Piece of mind

PsyCare founders Peter Stebbins and Danielle Lees understood that many workplace health and safety cases stem from psychological, rather than purely physiological, causes. They tell AMANDA GOME their story, and are ready for readers’ questions.

Peter Stebbins

It can be tricky growing a psychology consultancy. In 2002, Peter Stebbins and Danielle Lees started corporate psychology company, PsyCare. Revenue has grown from $250,000 in the first year to $1.25 million in 2006-07.

Both Peter and Danielle Carmelina say they are happy to take some questions online. Just email feedback@smartcompany.com.au with your questions.

They talk to Amanda Gome about their journey.


Amanda Gome: What is your training and what niche did you see when you started?

Peter Stebbins (pictured above) has a masters in clinical psychology, and Danielle Lees (below right) has completed her PhD in clinical psychology.

Danielle Lees

Many workplace conflicts and rehabilitation and injury management cases have complex clinical and psychological causes. But most rehabilitation and injury management services do not have post-graduate clinical and organisational staff capable of managing these complex cases.

Similarly, HR consulting groups and mediation services are limited in dealing with the more extreme psychological and personality problems in workplaces and rehabilitation. That can result in causing insurers and employers high long-term expense and poor outcomes.

So we saw the niche for highly skilled and clinically trained specialist psychologists with strong workplace knowledge that took on the “unresolvable” or “unwinnable” situations and managing those, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per case in downstream litigation, premium costs, organisational performance, productivity, and industrial relations legal expenditure for employers.

You target individuals and companies for treatment. What has been your growth strategy? What have you learnt about growing a psychology practice?

We focused on four key sectors of the clinical and corporate psychology industry. These are:

  • Clinical and community (GP and private fee-paying clients).
  • Corporate sector (early intervention; employee assistance programs; grievance investigations; policy review, education and training; critical incident debriefing; organisational health audits; leadership development; executive coaching; and wellness programs in private and public sector organisations).
  • Social insurance and rehabilitation (investigations for work-related injuries; WorkCover; rehabilitation, return to work and suitable duties planning; complex case management; dual injury rehabilitation; cognitive behavioural treatment programs for depression, anxiety and stress; yellow flag – pain management programs).
  • Family, child and disability (behavioural assessments; clinical assessments; case management; medico-legal assessments; behavioural modification; comprehensive family social assessments; child, family and parent therapy and training; parenting programs; child anxiety and self-esteem).

The key strategy behind growing PsyCare over the past five years has been to capitalise growth in each of these four sectors to help regional expansion, as well as expansion within regions.

What is one major challenge you have overcome?

Having an expert-based market position means that finding, training and retaining suitable consultants is a tremendous challenge and the key limitation in the rate of organisational growth. This has led to considerable innovation in consultant contracts, incentives, equity, and flexibility for PsyCare.

How do you market the business? What marketing has been effective and what has not worked?

Key marketing has been on reinforcing and building existing relationships with key referral sources and agencies. This has created a strong “word-of-mouth” referral base, which has historically suited our organic growth strategy. We have found that non-relationship based networking and marketing is quite ineffective given the nature of our core business and the sensitivity and complexity of our clients’ needs.

How have recent changes to government regulations changed your industry and what are the opportunities?

There have been a number of recent changes to regulations that have significantly changed our industry. For example, the shift in OH&S towards the identification of psychosocial (or stress) hazards (including demands, relationships, manager support, change etc), and prosecutions to larger companies that do not comply with the changes in regulations, has led to public and private sector agencies having a far greater emphasis on employee well-being, training, support and leadership development.

More recently, PsyCare has focused on the opportunity to conduct large-scale organisational health audits to identify these stress hazards to assist organisations to have a stronger focus on employee, manager and organisational variables that contribute to stress within the workplace.

What major setback did you have due to poor planning and what did you learn from that?

One of our major setbacks in the early years of PsyCare was dealing with large scale critical incidents where a national team was needed and resources were over-stretched. We learnt that we need to keep within our footprint and target client groups, and to use our existing alliances for larger scale projects.

It’s hard being an entrepreneur. Who do you use for advice – an accountant, advisory board?

Board of directors, accountant, industry related business mentors and our lawyers. The recent appointment of a non-executive chairman and upskilling of the board through AICD has also been tremendously valuable.

Your business is all about people? How do you get the buy-in from staff?

PsyCare utilises an intensive people development strategy, including development programs for consultants to move from being an associate, to senior associate, to partner. We have also implemented an equity share scheme, incentivised pay, flexible working conditions and transparent business development, strategy and systems.

What is your online strategy?

We have recently begun an online assessment strategy where we have a supportive leadership 360, supportive teams 360, and a vocational assessment tool (“My Career Now”) tool available online that we are looking to utilise across the job network agencies and to on-sell to other service delivery groups within the sectors. There will be a growing trend towards online assessment strategies for organisations, so we are building our online capabilities to move with this recent trend.

What keeps you awake at night and what do you do about it?

It’s an ongoing task to ensure corporate support for the three offices, and that this support is such that it really can add value to all consultants in the group. What we need to do is make sure there are clear KPIs set and used by the board and partners to guide “readiness” for future growth.

What are your long term plans for the business?

Our long term plan is for organic growth across the four portfolios of the business and expanding regions across major Queensland centres. We are also looking at moving the corporate division of the business towards having a larger presence in Sydney and Melbourne. Also possible further mergers and acquisitions pending locating suitable companies with like-minded values and cultures.


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