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In this topic, we discuss how to attract and retain staff. This includes employing and investing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff. We also look at ways you can develop your staff and create a healthy workplace culture.
While reading this topic, think about the following questions and how they relate to your organisation, community or nation:
- How can all your staff contribute to effective, legitimate governance?
- Why is it important to invest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff?
- What are some ways you can develop the knowledge and skills of your staff?
- What does a healthy workplace look like to you? Are there ways you can strengthen your workplace culture?
Attracting and retaining staff
Attracting and retaining talented and hard-working staff is crucial for effective governance. Here are some ideas to help you get and keep the right staff for your organisation, community or nation.
Recruit people who are respected and admired by the whole community. But make sure they’re also a good fit for the position. Consider advertising new positions internally and among your own members before you look outside your group.
Encourage greater participation among different minority groups to create balance and diversity, especially on your board of directors. Consider gender, age, ability and background.
Have a comprehensive induction process. This makes new staff feel welcome, comfortable and knowledgeable about your group.
Performance development and review
Create a staff development plan for your group, supported by policies. To encourage personal growth and career development, consider:
- professional development programs
- skills training.
Create pathways for staff to be promoted or rewarded for good performance. Tie staff performance to their salary in employment contracts.
Manage staff workloads, and make sure there’s clarity around staff roles.
Work and leave entitlements
Include compassionate or cultural leave for staff in leave policies. In intensive and highly sensitive work environments, staff may benefit from access to counselling and/or trauma healing.
Capacity development and training
Offer regular training to improve staff skills – for example:
- place-based, in-house training
- external courses and workshops
- collective professional development
- training tailored to gender, age, roles and skills
- coaching schemes and on-the-job training
- help with paid study leave or secondments
- cultural awareness and language training.
If you have the resources, consider becoming a registered training organisation (RTO) or employ a dedicated governance and professional development officer. This means you provide certified training to your staff inside your group.
Ask experienced staff to act as role models or mentors for less experienced staff. Support these arrangements with information, vocational training, and time to participate.
If you don’t have experienced staff, get help from professionals outside your group. Provide opportunities for work experience and job shadowing.
Encourage staff to report back on insights, information and ideas from their training. Encourage them to do a personal evaluation. For example, assess their work outputs or set personal goals.
Ngnowar Aerwah Aboriginal Corporation (NAAC) was a Finalist in Category A of the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. Here, Board member Philomena Hunter talks about the wide range of services offered by NAAC and how they have evolved over time. NAAC is looking to expand their services. They’re focusing on developing skills and creating opportunities for their growing workforce.
Investing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff
Prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff is an important way to bring their cultural values and priorities to your governance arrangements.
Applicants to the Indigenous Governance Awards suggest that engaging a high percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff enhances a sense of cultural security or safety. This makes it possible for groups to work towards their goal of giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples access to culturally informed services.
In other words, the more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in your organisation, community or nation:
- the greater the sense of cultural strength
- the greater the sense of cultural security
- the more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be attracted to working in your group or using your services.
By employing local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, your group can become a role model for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘community control’ philosophy. This means listening to and representing the communities you serve.
In this way, your group can build the skills and confidence of future leaders and decision-makers in the community. This contributes to self-determination and building the community’s capacity.
When you invest in local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, you help to create a local economy for their communities. Rather than fly-in fly-out employment models where staff are temporarily flown to a work site.
Benefits for the local community include a sense of ownership. This can contribute to perceptions of your group’s legitimacy. It can also help make sure governance arrangements are informed by local cultural priorities and values.
Networks and relationships
Employing local staff also brings inherited networks and relationships with community members and partner organisations. This can create a sense of safety for the organisation’s members, clients and their families.
These professional and personal networks are an asset. They can help form strategic partnerships with other groups and community members.
Applicants to the Indigenous Governance Awards highlight the role of culturally proficient Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff in making connections between service programs and community members, as well as providing best quality services.
“Since July 2014, we have significantly increased the number of Aboriginal staff. This figure is also reflected in our management team, which also comprises 50 per cent Aboriginal staff. This is a reflection of our commitment to self-determination and the employment of Aboriginal people to provide culturally safe services to our tenants.”
– Aboriginal Housing Victoria, category A shortlisted applicant, Indigenous Governance Awards, 2016.
Employing more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff
Here are a few ways for your organisation, community or nation to increase and retain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.
