Sharyn County: becoming a trusted partner through open communication

In large corporate organisations, it can be all too easy for different teams and groups to become siloed and lose the ability to communicate with each other. As a veteran of large and complex organisations, Sharyn County, Zinfra's General Manager - Procurement, Property and Fleet, knows this trap all too well – and has risen to the challenge by developing a leadership style centred around open, honest communication, and where becoming a trusted partner is a key focus.

Over the course of her career, Sharyn County has become a firm believer that open and honest communication is critical to building and maintaining trust in professional relationships.

In her seven years within the organisation Sharyn has held a variety of roles including Manager Commercial and Governance, Head of Procurement, and Acting General Manager Electricity Markets. This exposure to many different areas of the business gives Sharyn a unique perspective on the needs of Zinfra ; and how these can be managed and balanced to ensure best outcomes.

"For me, actually understanding the key drivers of all parts of the business is what's important," says Sharyn. "Looking at my current part of the business in procurement, this has been absolutely crucial. Sometimes people can look at procurement and think it's just about trying to drive costs out; but for us, it is actually about understanding our key business drivers, understanding what our various groups need, and understanding the criticality of various works."

Having a solid understanding of what different groups might be facing has really enabled Sharyn to enhance the way she communicates within the organisation.

"My background allows me to understand what other parties might be trying to drive, and understand where they're coming from. It actually becomes a really efficient way to drive mutually beneficial outcomes that cover all aspects of a particular project."

For Sharyn, a diverse background has also been a key enabler in helping her to build trust with colleagues and clients. "Having walked in their shoes, I can truly empathise with their position and understand what they're dealing with. And that builds trust really quickly."

According to Sharyn, it's communication, and building a strong level of trust between clients and colleagues, that is at the core of Zinfra's values.

"Communication for me really is the most important thing. It's through effective communication that we can work across different internal groups and with different clients, and importantly, get some really proactive planning happening.

"Once you're working from that proactive position, we can see where there might be competing demands within the business, and then prioritise from there.

"And that allows us to get on the front foot when there might be challenges or delays, and engage with our partners openly about how we'll deal with them from the outset. In my experience, more times than not, if clients are informed about a situation from the outset, they understand and they help you work through things.

"And that's why I'm such a big believer in being upfront – because that actually demonstrates true accountability, which goes a long way to building that trusting relationship.

"In fact for me it is actually the foundation of building trust."

Sharyn refers to recent examples from within the procurement team which showcase exactly why an open communication style is so important.

"We've had situations where things weren't progressing, but once we moved the conversation up the chain and had some really strong face-to-face discussions, we were able to progress things that had been stuck for seven months in seven days.

"This highlighted for us the importance of bringing the right people, at the right level, in early to reduce the overall time things can take. It really showed us that moving things up the chain can allow different teams and different groups to allocate resources and improve outcomes for all."

According to Sharyn, this was also a really good exercise in empowering people to bring challenges and issues to the table early. Doing so early allows the organisation to plan alternatives and contingency plans which are ultimately going to lead to better outcomes for Zinfra and its clients.

Aligning staff with organisation values and in becoming a trusted partner

Sharyn's passion for communication and empowering people at Zinfra has extended to helping individual teams develop their own relationships with Zinfra's goals and values.

"We recently sat down and looked at how we could establish and instill Zinfra's values in the individual teams that sit within my group, and really start a conversation about how these values can influence our daily working lives."

Sharyn's group managers all ran sessions with their teams which allowed staff to develop their own purpose, vision and mandate which linked back to Zinfra's vision in becoming a trusted partner in energy

For Sharyn, it's important that culture and values aren't just messages that are spread from the top down – they actually need to be developed by the people working towards them day in, day out.

"It was important that we allow our people to create their own story about our broader goals and values. To truly be effective, a vision needs to be something that the people enacting it have some role in creating – it needs to mean something to them."

According to Sharyn, this is an approach shared by her colleagues in the Leadership Team.

"It's been important for us with our new strategy and objectives to bring whole teams together to really have a transparent discussion around what they mean to individuals. And going through this process has allowed us to find people who might not have connected with our strategy and values, and to work with them to understand the ways that the work they do, every day, really makes a difference at Zinfra."

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands upon which we operate and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters, and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.

Pictured: Artwork by Aboriginal artist Chern’ee Sutton from Mount Isa for our Group’s Reconciliation Action Plan.