The Queensland Government’s innovation champion Nicolle Kelly on how to flex the “change muscle”

Nicolle Kelly, Executive Director – Innovation Programs, Governance & Strategy at the Queensland Government, is a key contributor in leading the design and implementation of an innovative government agenda. Encouraging a new way of thinking, she works with entrepreneurs, startups and high-growth companies to bring innovative practices to the Queensland Government.

Joining our Change2020 conversation series, Director Kerryn Fewster sat down with Nicolle to speak about how she associates with Change.

The public often perceives the government as not being fast, agile, change responsive, or change makers etc. How do you deal with what seems to be a contradiction, and is it true? 

There are some really innovative people in government doing amazing things, both in a delivery of programs sense and in a policy setting sense. Government is a large beast and probably Queensland’s largest employer. When you get that sort of scale of an organisation, it can be difficult to be super agile as a whole or to be perceived as being agile. 

Within government there has been a significant focus and investment on looking at how we can be innovative. We do have a stream around innovation and are working really closely with a lot of our colleagues in other departments to connect government agencies with startups or the entrepreneurs doing amazing things. 

“The Queensland Government has invested in innovation for over 20 years.”

Have you seen a significant change in the government’s approach to change and curiosity around ambiguity and the opportunities that might present? 

I can only speak from my experience but I would say that there’s more acceptance and understanding that change is very much a constant and that the pace of change is probably going to keep accelerating. 

Government has made significant investments into trying to understand and use methodologies that help deal with change.

“As leaders we need to really try and understand where people are at with different changes and how we can help them to find some comfort with that change. What are the barriers; what are they struggling with; and how can I help them and support them to make peace with the change.”

How do you inspire people to get curious about change and the opportunity it presents? 

It’s about bringing that sense of passion and excitement – we can be the masters of our own destiny. There’ll be policy, there’ll be things that occur, but we can help influence how that happens. I think for people to feel empowered is really important so when they go to work every day they feel they’re doing something that matters. We are super lucky to work in an environment where what we’re doing will change Queensland’s future for the better. 

Tell me about the viewpoint of failure in the government. Have you ever failed? 

Yes. Absolutely. I’m super cool with failure because everyone needs to fail. I also want to be authentic though because it does make me feel sick, as I want to do a really good job. I want to deliver the best results and I hate feeling like I’ve let people down. Some of the techniques or approaches that I’ve developed is to try and be a bit realistic about it. I put a lens over it and put context around the nature of the value of the level of who’s impacted. 

Sometimes saying this isn’t going to deliver the outcomes that we thought it would, so we actually need to shut it down, is ‘success’. If it’s not delivering the impact, that’s okay. It was an experiment. Let’s cut it off as quickly as we can and take the lessons learned from it.

How do you take care of yourself being a leader in the government while it’s going through such significant change? 

Having a good network is really important. I’m lucky that I am supported by amazing peers across government and outside of government, within the local startup community, etc. People who can help me check myself when I’m spiraling into thinking ‘oh my god, what if this fails?’. 

Not just professionally but also personally, I’ve got awesome friends and family. I don’t just view myself through the lens of ‘Nicolle Kelly, Executive Director’, as if that’s the only thing I exist in. Therefore, if something fails and my reason for being isn’t there, I have balance. When things are getting hard, just reach out to your network, try and focus on the things that are going really well. 

Is dealing well with change something innate or is that something that has evolved over time?

I think I certainly have developed it…

The more I become comfortable with change, it will just continue on as I go down through my career and provide my team with those tools and support. 

I am lucky because naturally I quite like change. I think it’s my job to help support people that may be less comfortable with it. 

Exposing people to different ways of behaviour creates new habits for them and it becomes like a muscle.

Do you find yourself naturally attracted to change makers? If yes, why do you think that is? 

Because it’s exciting. I like to get things done. I like to solve problems, deliver impact. I’m quite action oriented and my experience of change makers is they’re very solution focused. They want to make a difference. There’s an energy that’s in the room, so I think I’m just naturally attracted to that. 

It sort of raises my energy levels and it’s great to have awesome people to bounce ideas off because often you just come up with a solution that’s much better than the perfect thing I had in my head. You get into a room of really awesome, inspiring change makers and you can just develop things that are much greater than the individual parts. 

For more information on adapting to uncertainty, speak to one of our consultants.