Create identified positions
You can create positions identified for an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. Be clear about why you want an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person for the job. Make sure you follow anti-discrimination laws in the state or territory you are advertising in.
Be transparent and accountable
In some communities, many people are related. It can be hard not to see a job go to family, especially if they’re the ones qualified and interested in the position.
To avoid a perceived conflict of interest, have an open selection process. Make sure any family members working in your group are not directly involved in the interviews and appointments.
Create policies that support cultural priorities of staff
Design policies and procedures that support the social and cultural priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff. For example:
- active and targeted recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff
- cultural leave for ceremonial purposes or family matters
- flexible working arrangements for staff to care for family members.
Invest in tailored mentoring support and training
It’s no good hiring local people and then leaving them without support. If a staff member is not used to the work environment, but has enthusiasm and talent, they might need extra support. Appoint a mentor to work alongside them.
Make accredited study available
Overcome the endless cycle of ‘training for nothing’. Focus on completed study and accredited professional development for staff who are ready. Make sure it leads to relevant work.
Create an employment and training plan and policy
Provide relevant, on-the-job, on-site training. This significantly contributes to a person’s confidence and practical work skills. If you have a plan and policy, then the training is more likely to happen.
Hire for entry-level positions, to shadow staff, or to do work experience
This encourages people to take a chance. Support staff. They need a program of relevant work so they can build their confidence and skills. This also supports meaningful employment pathways.
Acknowledge gender issues and embrace diversity
Some areas of work may be culturally sensitive. These may need to follow country-specific lore and custom – for example, men’s or women’s business. Staff may need training relevant to this work. Make sure diversity is supported – for instance, use neutral language in position descriptions and encourage young people to apply.
“Our employment policy not only focuses on local employment and development but is also designed to ensure that local employment opportunities are created. For instance, the board made a distinct decision not to employ an outside qualified person as manager of the Kuunchi Kakana Centre but to develop a local person and grow the centre at the pace of developing the staff.”
– The Puuya Foundation, category A shortlisted applicant, Indigenous Governance Awards, 2016.
The Western Alliance: Aboriginal Ability Links NSW employs local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as ‘linkers’. This makes it possible for the alliance to speak ‘from’ as well as ‘to’ the surrounding community. Western Alliance describes linkers as the locally based first point of contact for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with disabilities.1 Australian Indigenous Governance Institute and Reconciliation Australia, Strong Governance Supporting Success: Stories and Analysis from the 2016 Indigenous Governance Awards, (Canberra: Australian Indigenous Governance Institute, 2018, Prepared by A. Wighton), 23.
“Linkers work with people with disability, their families and carers to help them plan for their future, build on their strengths and skills, and develop networks in their own communities … Linkers also work with local communities to help them become more welcoming and inclusive of people with disability … Linkers are Aboriginal and that in itself is powerful. They understand how to go into other people’s communities in a respectful way; to find the right channels, speak to Elders and build rapport.”
Developing your staff
Provide staff with opportunities to improve and strengthen their abilities and knowledge. This is an investment for your group and it can strengthen your governance.
Many of the organisations that enter the Indigenous Governance Awards have realised these benefits. They have developed their own systems for supporting staff in their work with professional development. Retaining staff and supporting them in rising to higher positions within the organisation is important for organisational sustainability.
Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Aboriginal Corporation is a community-based organisation. They work with Aboriginal families in remote Central Australia and the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in South Australia. Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi is Luritja language, meaning ‘doing good work with families’. This name encapsulates the Waltja story.
Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi has consistently committed funds and in-kind support for staff professional development since incorporation. All new staff undertake a 3-month probation with induction, training and supervision by a senior worker. This includes:
- supervisor appraisal
- probation review meeting between the CEO, supervisor and staff member.
The CEO and Executive Directors also conduct yearly performance appraisals with all staff. In these, staff identify training needs and future aspirations.1Australian Indigenous Governance Institute and Reconciliation Australia, Voices of Our Success: Sharing the Stories and Analysis from the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards (Sydney, 2016), 60.
Cultural awareness training
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, communities and nations also face the challenges of working in complex intercultural and multilingual environments. For example, many groups have non-Indigenous staff, board directors, partners or other stakeholders. This means cultural awareness training for staff can be vital.
Cultural awareness includes cultural competence or proficiency. This is defined set of skills, knowledge, values, principles and behaviours. They enable people to:
- work effectively in intercultural situations
- plan, support, improve and deliver services in a culturally respectful and informed manner.
