HR in the hot seat: Graham Gubbels, head of learning and development, Medibank

Graham talks about building his award-winning team at Medibank and the challenges facing HR in the healthcare sector.

HR in the hot seat: Graham Gubbels, head of learning and development, Medibank

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? 
There are two things in life to trust – your instincts and your team. This really simple advice has allowed me to free my mind and give focus to the things in my personal and business life that really matter to me. Having the courage to forge your own path (and allowing others the freedom to do likewise) can be challenging, but the rewards of taking a different approach can produce some amazing – and sometimes quite unexpected – results.

What challenges do you think HR will face over the next 10 years? 
The pace of change is faster than it ever has been, and is getting faster. As a result, traditional HR and HR roles need to evolve quickly to stay relevant as an advisor and partner in the business. Broad business experience (not just HR) will be increasingly valued by companies, and the ability to foresee and creatively plan for both current and proposed business changes will be critical in ensuring that HR stays relevant. Rapid technological changes combined with an ageing workforce sets up some interesting challenges for overall organisational development and business planning over the next decade.

What is the favourite part of your job? And which part of your role has proven the most challenging? 
Working daily with such a dedicated and creative team is without doubt the favourite part of my job. We spend a lot of time together working on some challenging and sometimes difficult projects and we always manage to hit our targets and do it with a smile and a sense of fun.
The most challenging part of my role would be the daily juggling of priorities to ensure the best outcomes for the business. Having a great team means that there’s great demand for our services which can sometimes be challenging. As I always say though, being extremely busy is much better than the alternative.

What do you feel is your biggest professional achievement to date?
Definitely helping to build the champion team that I have at present. Since starting at Medibank about five years ago, when the business had a dedicated group of facilitators and no L&D design team at all, the current team now delivers some amazing and innovative projects and have collected L&D industry awards in every year since – culminating in the team now holding the mantle of Learning Team of the Year.
In case you’re wondering – yep, I’m really proud of the amazing L&D team at Medibank.

What attracted you to a career in HR, and particularly, L&D?
Making a difference in people’s lives and helping them to achieve their goals in their careers is something I’ve always been passionate about. From the time that I began my first full-time job in a call centre I knew that training was an area that I would eventually like to get into. Five years later, I had the opportunity to assist in training a new system rollout and the rest, as they say, is history. Maybe I’m a little biased, but I tend to find that the HR community are the greatest champions of ensuring that businesses don’t lose sight of the fact that at the heart of every great business is a robust culture and an engaged workforce.

What are some of the challenges particular to Medibank and the industry as a whole? 
Australia’s healthcare system is world-class, however a key challenge facing our healthcare system is the increasing costs of healthcare, largely due to an ageing population and rising rates of chronic disease and complex conditions.
Australians are going to hospital more often and, every time they’re admitted, they are receiving more treatments and services than in the past. And, while new technologies and advancements mean better patient care and health outcomes, it means treatments and services are becoming more expensive.
The combination of these factors creates a ‘perfect storm’ of events that lead to rising healthcare costs.
In an effort to improve the health and wellbeing of Australians, and to improve efficiency and reduce waste in the system, Medibank recently made a number of recommendations to the Australian government to improve the affordability of private healthcare. It’s so important that everyone – governments, hospitals, providers, private health insurers – work together to ensure the sustainability of Australia’s world-class healthcare system.

If you could host a dinner party and invite anyone in the world, who would it be?
Kim Jong-un, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, with lots of wine flowing and no support staff allowed. And, once world peace is resolved, we’d move onto addressing world hunger and climate change. I suspect it may be a pretty late night.
If you weren’t working in HR, you would be…
Working at NASA. My childhood dream was to be an astronaut, but I suspect my window of opportunity may be closing.


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