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Tracey Burton | Insights from Industry Leaders

Tracey Burton - Executive Director at Uniting

Tracey Burton | Insights from Industry Leaders

Executive Director at Uniting NSW/ACT

Tracey Burton is the Executive Director at Uniting NSW/ACT

Tracey recently sat down with Ccentric CEO, Wayne Bruce to discuss her career. Some of the questions they discussed include:

  • What was your first job out of University and how did it shape your career?
  • What have been the biggest influences on your career?
  • How do you and your team work to help motivate your employees?
  • Has Covid-19 accelerated Uniting’s adoption of digital health?
  • What’s the impact of the Royal Commission in the aged care sector currently, and what do you think it will be moving forward?
  • What role do you think in-home aged care will play in the future?
  • Diversity is becoming a prominent issue. How have you seen the companies and boards that you have worked with evolve and manage these issues?
  • What are your top tips for aspiring leaders?

What was your first job at the university to shape your career?

I studied nursing and a lot of people assume that that is my background, but it’s actually not. I did sort of grow up in hospitals, I did a Bachelor of Health Administration straight from school and then went into a management training program. Basically, I had the privilege of working in the corridors of hospitals for over 30 years. A lot of people do assume that I have a nursing background, but I’m actually pretty hopeless when it comes to dealing with the issues. But I was really lucky early on to have a mentor who pushed me to make sure that I got into theatre scrubs, went into theatre and really understood, the environment in which I ultimately became a leader.

At the time I think the management training program was wonderful because there are very few opportunities in your career where you get to change roles every three or six months without losing your credibility. It also provided the opportunity to exercise moving locations as well as different parts of hospitals and even into New South Wales Health, back at the time when they ran a regional office. It allowed me to build a reputation very quickly as well. That was with the Australian College of Health Service Management and New South Wales Health, they ran a graduate training program, and they still do. It’s just celebrating forty-five years this year, so very proudly a graduate of that program.

What have been the biggest influences on your career?

Often when I reflect on my career, I do reflect on being lucky. Lucky that I’ve had opportunities put in front of me, and then lucky that I’ve had mentors and people when I might have been hesitant, to push me and give it a go. I’ve been really lucky to have the family support that I have. I have a husband and two boys, and they’ve supported me to do a stint in Queensland for nearly five years, to do a stint in Victoria for seven years. That ability to move to where the opportunities are, I’ve been very lucky to do that because not everybody can.

The commute thing, I think it’s doable. The last role I had my office was in Melbourne, but the hospitals I was associated with were across both states of New South Wales and had my family home is still in Sydney. The commute was doable but ultimately, it takes a bit of a toll. It is just the equivalent of a bus ride, it’s very short, but you end up with very long weeks when you’re away. When you are coming home for the weekend, you end up working yourself into the ground if you’re not really careful.

How do you and your team work to help motivate your employees?

At Uniting, what we say is that our people are at the heart of everything that we do. We have over 500 buildings scattered all over the state, we are a very large provider of aged and community services, in a whole range of venues set across the state of New South Wales and into ACT. Having our people at heart is really important. I suppose how we motivate them is by trying to create the culture in which they’re swimming around and doing their work. It’s a culture that embraces diversity, a culture that values what they do, a culture that really tries to help them to grow. For example, not just have 10 years’ experience with Uniting where you do one year, 10 years over, but rather that opportunity to grow. That can be quite difficult in our aged care services, for example, there’s not a lot of career opportunities, but if we find someone who might start with us as a personal care worker and have an ambition of actually having a journey through the ranks, perhaps into a registered nurse, ultimately those sorts of things are something that we really try hard to support as well.

But I think the motivation, a lot of it at Uniting comes from within. Our values include compassion and respect. People are drawn to coming to an environment where they can be caring for others. There’s a lot of intrinsic motivation at play as well.

Then I think the other final thing I’d say would be about recognition. We have a lovely program running at the moment, which is called our Excellence Awards, where for several months people are able to nominate a peer, a boss, a colleague, or a volunteer. When we have the celebrations where we call out this nomination process and we pick the top winners, which is very difficult because last year we had over 900 nominations. We go around to the different regions and actually celebrate that. So the recognition, I think you just can’t do enough of it in any form.

Has Covid-19 accelerated Uniting’s adoption of digital health?

Somebody showed me a clever cartoon that said, who’s driving the digital transformation in your organisation, the CEO, the CIO or Covid-19? Covid-19 absolutely has driven our adoption. Particularly with the use of Microsoft Teams or Zoom. We have that ability to just call up our 70 service managers and have a conversation with them because we’re about to change the policy on visitation, update them, or we just want to touch base with them because they have been doing the hardest job in Australia if you ask me. Those service managers who are leading our aged care services, so difficult through Covid. The fact that we can use this technology, even though we’re disconnected physically, the ability to actually just very quickly, efficiently, engage with people has been fantastic. But of course, there are other pieces of technology that we’re looking at which are more around supporting our clients and putting more control into the hands of our clients. But there’s no question that Covid has forced an escalation of reform that we were hoping for, but in ways far beyond our expectations for 2020.