Cultural awareness training introduces staff to a range of culture-smart protocols. These are practices that support respectful working relationships in intercultural and multilingual environments. This training also expands their understanding of Indigenous ways of doing, knowing and being.
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups require all their staff and volunteers to do cultural awareness or competency training. This includes cultural inductions for new staff.
This training is particularly important for non-Indigenous staff, as well as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander staff who come from a different state or territory, language group or background.
This training is best delivered by a local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander facilitator. It can involve structured discussions around the group’s:
- diverse culture
- social organisation
- community life.
A group’s cultural competency is a key factor in establishing and maintaining legitimacy within the community and with members.
“It is paramount, being in [such a] culturally rich, diverse and multilingual environment … that all staff, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, receive cultural training. MWRC values the lessons that can be learnt across cultures. The reality of the working environment is that all staff work in two worlds and must spend time understanding the valuable histories and knowledge of both cultures.”
– Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre (MWRC), category A finalist, Indigenous Governance Awards, 2016.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (QLD) Ltd (ATSILS) delivers criminal, family and civil law services. It also offers community legal education, law reform and prisoner care services. It also monitors deaths in custody and police complaints.
Legal staff development and training is integral to the quality of client service delivery. Staff are sent to a wide variety of external training programs, conferences and seminars with an emphasis on developing their skills. Staff development is also supported via their Studies and Continuing Professional Development Policy. This gives staff time off to attend university lectures or sit exams.
Internally, ATSILS provide a fortnightly Continuing Professional Development Program. These internal presentations also attract external participants – such as solicitors and barristers from the private bar. ATSILS also conducts regular multi-day workshops for staff and mangers. The central focus is on managerial skills. Ongoing development and mentoring by line managers and professionals provides advice and guidance on a daily basis.
“Our organisation is governed by an Aboriginal board of directors and led by an Aboriginal CEO ensuring our work is both connected to and accountable to community and cultural needs and that these needs remain embedded with organisational strategic development practices and processes.”
– Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria, category A shortlisted applicant, Indigenous Governance Awards, 2016.
Guidelines for a healthy workplace
To have effective staff, your group must cultivate a work environment – its own internal culture – that supports high staff morale. You can do this by making sure staff know where they fit, and feel respected and secure.
Below are some guidelines to help foster an effective team. As you read through these guidelines, think about how you can apply them in your context.
Staff know where they fit
Creating a healthy workplace means making sure staff understand their roles and responsibilities. They should understand your group’s structure and how it all fits together. They should also know your strategic and business plans.
Importantly, staff should understand the cultural context and history of your group’s members. Remind them of how they contribute to your group’s goals.
Staff can perform well
This means making sure staff know how to carry out their roles and responsibilities. As well as work according to your group’s policies and rules. Staff should understand the legal framework in which your group operates. They should actively contribute to decision-making, planning, reporting and staff meetings.
To help improve performance, you should also monitor and review your staff’s work performance.
Staff are valued
When staff feel valued, their engagement improves. To help with this, encourage all staff to respect each other and work together as a team. Encourage them to uphold your group’s core values and vision.
Make sure staff are not micromanaged by management or the board, but instead feel trusted and respected. It’s also important to give them access to regular training and professional development.
Staff feel secure
A healthy workplace means staff know who to go to if they need help or advice. Make sure staff understand the complaints and appeals policies and procedures.
Feeling secure in the workplace also means staff have a safe and encouraging environment. They should feel valued and trusted by the management and board.
Letting staff fulfil their roles means making sure they:
- are effectively managed and supported
- have a framework of rules and policies to work within
- have the skills and knowledge to do their jobs.
Supportive workplaces have certain characteristics:
Human resources (HR) policies, systems and rules
Make these easily available to staff. This creates clarity around what everyone’s job is and what’s expected of them.
Clear position descriptions for all staff
Descriptions should include information about:
- the term of their employment
- specific responsibilities
- relevant codes of conduct
- cultural policies.
Annual performance reviews
Conduct performance reviews for all staff – individually and collectively – and report on this to the board. Have a performance review policy, and make sure it’s understood by staff and applied consistently.
Regular training and development opportunities
Investing in their training and development builds leadership within your staff.
Inspire your staff by doing. The board and managers set the standard by performing their roles and following the policies and rules.
