At the HR helm: Carolyn Wiseman, Surf Life Saving NSW

At the HR helm: Carolyn Wiseman, Surf Life Saving NSW
By WorkplaceInfo writers on 17 February 2017 It's been a challenging year for Surf Life Saving NSW. A new president was elected to the board of directors, the long-term CEO retired and a senior manager faced legal action for financial discrepancies.

Human resources manager Carolyn Wiseman explains how the organisation weathered the storm and embraced change. 

Q How long have you been with SLSNSW? 

A I started working at SLSNSW in 2007 (Year of the Surf Lifesaver), initially to undertake a WHS project and review of the Surf Life Saving NSW policies and procedures. This March I have been here 10 years.

Q What is your role?  

A I am the human resources manager for the not-for-profit organisation Surf Life Saving NSW and its commercial arm Surf Life Saving Services Pty Ltd (including Australian Lifeguard Service and Australian Lifesaving Academy) providing support in all areas of HR.

I undertake generalist HR responsibilities including end to end recruitment, mediation and grievances, remuneration and benefits, employment law advice, performance management systems, HR policies and procedures, learning and development, HR reporting and analysis, employment contracts, WH&S and workers compensation. Most recently I have been involved in improvements to our member protection systems and processes.

Q It's been a difficult 12 months for the organisation, with the departure of the CEO and the ongoing fraud case involving a former senior manager. How has it impacted on the workplace (staff morale, culture, compliance etc)?

A Staff morale was a significant concern with this amount of change. Staff were naturally shocked and disappointed when the former long term senior manager left suddenly. There was also an immediate risk that the organisation could become internally focused on this issue. An interim restructure of staff, particularly at the senior management level, resulted in a re-distribution of workload across the organisation. An internal review of processes was also necessary which added to the pressure. 

Q How have you dealt with these issues?

A HR and senior management engaged with staff regularly to keep them informed of progress in the civil claim matter. Job security was reinforced and the tight knit and resilient culture which was already established in the organisation became even more important. Providing value by focusing on business partnering with our managers was important. For me it was about how HR went from being a reactive and purely operational/transactional resource to a proactive and strategic resource.

HR reinforced our open door policy and ensured staff welfare was paramount. Our staff were encouraged to stay focused on the mission and goals of our organisation. Continual support to our members remained our priority and as a team we encouraged each other to ensure there was minimal disruption for our clubs and volunteers. As a result we have also implemented an EAP program.

Q You're currently recruiting for a new CEO? How is that going? Is the process different to other appointments?

A Finding the right person to lead our organisation is vitally important to staff and our members. While all our recruitment processes are usually done in-house, we are utilising an external HR company to manage this complex process effectively. I have taken a measured approach to this process which has provided time for staff to settle into a new norm. The process has now begun however the complexities mean that it is taking longer than the normal recruitment.  An acting CEO has been appointed in the interim.

Q What are the main challenges facing HR in not-for-profit organisations?

A HR is constantly evolving which makes it challenging as well as enjoyable.  Remaining current in legislative requirements and best practice is imperative and good HR support is vital in our NFP industry. Unfortunately the level of internal HR support is often an issue for NFP organisations which receive limited funding. Funding/budget restraints impact all aspects of HR from remuneration to the introduction of new HR technology.

Q What has been your biggest challenge as an HR manager?

A Ensuring staff morale and staff security following the recent changes in the organisation's leadership was a challenging task. Building trust and utilising change management skills helped manage employee expectations.  I also needed to manage resistance to change and reinforce the positive aspects of the process.

Q What are the biggest challenges for HR managers?

A Managing change is always challenging within organisations and this is especially evident within our NFP sector. I also think bullying and stress claims are likely to increase in the future.

Q Is there any advice you're glad you did/didn't take?

A I was encouraged to undertake further qualifications in HR and Business Management by colleagues in the VET industry.  Although challenging, I have enjoyed the learning, increased my skills and have been able to implement the knowledge into my current role. 

Q If you were to switch professions, what would you do and why?

A A foreign correspondent because I've always been interested in people and politics.    

Q If you could support one charity what would it be and why?

A Some of our staff not only work for Surf Life Saving in our day to day jobs but we also support the movement in a volunteer capacity. I admire the work of many charities and we organise collections at Christmas including “It's in the Bag” and the Salvation Army. 

Q If you could change one thing at work, what would it be?

A I am incredibly fortunate to work with skilled and passionate people at Surf Life Saving NSW.  If I had unlimited funds I would ensure I could reward each and every one of them individually. 

Q  How do you ensure work-life balance in your own life?

A Having work life balance is recognised as vital for our employees and our practices support this. I must admit I am guilty of working back in the office more often than I should and I am currently tackling my Masters in Management. I do endeavour to go to the gym after work and ensure my annual leave balance doesn't get too high by enjoying regular time away from the office.



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