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And The Winner Is… Culture

What is the right culture for the NDIS, a quasi-marketplace with disruptive service models and ad hoc decision making? Roland and Vanessa outline the 6 crucial pieces of the puzzle.

By Vanessa Toy and Roland Naufal

Updated 15 Apr 202413 Mar 2017

We’ve seen enough rounds of the NDIS to declare culture as the winner.

Culture is the dominant force in organisations. We often use one of Rob Woolley’s favourite sayings culture eats process for breakfast, because culture has both the appetite and the power to override any process-driven management effort. Attend well to culture and it will support all your efforts. Ignore it and it will devour any strategies that do not align with it.

The right culture generates shared identity and greater commitment, enhances stability and does much of the leader’s job of defining boundaries, setting direction and driving outcomes. The best leaders know the only way to solve the NDIS puzzle is by building and leading culture.

So what is the right culture for the NDIS, a quasi-marketplace with disruptive service models and ad hoc decision making?

Some leaders focus on fostering a commercial culture while others are driven by mission and values. Choosing the right approach is made more difficult with the advice organisations are receiving from many of the ‘industry experts’ on what they should do to survive the NDIS. This advice often has an over-compensating and simplistic focus on the commercial side of the spectrum and includes recommendations to merge, unit cost, use inappropriate marketing techniques and cut quality to reduce costs. The problem is none of these things are a strategy and most will damage organisational culture when done in isolation from a values driven approach. But in a commercial marketplace, relying solely on your values-base will not cut it either.

We reckon there is one unique way to solve the puzzle of the NDIS: it is to build a both a values-based and commercial culture that comprises 6 interlocking pieces.


Six essential pieces of values based commercial culture

What these 6 pieces look like in successful organisations:


1. Reliable

We do what we say we are going to do

In a culture of reliability, people turn up on time and roster no-shows are non-existent. Participants love the service. Frontline staff are clearly empowered, multi-skilled and knowledgeable of the broader organisation and its aims. The management structure is flat, with systems that support individuals to make decisions. Frontline staff own outcomes and there is a strong sense everyone can rely on each other. Staff are treated really well and have a high level of autonomy.


2. Commercial

We are a business

A commercial organisation is either investing in the future and/or is making a surplus. All staff are conscious of costs and behave as if it’s their own business.  There is an absence of time-wasting processes; decision making is driven by value for money and great outcomes for participants. People care about efficiency and effectiveness.  Everyone understands and accepts it’s also a business and participants are treated as customers. Top to bottom, everyone realises that we can achieve more of the mission and values with a commercially healthy organisation.


3. Adapting

We learn and adapt

Everyone is constantly learning and there is significant organisational investment in training.  There are informal and formal processes that capture and act on ideas. Infrastructure is mobile and adaptable. Expertise is distributed – nobody owns it. Leaders act as coaches and facilitators and there is an emphasis on learning from experience. Service models are changing and there is an absence of change fatigue in staff. Strategy focuses on fluid organisational capabilities, not long term fixed planning. Where other organisations see challenge and negativity, the adapting organisation consistently sees excitement and opportunity in its people.  


4. Participant led

You’re the boss

These organisations have high participant/family engagement in service design and decision making. The organisation’s language and strategy focuses on participant outcomes, not organisational imperatives. Staff view participant control as essential to achieving the outcomes they seek to support. Feedback is embedded in everyday work through multiple channels. There is a small distance between the CEO and participants (in all kinds of ways).


5.  Collaborative

We engage and everyone matters

Collaboration is everywhere, within and beyond the organisation. Partnering enables everyone to do what they are best at, internally and externally. Staff often communicate in short-hand and have each other’s backs. There is minimal blaming, problems and successes are shared.  There is a “we language”, it’s sometimes hard to tell who does what.  Informal communication is positive and effective.


6. Values driven

We walk the talk

The organisation is committed to constantly innovating to enhance service models that focus on genuine inclusion of people with disability. Values are a differentiator from competitors. There is a clear and common understanding of organisational mission and values at all levels of the organisation. There is a congruence of values in both actions and organisational processes. Participants and front line staff challenge organisational practice on the basis of espoused values.


Each of the six pieces has both a values base and a commercial outcome. Values drive commercial success.

Make no mistake: values-based commercial culture will be the hands down knockout gold medal NDIS winner. Achieving this culture will require a unique approach for each organization. If you want to learn more about what it takes to diagnose and build a successful culture for your organisation, contact us to discuss how DSC can help.


Vanessa Toy
Roland Naufal

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