Southern Cross Health Society is New Zealand’s leading health insurer and one of this country’s best-known brands. Driven by its wider business strategy and the increasing use of Agile workstyles, it made a bold decision in late 2018 to relocate its Auckland headquarters to a new building under development in the Wynyard Quarter.
I recently sat down with Vicki Caisley, Chief People & Strategy Officer (she is responsible for the People, Transformation, Business Strategy, Workplace and Internal Communication Teams) to learn more about the organisation’s journey, how TwentyTwo helped navigate through the process and what they’ve learned along the way.
Tell me a bit about Southern Cross?
“We take care of over 870,000 New Zealanders. Our purpose is to empower Kiwis to live their healthiest lives – it’s what gets us out of bed in the mornings.
We're an organisation that exists to serve our members. We have 650 employees and last year for every dollar we collected in premiums we returned 92 cents back to our members in claims paid. We’re a values-based organisation with an inclusive and engaged culture that functions as one inspired team.
Our vision is to create a healthier society and everyone at the Health Society works hard to achieve this.”
What kick-started this project?
“It was a combination of business strategy and practical needs. In 2018 we reviewed our five-year plan and a lot of the key drivers came out of that. We wanted and needed a workplace that would support more modern ways of working - flexible working options, contingent workers and Agile teams.
Our core objective is to create the healthiest place to work in NZ, while also considering opportunities to save cost.
We firstly explored our current building here in Britomart, which is spread over four floors, and came to the conclusion that the financial cost to refit and the disruption it would cause to staff meant the best option was to explore other sites.
In Auckland we’re really lucky there are so many great commercial options, it’s a real hive of precincts and hubs. We were particularly drawn to Wynyard Quarter and the proposal for One55 Fanshawe Street (ex-Caltex service station site near Halsey St).”
How did you put together your team for this project?
“I set up a Project Steering Committee and it became really clear that we needed some independent support with the skills and knowledge our team didn’t have. We needed a consultant to support us through this process, provide a solid grounding for our decision making and act as an advocate for us when engaging with developers/landlords - in addition to our legal adviser Minter Ellison.
We went out with an RFP and were really happy to appoint Dean and the team from TwentyTwo early on in our journey.”
How important was planning?
“Well before negotiations began, with the guidance of Dean and the TwentyTwo team, we scoped our wider strategy, identified and finetuned our key drivers and developed our financial modelling.
External expertise provided by TwentyTwo meant I was able to confidently drive the process and articulate the options to our Board succinctly and professionally”.
In addition to the advice on the commercial terms and working with Minters on the documentation, TwentyTwo also provided overarching advice to the Executive and Board on the merits of their options and the evaluation findings. “Dean’s presentations for the Board were above and beyond what we could have hoped for. Many of these original documents are still now heavily driving our design process today.”
How was this advice received?
“Boards sometimes need third party assurance outside of management’s advice. TwentyTwo’s experience, fronted by Dean, was well received. He was able to present on our behalf really well. I felt like we were in a safe pair of hands. He brought a real level of maturity and sophistication to the project.”
Did you get a good commercial outcome?
“When it came time to negotiate a deal for the new space and manage the relationships around our current premises, having the TwentyTwo know-how as part of our team meant we were able to craft a deal we would never have achieved alone. Having the knowledge of when and what areas to really push back on added enormous value.
The quality of advocacy for Southern Cross from TwentyTwo in the early days of this project was more than we could have hoped for. Having an independent person, with the required knowledge and insight, who could help nut out the difficult parts and provide guidance on the hard decisions gave me confidence.”
How far are you into the delivery process?
“The new building is currently under construction and we’re designing the fit-out and rolling out our initial change strategy as we speak. We’re scheduled to move in late 2020. We’re excited as this timeframe gives us the opportunity to really get this right. We have a clear change management process in place so that when it comes to the actual move day we will have tackled a lot of challenges already.
We have technology changes happening now so all staff can be flexible if needed. On 1 July we officially launched our version of Activity Based Working and we’re seeing positive results and early uptake from our people. We’re taking baby steps and making sure we get it right.
We’re running this project as an Agile programme. We have a Project Group made up of some key staff members - Change Manager, Employee Experience Partner, Workplace Manager, a dedicated Project Manager and then someone from Technology and Health, Safety and Wellbeing. This team reports to our Project Steering Committee.
Now, as the dust of the deal settles and we’re into change management, it’s great to have Dean on our Project Steering Committee. TwentyTwo offers a great deal of knowledge and insight into a process we’re mostly new to.”
What are some of the key learnings to date?
“Understand what capabilities you have internally before you start and aim to fill those gaps. These types of projects aren’t something an organisation tackles every 3-5 years, so it could be a first for many. You can avoid costly mistakes by really taking the time to work out what you don’t know.
A key challenge for me personally was thrashing out the legal stuff. If you’re not a lawyer, it can be very opaque and drawn out. Having an independent advocate who knows their stuff in this specific arena (TwentyTwo) adds immense value.
I also wanted some input on the process from someone with some psychological insights into the way people work and modern ways of working. Someone to keep us honest - true to our goals.
After contacting Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and connecting with Dr Rachael Morrison it was decided we would undertake a research project with them. They’re now monitoring us/our people as we go through this process moving from a traditional way of working to a modern way of working. They’re studying the psychological impact of modern ways of working on teams. It’s already adding value to our wider business understanding of the modern workplace and it’s another great example of bringing in outside expertise.
Finally, my last snippet of advice would be to talk with anyone you can who have been through this process recently. Most people are really keen to share their experience and learnings. Learn from their mistakes and their successes. Moving an office of 600+ people isn’t a straight forward project.”