Cynthia Payne – Australian Ageing Agenda Interview

Leadership is always the strongest determining factor for ongoing success, aged care consultant CYNTHIA PAYNE tells NATASHA EGAN (Article taken from Australian Ageing Agenda).

There have never been so many competing interests for aged care managers, says Cynthia Payne, managing director of Anchor Excellence, a year-old consultancy servicing the aged care sector.

While her organisation is relatively new, Payne has been around the sector for close to three decades, nursing in her early days and most previously as head of New South Wales for-profit aged care provider SummitCare.

Payne says she wants to use her knowledge and operational experience to help close “the capability gap” many in the sector are facing as a result of turnover of leaders and key facility staff and the reforms underway.

She says she sees an urgent need for organisations to develop stronger and more agile whole-of-business quality management systems that balance the details needed to identify consumer-based risk and an organisational learning cycle that ensures sustainable and accountable systems.

“At the business unit manager level [the sector needs] stronger capability for monitoring and ensuring responsive human resource and workforce plans that enable safe and quality care for consumers,” Payne tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

“Managers in our sectors have never had so many competing interests. The pressure is on and going up and their leadership is always the strongest determining factor for ongoing success – regardless if the organisation is small or large.”

The sector also urgently needs stronger and more holistic clinical skills that bring attention to high-impact risks and the multifactorial issues facing today’s aged care recipients, who have more co-morbidities and complex care requirements than ever before, she says.

“Our registered nurses and allied health professions need to step up to ensure clinical risk is identified, clarified and negotiated with consumers. The whole concept of dignity of risk is yet to be fully understood by their professionals and it only comes together when they understand their complex roles in supporting and collaborating effectively in order to help older people live their best lives on their terms and their way.”

“The people element is in my view the most critical element going forward.”

Profiling the community in residential aged care is the first step providers need to take to understand complex high-impact risk, says Payne, who is a past director of sector peak Leading Age Services Australia and a former president of the peak’s now defunct state body LASA NSW and ACT.

“The risk assessment provides a line of sight to the individual but also the communities that exist within homes. The combination of factors is where key personnel must clearly understand the approved provider roles and obligations in order to ensure compliance requirements,” she says.

On where they can do better, Payne says providers should first support and enable their leaders and second deeply listen and respond to consumer drivers.

“The organisations that are able to talk about their innovations are organisations that are proving they are agile.”

There is a lot of adjustment going on in organisations so it’s necessary to be responsive to those drivers, she says. “The organisations that are able to talk about their innovations are organisations that are proving they are agile.”

Being able to move with agility when there is so much going on is the critical success factor right now, says Payne. “If you were to pull out everything that was going on in the industry, the providers that are thriving are the ones that have that agility factor,” she says.

A Natural Alignment

Payne says her passions for consumer-driven care and business excellence and how they align with the reform agenda are behind her forming Anchor Excellence. She describes the organisation as a collective of aged care leaders with a strong operator perspective and combined 80 years’ of direct industry experience at board, executive and management level.

The collective includes her former SummitCare colleagues John Engeler, Claire Ward and Carla Beheram and Arts Health Institute founder Dr Maggie Haertsch, who is also a former colleague. Payne was the inaugural chair and a founding director of AHI, which launched in 2011 and inspired aged care providers to adopt art therapy programs until its sudden closure in late 2017.

Payne says the team shares her passion for consumer- centric care.

“After 28 years in the industry, having been in that CEO gig and involved in the industry at a national and state level, we are very well placed because we understand that at a deep and meaningful level, we can help,” she says.

Payne says they have already successfully worked with a number of providers in the compliance remediation space.
The team additionally provides strategic planning, corporate governance and leadership, mentoring and coaching services. They also offer insights into customer experience, which Payne says “is the area that many providers are genuinely struggling with” but one that “brings about the fastest innovation.”

She says consulting is “working with and through” by definition, so it’s not greatly different to being a CEO, and leadership capability is critical to both roles.

“The important differentiator is when you’re the CEO the ultimate decision may rest with you or together  with your board depending on the decision. In contrast as a consultant, our goal is to help improve decision-making by those who are responsible and accountable for the organisation,” she says.

Payne did not want to elaborate why she stepped down as CEO of SummitCare, only saying the transition was part of her journey. “It is so long ago now it is part of my history. It’s not something that is any focus,” she says.

Her focus has instead been on her new company and roles with the boards of aged care sector builders Total Constructions and the National Heart Foundation of Australia, says Payne, who has a Bachelor of Nursing.

She’s been affiliated with the foundation for two years and says she has a personal interest in heart disease and the work of the organisation because her younger sister, who is well now, had a stroke when she was 38.

Payne says she brings general governance and business excellence skills to the board after a starting point of helping to unify the foundation’s federated model. For this, she says she drew on her experience of undertaking a similar process at LASA.

Payne has also been collaborating with industry colleagues for the last year to develop a national registration and education platform for the aged care workforce.

“We know that buildings don’t provide care for people, people do.

“We have been supporting pilot trials of the engage card, which is a one passport platform of enabling a complete registration and online management for training and development for the workforce.”

It is still early days but importantly the project fits in with the objectives of the national focus on workforce, says Payne. Workforce is the greatest risk and doubt in the sector, which was confirmed by the work of Professor John Pollaers and the workforce taskforce, she says.

“We know that buildings don’t provide care for people, people do. So the people element is in my view the most critical element going forward outside of all the other elements of technology, innovation, building and construction and deploying assistive technology.”

Like most if not all people in the sector, Payne has been following the royal commission. She says it’s too early to talk about what initiatives might come out of it, but she is looking forward to the end of the commission process and government’s subsequent response.

“This is going to be really telling in this whole journey – what the recommendations are and then how brave the government of the day will be to genuinely take those recommendations and make them a reality.”