The package deal

Gina Mavrias, Chief Operating Officer of Australian Hearing and winner of ‘Boss of the Year’ at the 2018 Executive PA Awards, shares her insight on her long-standing relationship with her EA

Describe your role at Australian Hearing, and how you came to be there.

As the name implies, my job is to oversee the operations part of the business. For Australian Hearing, that means I oversee the service delivery arm. I oversee the network of hearing centres where we provide services to clients with regards to their hearing.

Audiology really attracted me because I loved the idea that I could combine science—which was one of my interests—with helping people, and hopefully make a difference in their lives. I joined Australian Hearing 35 years ago as an intern and an audiologist in training.

About halfway through my career as an audiologist (which I loved being), I got an opportunity to start in management and found a new passion. I ended up in a centre management role and then became what they now call a general manager, and eventually progressed into one of the executive positions.

You said that you found a new passion in management. What was it about that role that inspired you?

Initially it was about being in a position where I was able to have greater influence on how to change or improve aspects of our service delivery. I really liked supporting people as they developed, and the whole area of staff development, training, mentoring, and coaching. Those sort of things I found personally satisfying. I got good feedback when I did it, so it was a position where I felt valid.

I really believe in what Australian Hearing does; we do change lives. I like being part of a team where I can shape strategy and direction, and where the organisation goes.

What do you believe are the qualities that make up a good boss?

As an audiologist one of the most important skills to have is to be a good listener.  It’s really important that the client is at the centre of your decision making process and that you are recognising what their needs and goals are, so you can help shape the service that you do.

That turns out to be really valuable as a manager and as a leader. You need to be able to listen to what people are saying and really understand what they need from you. It’s also about trying to get the best out of people and working with them to really understand what their strengths and development opportunities are.

A lot of my part is about trusting and building trust, and with that comes empowering people. Having trust in them to be able to run with things, and develop those skills and be more confident in their role.

Sharon has been my EA for 12 years. She’s a part of me, we’re a package deal.

A manager thinks that they have to do everything and are often overwhelmed with too many tasks. You need to trust your people and delegate appropriately.

How do you strategise and implement change at Australian Hearing?

The thing that helps me in my career at Australian Hearing is that I have come from an audiology background. I’ve built up a lot of credibility and knowledge so when I talk about delivering hearing services, I’m not talking in an abstract sense. I can talk from personal experience, and that carries some influence.

People talk about change being hard. I don’t know if it’s hard, it just needs a good plan. One of the things that I do (and I’m sure I’m not unique in this) is spend a lot of time focusing on the ‘why’.

My direct reports and I spend a lot of time focusing on making sure the reasons behind things are really clear to us, then supporting my team so they can convey that to others. That’s the strategy around role modelling, but it’s also profiling the right language that works at different levels of the organisation.

If we can’t be clear with our communication then we can’t be effective leaders.

I’d like to understand your relationship with your EA, Sharon Wilson. You spoke before about how you enable people to take on responsibility, I’d like to understand how that comes into play in your partnership.

If I was to say a sentence about what she does, it would be that she helps me stay sane every day. She helps me manage what some people would think is an unmanageable diary.

Because our head office is in Sydney, I spend about 50 percent of my time in Sydney and about 50 percent of my time in Melbourne, which requires me to have a really great relationship with my EA. She not only needs to make sure I’m in the right place at the right time, but with the right paperwork and the right briefing.

There are a number of things that I trust her (and I do totally trust her) to oversee, especially when I’m not in the office. Whether that’s monitoring my emails for things that need urgent attention, to helping people when they need an immediate response.

She shows interest in different aspects of her role. For example, she said to me that she was really interested in events management. She already organised all of our management meetings every couple of months, so I could see that she was very invested in this area.

I gave her an opportunity to do an event management course and now she organises our national conference every year. She does a fantastic job and it’s not a small event. We bring somewhere between 120 to 150 people together for a big gala dinner. Now Sharon is known throughout our organisation for her event management skills. Whenever there are special events in our head office or in one of the regions, they will ask if they can have her assistance. That’s just one example of how she demonstrates her abilities.

I want her to be happy in her role. So I give her the opportunity to do the things that give her greater job satisfaction. Sharon has been my EA for 12 years. She’s a part of me, we’re a package deal. That’s how people see us. As my role has evolved, we’ve evolved. As my reach has grown we’ve had to sit down together to talk about how we manage our work-flow.

She’s incredibly patient when I’m having a very hectic week. She always asks if there are things that she can do in that time. Sometimes there aren’t, there’s things that I can’t give to her, and sometimes there are and I say to her, “thank you.” We’re just a team.

Australian Hearing

Australian Hearing was established by the Australian Government in 1947, it’s responsible for providing a variety of services for hearing impaired Australians, including over 110 staffed centres, outreach programs and more.