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How Medibank discovered a more ambitious purpose

We chatted to Craig Drummond, who took over as Managing Director and CEO of Medibank in July 2016, about the power of purpose and why he thought engaging his employees in a discussion about purpose was so important. He shared with us how those discussions led to Medibank discovering an even more ambitious purpose.

Purpose often dissipates and dies following the change in a CEO. This can occur where purpose wasn’t sufficiently embedded and with full leadership team commitment before the change in CEO.

Or where the board hasn’t really bought into the purpose and ensured the new CEO is recruited accordingly, or where a new CEO sets his or her own agenda and priorities that don’t encompass purpose. This is really disappointing to see but occurs more often than not.

On the other hand, it is really pleasing to see an organisation become more ambitious and more deeply embed what is already a well embedded purpose. George Savvides was Managing Director and CEO of Medibank from 2002 to 2016. He shared the importance of purpose in Nicholas Barnett and Rodney Howard’s book “Why Purpose Matters; and how it can transform your organisation”. Amongst other things, he said, “Looking in the rear vision mirror, purpose has been far more transformational than I could have possibly imagined when we initially set out to discover it.”

Here are Craig’s responses to four questions we asked him about rediscovering Medibank’s purpose.

1. Why did Medibank refresh its purpose?

Medibank has always had a strong sense of its purpose around health, and we knew that our employees strongly believed in the purpose and values of the organisation.

Around eighteen months ago, we started to internally discuss the longer-term direction of Medibank. These discussions prompted the question of whether our previous purpose provided us with enough direction as an organisation, and the time felt right to engage our people in a broad conversation about purpose and values.

We didn’t go in with a firm view that we had to change anything, but instead took the approach of asking our employees what they thought. The end result was a more ambitious purpose – “Better Health for Better Lives”, which gives us greater direction and a bolder ambition. We also refreshed our values, and given this was employee-driven, it’s had very strong resonance with our employees.

2. How did you engage your employees in the process?

The whole process was entirely employee-driven, and we engaged our employees in a wide-ranging process. This included leader-led sessions, teleconferences, pop-up sessions in our national workplaces, cards sent out to our geographically dispersed teams and via our internal social media platform, Yammer. We asked big, open questions such as:

  • When Medibank has been at its best, what values and behaviours have you seen displayed?
  • What does our Purpose mean to you, our customers and communities? Does it capture what is unique and special about Medibank? Do we need to change it?
  • What do you feel we need more of at Medibank to be successful in the future?

The response from employees was overwhelmingly positive. We had more than 1000 employees engage in the discussion.

Based on the input from employees, the leadership team made some directional decisions around what the refreshed purpose and the new values would be, which we then put out again to our people for feedback.

3. What have been, or are expected to be the main benefits?

The main benefit has been the very strong belief and buy-in from our employees. Our people shaped our purpose and values, which means they really do own them. This commitment to “better health for better lives” translates directly into the passion our people then show to our customers and the quality of service we deliver. Having a strong set of core values that everyone owns is also incredibly powerful. It means we act as one team, with a clear set of standards and expectations that drive all our actions. It is what anchors us as an organisation.

4. What are your recommendations to others in relation to purpose?

Having a purpose can be a very strong galvanising force for any organisation, but it needs to be more than words on a page. Your purpose needs to be authentic and be owned and driven by your people. Every employee should have the opportunity to have a voice on something as important as purpose and values. Leaving it to a select few or to external consultants, is a missed opportunity to truly engage your people in such a critical discussion.

We’ve found at Medibank that our purpose gives us clarity and belief in what we’re doing for our customers. And combined with a strong set of values, it unifies us and gives us a common cause. Irrespective of the size of an organisation, having a clear sense of who you are and what you stand for is critical. It’s worth taking the time to consider this deeply and involve employees in the process, as ultimately that’s how you create a sense of pride and ownership.

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