What’s the impact of the Royal Commission in the aged care sector currently, and what do you think it will be moving forward?

Hopefully, the impact of the royal commission will be really significant. I think Covid-19 has done the job of raising the awareness within the general community of Australia, that the aged care system is not working. It shone a light on that, and it’s raised people’s concern. I think in the past when reviews have been done, there’s been a sort of a fleeting acknowledgement of that. But there’s not been the determination to see it through and make real change.

I think now that we’ve got a royal commission that’s going to make recommendations about really significant reform, hopefully, there will be an appetite to act on that and that the community will keep the pressure on us all to stay on that. Because it’s going to be hard work and there’s a lot of reform to be done. We need to take the system from where it is today to where it needs to be in order for older people to get the support that they deserve, wherever they deserve in their home, in one of our homes, so that they can live a meaningful life. At the moment, the sector really is struggling to do that.

I hope to see an abundance of changes. The focus onto home care so people can be supported to stay in their own home. The focus on being able to pay our staff more, train our staff more, have more staff available so that people get more engagement and more care in the residential setting. I hope that the transparency and accountability mechanisms are put in place so that people can have more confidence. Clearly there’s been a loss of confidence, so we’re very committed to transparency.

For the wonderful new vision that the royal commission is painting a picture of, there is a reality that we’re going to have to pay for it. At the moment, we’re spending 1.1% of GDP on aged care, in countries like Denmark and Sweden, where they’re proud of their aged care system, they are spending at least three times that. Unfortunately, what we want won’t come without cost. What we need is for Australians who can afford to pay, we need them to recognise that it’s worth paying for aged care. We can’t let it all fall to the taxpayer or unfortunately, it will continue to be rationed and be a substandard service. What we need is for the government and the taxpayer to be making sure that no one slip through the cracks, that people who don’t have means have got access to good care. But for those of us who have means, we’re going to have to spend some of it as we age, we can’t just leave it all to our kids if we’re going to have the system that we all hope for and can be proud of in Australia.

What role do you think in-home aged care will play in the future?

I think home care is going to be a much bigger part of the future because that’s what older Australians want, so we’ve got to try and make that happen. They’ll always be the need for a congregate living setting, particularly in that area of dementia and even caring for people who are incredibly frail or towards the end of life. It’s very, very difficult and expensive, so will Australians be willing to spend that much money to make 24/7 support for someone in that sort of acutely frail stage. I’m sure there’ll still be a role for aged care facilities.

Then there’s the opportunity of retirement living as well, which is almost the midway. By having older people living together independently in retirement villages, for example, the ability for home care to come in and support them, it’s much more efficient if they are all within a few doors of each other rather than streets or suburbs away, that all comes at a cost as well. We’re very ambitious about having a continuum of support for older people at Uniting. We already provide home care, residential and retirement living. We’re looking to see how we can actually make sure that that’s a really seamless and cost-effective response to what older people need.

Diversity is becoming a prominent issue. How have you seen the companies and boards that you have worked with evolve and manage these issues?

At Uniting, as part of the Uniting Church, we have an ambition of welcoming everyone exactly as they are. Diversity and inclusion is part of our DNA. But it doesn’t just come by people wanting it to be there, you actually have to put a structured response around it. This morning, I spent several hours in our Diversity and Inclusion Summit. Using Zoom, we had over 200 people online really engaging with our strategy that’s just been launched and endorsed by our board and indeed by the church. It has ambitious goals and targets around training, resources to support people to feel safe. One of the lovely things that was said this morning is everybody’s different, it’s just in whatever way. That difference is actually an asset because there’s a richness in that diversity that you can bring to bear and enhance your service, or if you’re operating a business it enhances your business. There’s statistics out there that the evidence is diversity on a board, for example, will lift the performance of the organisation. You have to deliberately set about doing it and put goals in place and have action plans to make it happen.

What are your top tips for aspiring leaders?

I think the number one thing is to say yes. So even though you might doubt yourself and think, I could fail at that, I’ve never done that, how will I tackle that, do I have time. If you can say yes to those opportunities of being involved in a project, I think that’s a really important one. That’s where you get to stretch and where you get a reputation of being someone who is willing to go above and beyond and contribute as well.

I think making sure you’re making time for reflective practice is really important. Often leaders don’t realise the impact that they’re having on others. They might rush into something, and if they stopped and thought, and planned they would be in a better place. So making time for that reflective practice.

Another tip would be to actively seek feedback. Really making sure that people know that you genuinely are trying to learn and grow. Therefore, even though it might be tough love and it might be hard for you, you really want it because you are on an improvement and a journey.

The other is that someone really pushed me to do some postgraduate study when I was at a particular stage of my career. I was definitely in a senior position and was busy with kids and wasn’t sure how I would find time to do it. But I was given a bit of a push to do that and I ended up doing an MBA over several years. I took it as a journey rather than a destination. I’m forever grateful that someone really did give me that knowledge, because I think it’s really important to have that continued learning, formal or informal, as part of your offering and part of your own leadership growth.

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