FACE TO FACE: Tony Paine – Values at heart

One of the great things about running not-for-profit organisations is that their values are pretty much built into the organisational fabric – people wouldn’t be there if they didn’t care and that drive to make difference is great motivator.
“The clarity around vision, and the motivation that brings to the workforce is inherent in what we do,” says Victim Support CEO Tony Paine. And without wanting to do any ‘holier-than-thou’ sort of number on companies that are more commercially driven, he believes that clarity offers some learnings around the organisational value of shared values.
“I think we do have things to offer around how you make values work in an organisation – how you deal with those intangible results which will be important whatever sort of organisation it is. Even if you manufacture plastic buckets, those intangibles are important both to the workforce and community.
“If your bottom line is defined in purely financial terms then you have to find other ways of attending to the people side of what you’re doing – people both within the organisation and in the wider communities you’re interacting with. Some for-profits do that very well while others perhaps see community engagement and impact as means to an end. There’s confusion there because they really need to be seen as ends in themselves.”
The whole values piece also informs how he needs to manage an organisation that has fairly widely distributed population – 130 staff, plus over 1000 volunteers stretched the length of New Zealand. Getting face to face with people is something of challenge, says Paine. It makes communication key attribute.
“A focus for those who want to lead an organisation like ours is being very very clear about values, about what we’re trying to achieve because our bottom line is intangible and often very hard to measure. Sometimes it’s even hard to name and it’s certainly hard to attribute what we do to things like decrease in crime or an increase in victims’ safety or satisfaction.
“I think it’s important to maintain action-reflection conversations within the organisation. So I spend lot of time finding and re-telling stories because I think in this sort of organisation, leaders have storytelling role. If you choose the right stories, they will be inspiring – they will point us toward what quality is and what we need to do to get better at what we do. And they’re also useful in terms of sharing our message with the wider world, whether it’s community or funder or someone we are trying to advocate policy position with.
“So I see my role as facilitator of conversations – naming and talking about our values, the direction we’re headed in and the vision that underpins all of it.”
Values are also at the core of Paine’s own career directions – from initial training as social worker through to his current role, the focus has been on human services and the drive to make difference, though he discovered early on that frontline work was not his forte.
“Initially I worked very briefly in what was then Carrington Hospital but decided that wasn’t for me. I noticed there that the staff became just as institutionalised as the patients and I had the feeling if I stayed too long, I’d land up the same. So it was conscious decision to move into more behind-the-scenes roles in the NFP sector.”
First stop was the Auckland-based New Zealand AIDS Foundation where Paine worked on prevention and awareness campaigns. Back then, understanding of AIDS was still in its infancy and tied up with people’s views around sexuality and with phobia about homosexual law reform.
“I became increasingly involved in the world of social marketing and health promotion working with people like (current Mayor of Waitemata City Council) Bob Harvey whose advertising agency had significant input into ad campaigns at time when people were not that comfortable talking about condoms in the general media. It was about how you get your message across in less supportive environment.”
Paine also worked with Warren Lindberg – executive director of the AIDS Foundation from 1986 to 1998 and now group manager at the Ministry of Health.
“I found him an inspiration – he was very clear about his values and how those values translated into both the workplace and the actions we needed to undertake both to make the organisation work and to deal with the issues we were addressing. He was very passionate about that, very enlivening to work with and that inspired me to move into those social justice types of management roles.”
Then came lifestyle decision to shift with his family to the South Island where they made Christchurch their home base. period of self-employment doing fundraising and PR work in the NFP space led to full-time work with the Methodist Mission and later an appointment as CEO of the Comcare Trust – community-based provider of support services for people with psychiatric illnesses. Then came what Paine describes as left turn into the world of arts as CEO of the Arts Centre in Christchurch.
“It was conscious decision to have bit of break from the world of social service where you’re dealing with people’s lives and with the potential consequences of getting that wrong – and an opportunity to get involved with one of my passions. I’m wannabe musician and really enjoy the world of arts and creativity.”
As well as the arts administration role, the work also involved him in wider issues around civic amenities, urban design and tourism. Because of the Centre’s location in Christchurch’s historic heart, there was also the financial challenge of caring for more than 25 heritage buildings.
“But it was still an NFP – it still reported to charitable trust and as with all my jobs, the very mixed bottom line provides considerable stimulus,” says Paine.
“In some ways the financial bottom line is least important though you obviously have to get that bit right. But in much the same way that companies return profit to shareholders – NFPs are about returning quality, returning value to the community and, in modest way, trying to make the world better place. And that is the bottom line you need to be focused on.”
After nearly 10 years in the role, Paine says it was time for new challenge and he found that last year with his appointment to Victim Support in September.
“I really enjoyed that sojourn into the arts and found it very interesting time to be involved in the development of that area in Christchurch but that said, I’m very pleased to be back in the world of human service – I think that is where my heart really lies. So the shift to Wellington as CEO of Victim Support has been fantastic – I feel very positive about return to running organisations that are focused on people in need.”
It is work, he says, that demands strong focus on managerial excellence and powerful motivation to get it right.
“Our sector is dealing with people’s lives – people who are struggling with health, with pain or poverty. People who are marginalised in some way or disconnected from their community. So the very nature of what we do calls us to be the very best we can be. It means the rhetoric around business excellence and continuous improvement is far from being just rhetoric – the work demands it of us. If we get it wrong or fail to be the best we can then we have real chance of making mess of someone’s life.”
Paine has embraced the Business Excellence model as providing useful guidelines and international benchmarks against which to judge the level of organisational competence. It gives the organisation good yardstick for how it is doing internally, he says.
“We’re not interested in chasing an award but it is bit of map and provides us with comprehensive set of criteria we can use to ask ourselves about the organisation and how we’re doing.
“And the other focus is around how we demonstrate we’re making positive difference in people’s lives. It’s one thing to talk about it, but how do we demonstrate it and name some

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