Shared decision-making and increased engagement draw on your staff’s broad knowledge and experience-base. They make staff feel like they have a voice. See detailed tips on sharing decision-making below.
A staff code of conduct
This should clearly outline expected standards of behaviour and shared values. It creates a clear set of unambiguous expectations for actions in the workplace.
Staff should be able to contribute to and provide feedback on a staff code of conduct.
In some organisations, the board develops a code of conduct or governance charter that is for the whole organisation and includes managers and staff, so there is a shared commitment to overarching guiding principles of behaviour.
Code of conduct
The legal rules in your constitution or rule book usually don’t tell you how to put behaviour into practice. It’s important for every group to develop customised rules for how its directors, management, members and staff meet and work together. This is often called a code of conduct.
The board often develops a code of conduct that includes managers and staff. This means there’s a shared commitment to overarching guiding principles of behaviour.
Today, many organisations are looking at their codes of conduct (whether those are for the board, managers, staff or the entire organisation) as one the first ways to embed their cultural values into the way the people in the organisation behave to each other and members. Think about what cultural values you would like to embed into your organisation’s code of conduct.
You can customise your code of conduct to cover:
- the language and format in which managers, staff and visitors present information
- the behaviour and participation of the board directors
- the role and behaviour of the chairperson
- values and standards for making decisions
- how visitors should behave when they attend your meetings.
A great example of shared values and principles is the Anindilyakwa Land Council’s Code of Conduct.
The Council for Aboriginal Alcohol Program Services (CAAPS) is a family-focused therapeutic service. This focus extends to their staff. In their employment contracts and policies, CAAPS makes sure that staff can take the time to attend to cultural or family matters. For example:
- cultural leave for ceremonial purposes
- leave to attend to sorry business
- leave for those who are affected by family or domestic violence (that does not impact personal leave)
- flexible working arrangements to care for family – such as caring for grandchildren.
“Culture is threaded through the way we run our organisation from the strategic planning processes, to the CEO’s position description as well as the intent to provide cultural security to staff and clients by ensuring a high proportion of our staff are Aboriginal, especially those who work in client facing support roles.”
– Council for Aboriginal Alcohol Program Services (CAAPS)
Sharing decision-making across your group
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups are exploring ways to use their staff’s knowledge, experience and ideas to make informed, credible decisions. Here are some tips from this experience.
Make staff consultation the standard rather than the exception. Engage your staff in consensus-building about complex issues, especially when their knowledge and expertise have the potential to boost the quality of the decisions.
Involve staff in discussions at an early stage. Engage them in:
- defining the problem
- brainstorming possible solutions
- assessing the risks
- choosing the best solution.
From the start, make it clear whether staff input is advisory or binding. Advisory input means staff can make recommendations for decisions, but these recommendations do not need to be enforced. If staff input is binding, their recommendations are required to be carried out. Clarify where staff input fits with input from wider community members.
Let staff raise valid concerns. Show a desire to learn and discuss issues, and a readiness to make changes based on sound decisions.
‘Talkers’ often dominate discussions. ‘Biased’ always express a personal position. ‘Thinkers’ are often quiet and insightful. Make sure you hear not only from the ‘talkers’ and the ‘biased’, but also from the ‘thinkers’, whose knowledge and ideas are often ignored.
There are times to consult and there are times to get on with it. The desire to accommodate every view and hear everyone is commendable, but an effective leader knows when to stop ‘the talking’ and begin ‘the doing’.
Integrate informed staff input into your decision making. If you decide not to implement something, let staff know why, while expressing appreciation for their input. This is essential for team-building and morale.
“Governance and leadership need to be part of the whole organisation’s approach and internal culture, not be seen as something that only sits ‘at the top’ of an organisation. In different ways staff, managers and boards can all show leadership within their own areas of responsibility. This means that, yes, there are separate roles, powers and decision making at each level, but the organisation needs all three areas of responsibility to be working in a cohesive integrated way, in order for whole-of-organisation governance to work well. … The long-established Elder organisations seem to be characterised by respecting the separate roles and responsibilities and powers, at the same time as demanding an integrated collaborative effort across all levels of the organisation.”
– Mia McCulloch, Lara Drieberg, Diane Smith and Francis Markham 1Mia McCulloch, Lara Drieberg, Diane Smith and Francis Markham, Indigenous ‘Elder’ Organisations: Resilient Adaptive Governance as a Capability for Renewal and Longevity, (Discussion Paper No. 300/2022), Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, 30.
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