dave July 16, 2019 No Comments

A leaked report from the New Zealand Transport Agency paints a picture of demoralisation and chaos – and the situation appears to be getting worse with one in five employees wanting leadership to “work differently”.

Each year the NZTA conducts an “ask our team” survey which takes the mood of the organisation’s staff. The organisation has begun conducting smaller “pulse” surveys, the most recent of which has been leaked to Stuff. 

More than half of NZTA’s staff expressed dissatisfaction with the organisation’s leadership, with just 48 per cent saying the leadership’s actions are “consistent with our organisation’s DNA”. Other questions regarding leadership also drew negative responses. 

The survey comes on the back of a tumultuous year for NZTA, in which chief executive Fergus Gammie resigned after the organisation was found to be negligent in its role as transport regulator, leading to the death of a motorist. 

The chaos continued after Gammie’s departure, with controversial board chair Michael Stiassny resigning after serving just one year of a three year term. 

Responses to the 14 “assertions” measured in the survey were categorised into red, orange, yellow, and green. Responses in red indicate areas “that need focus”, while orange shows “potential concerns”. Yellow means “good” and green means “excellent”. 

None of the 14 responses were “good” or “excellent”, five categories showed “potential concerns”, with the remaining nine showing a need for focus, the most negative response.

NZ Transport agency interim chief executive Mark Ratcliffe.
SUPPLIEDNZ Transport agency interim chief executive Mark Ratcliffe.

All but three of the categories showed a worsening response since the last survey, which was completed using 900 responses from NZTA staff. The organisation cautioned comparing this survey with previous surveys as the sample size was smaller. 

Leadership was a particular concern. Just 45 per cent of employees believed “leaders make and deliver hard decisions in an effective way”. 

About 1300 staff also texted responses to the survey. These responses were also critical of leadership.

“We need true empowerment. We need to stop the micro-management. We need to see ownership of bad decisions made,” read one response. 

Culture has been a concern at NZTA for some time. Stuff has also obtained a leaked report from 2017. That report also raised questions about senior leadership at NZTA, noting “low” ratings of senior leaders on matters of “internal communications,” “culture,” and “leadership”.

That survey noted that members of the leadership team rated themselves “significantly higher” than the rest of the organisation. It noted concerns with emerging silos, and a “blame culture”. It said the agency needed to do more to make staff feel “safe to speak the truth”.

Interim NZTA chief executive Mark Ratcliffe told Stuff the last year had been difficult. 

“It is no secret that the past year has been a very challenging one for this organisation, and that is no doubt reflected to an extent in this feedback,” Ratcliffe said. 

But he said that recent changes, including the appointment of new chair Sir Brian Roche, would help “stabilise the organisation”.

“Our people take a lot of pride in what they do, and I’m confident that we can rebuild a strong and positive culture in the Transport Agency,” Ratcliffe said. 

Former NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) chief executive Fergus Gammie, Transport Minister Phil Twyford and former NZTA board chairman Michael Stiassny come clean about the organisation's negligence as regulator.
COLLETTE DEVLIN/STUFFFormer NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) chief executive Fergus Gammie, Transport Minister Phil Twyford and former NZTA board chairman Michael Stiassny come clean about the organisation’s negligence as regulator.

National’s Associate Transport Spokesperson Brett Hudson said the survey showed a need for action from NZTA’s leadership.

“If this was a private sector organisation, the board would be calling for a performance improvement plan,” Hudson said. 

He said the organisation needed to ask itself how it could get back on track and get staff believing in it again. 

Hudson said he was particularly alarmed by the fact that so few of the agency’s employees believed that what they were doing aligned with NZTA’s overall objectives.

“People think there’s a misalignment between what they’re supposed to be doing and what they’re actually doing,” Hudson said. 

Hudson called on Transport Minister Phil Twyford to demand better performance from the Agency. 

National's Associate Transport Spokesperson Brett Hudson called on the Government to improve the culture at NZTA.
MAARTEN HOLL/STUFFNational’s Associate Transport Spokesperson Brett Hudson called on the Government to improve the culture at NZTA.

Motor Trade Association advocacy and strategy manager Grieg Epps said results from the survey aligned with MTA members’ experiences with NZTA.

He said he was particularly concerned with lower levels of the agency not feeling empowered to make decisions.

“It is difficult to get a decision made, if the agency wants to get more responsive it needs to provide its staff with more empowerment,” Epps said.

He was hopeful that the refresh of leadership at the agency would take it in the right direction. 

“They know things need to change and there’s a willingness to change,” he said. 

Transport Minister Phil Twyford declined to comment, a spokesperson said the matter was operational for the NZTA.

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