad idea). The best way to learn is to teach, so educate a number of your people, enough for them to support your other stakeholders to learn about the NDIS (the Resources Hub on our website is a fabulous free source of up to date NDIS info and tools).


Step 2. UNDERSTAND your organisation

The NDIS is going to offer an incredible range of new opportunities and challenges for your organisation. While many organisations are growing we have also seen a few players making some significant mistakes such as choosing to invest too heavily in fixed assets in areas where they are now losing money or others that merged with organisations that are more grief than joy.

The lesson: Go slow to go fast. Make sure when the NDIS roll out reaches you, that you are ready to compete in areas that fit with who you are and where you want to be (and vitally important: know where you do not want to be). Use the vast range of NDIS planning tools and templates available to you to think and plan before you act. Make sure you line up whatever you do with your mission and values. You are going to need more than a bit of organisational resilience along the way and remember to leverage what you do best.


Step 3. ENGAGE all key stakeholders

This year we saw a range of organisational manoeuvres that alienated stakeholders, here’s a few examples:

  • some organisations adopted new service models and then upset their traditional referral sources by not communicating with them about the change
  • there were Boards who got left behind in the NDIS information race and as a result those same Boards became very uneasy with their senior management
  • a number of organisations embarked on attracting new clients and forgot about the importance of retaining their existing client base
  • a few leaders told staff that the organisation cannot afford to pay them their current low wages and that they will have to do shifts that may not suit them in the future (see Vanessa’s article for the detail on why this is exactly what not to do).

The lesson: Significant change means significant risk. It takes time, skill and commitment to bring all key people with you. But they are the key people and if you don’t bring your stakeholders with you on the change journey you will arrive at the wrong destination, lonely and broke.


Step 4. ANALYSE the market

2015 saw the emergence of new competitive threats and service models that can only be described as ‘disruptive’. Yes, it’s disruptive in the disability sector to find ways to pay staff better, to give participants superior service and to make money. I heard one of our sector leaders recently telling a conference that he was surprised at the lack of change in the trial sites, that he thinks services are still pretty much the same as before the NDIS. I think that is a massive misread of the seismic cracks that are appearing under his feet. There are big changes afoot in the way we do business (see Rabbit in the NDIS Headlights).

The lesson: Do your research, there is a lot of great data out there about the nature of the sector and the competition (the NDIA Quarterly Report is a good place to see what’s beginning to happen). The smartest leaders admit they don’t know where the threats are coming from but they know they are coming. Invest in understanding your industry and get up to date intelligence on where the sector is going.


Step 5. DESIGN service offerings

Services are no longer designed for you by government, so the challenge is to decide what to do. How will you choose to innovate, reduce lifetime costs and most importantly provide fabulous service? In these early days of the NDIS, we are seeing that choice play out as a mix of business as usual in some services and highly innovative models emerging in others. And while in areas such as accommodation there has been little change, it does not mean that change is not coming, you just have to look at the recent NDIS housing funding round (click here for article on RFI)

The lesson: Same old, will work for a while but not in the longer term. What’s really important now is that organisations start thinking about service design and how they meet the combination of NDIS insurance requirements and approaches that deliver genuine consumer choice and control.


Step 6. ALIGN your operations

Lots of organisations are freaked out about their back of house costs/needs and the peak body has been busy fuelling that fire, telling the sector you will not survive if you are a small organisation. I’ll say it again, the evidence is not that you need to be big to be successful, but it is increasingly clear that regardless of size you will need sophisticated approaches to management, software and all your infrastructure. Being sophisticated does not have to be costly, it means doing things smarter.

The lesson: Find smarter ways to operate your back of house. We have lots of ideas and resources to assist and DSC is already supporting a vast range of organisations to get the back of house answers they need. In 2016, watch this space as we make the next leap with our back of house support services.


Step 7. MARKET your organisation:

We have written a lot about the changing nature of marketing and the central role of word of mouth marketing in disability. The big change in 2015 was word of mouth went online and went there bigtime (as we predicted). Consumer forums such as NDIS Grassroots are showing us that in the future, nothing you do will go unnoticed and anything bad you do will be broadcast. Marketing in this new world is about providing great customer service, being online savvy and connecting deeply with the people who use your services.

The lesson: It’s not about the promotional bling (never was). Integrity sells. Get your website in order, learn how to work with social media and forget about big advertising spends. And it’s this simple and this complex: provide great service.


Step 8. LEAD change

It’s been a really tough time for leaders in the trial sites. They have had to manage with a lot of change and huge ambiguity, leading when they do not know what the future will look like. One of our most popular workshop sessions continues to be leading change. It’s less about knowing the answers and more about supporting the people with the right questions. Leading a flat organisation that inspires innovation, trust and the ability to act independently is a very significant skillset. It’s a skillset that will differentiate successful organisations as the NDIS matures.

The lesson: Do not ignore your leadership development needs, from learning and development to coaching and support. This is not a time to just get on with it, it is a time for reflective, learning leadership. As we often say: if you find yourself pushing, it’s time to stop and work out where the resistance is and work with it, not against it.



It has been a year when we have started to see the fundamental change a market driven disability system will bring. Expect the change next year to be much bigger and much more challenging. Oh, and Merry Christmas, 2016 is going to be great (seriously).


Roland Naufal

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