Lights, Camera, Action: The Australian Film Institute
Bronwyn Bowery-Ireland

The Business/The Organization

The Australian Film Institute (AFI) was established in 1958 and has promoted Australian film and television for over 46 years. The organization is responsible for producing Australia's premier film and television awards, the annual AFI Awards. Prior to 2001, about 90% of the AFI's total budget was received through different grants and government funding. In 2001 the funding was gradually diminishing with the likelihood of only 10% funding by 2006. The AFI needed to rapidly assess its financial situation and to move the organization in a new direction, finding new areas for revenue.

The Partnership

Deb Verhoeven had been a senior lecturer and a member of the AFI board before she became the CEO. As she began to realize that the government was reducing funding and that the AFI would need to reinvent itself, Deb brought in a consultant to do some strategic planning with her and the AFI board. The consultant recommended that Deb get a coach to support her throughout the change process. She suggested that Deb contact Bronwyn Bowery-Ireland, executive coach and CEO of International Coach Academy. 

As Deb and Bronwyn explored the possibility of coaching together, Deb was clearly concerned about the AFI's current position and the absence of a clear direction. The urgency of getting funding from other sources was growing daily and the AFI awards were even being potentially jeopardized. Deb's sense of urgency led to a great need for and an openness to the change that could occur through the coaching process.

The Challenge

Deb's reason for getting a coach was to explore other opportunities for revenue. In addition, the staff had become dependent on government funding, resulting in complacency about their positions and the organization. Deb knew that changing the workplace culture was going to be particularly challenging, but she and Bronwyn began to see that this would require: 

  • Providing a clear vision for all staff;
  • Bringing all staff together as a team and getting them to work towards a set of shared values;
  • Developing an operational plan with all staff clearly outlining the goals and strategies to go forward;
  • Establishing performance agreements with all staff;
  • Empowering staff to ‘think outside the square' for funding opportunities;
  • Requiring departments to implement financial measureables;
  • Increasing Deb's confidence and skills in managing change;
  • Working with staff, who were fearful of the changes going on, to understand the change process; and
  • Training staff to increase their skill level.

The Approach

In order to support Deb, Bronwyn came along to management meetings, performance management sessions, finance meetings and staff workshops. Through the coaching process Deb would reflect on the meetings, identifying areas for improvement and setting goals. Bronwyn also provided Deb with valuable feedback on her performance as a manager. Throughout the coaching Bronwyn asked Deb two key questions -- 'Did she believe in the direction the AFI needed to take?' and 'Did she believe she could take the AFI there?'

With Bronwyn's support, Deb began to implement the following:

  • Carried out a skills audit of staff to identify skill gaps;
  • Developed a department budget tracking system;
  • Created an operational plan with all department leaders;
  • Employed a membership and sponsorship manager;
  • Identified with the staff the values they needed to achieve their operational plan;
  • Set up performance management agreements with all staff;
  • Performance managed some staff out of the organization;
  • Developed a partnership with an industrial relations consultant;
  • Implemented weekly reporting systems to track finances and strategies; and
  • Set up an ideas reward system to promote staff bringing forward ideas for growth.

The Value Delivered

Over time the AFI began to experience significant positive changes. The areas that were impacted the most were:

  • Membership grew by 23%
  • Sponsorship for the AFI awards increased by 34%;
  • The AFI award night was the best and most outstanding ever, as reported by the media;
  • New sources of revenue increased income by 18%; and
  • Staff absenteeism dropped by 28%.

Deb's willingness to embrace change and to seek support throughout this period showed great insight and wisdom. Deb stated, "This was my first experience of formal coaching. The combination of structured sessions together with powerful change strategies enabled me to not only shift my own perspective but to also work more effectively with my colleagues. Now that I have seen first hand the difference it can make to performance, I am exploring the option of introducing coaching to my whole team."

The next goals are being written and coaching for all staff is in the business plan. One year into the process, the AFI is renowned as the industry leader.

Bronwyn Bowery-Ireland, is the CEO of International Coach Academy, an international coach training school. She has been an executive coach for over 10 years. Read more about Bronwyn and the International Coach Academy in the WABC Directory and at Bronwyn can be reached by email at

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