The check-in


Former elite sports coach Dean Noonan is taking the insights of leading teams and applying them to business.

By Rob Johnson

Any manager of a small-to-medium sized business will tell you they have to be a jack-of-all-trades. You need to have some level of knowledge of everyone’s job to make sure all the jobs are done right. And if you’re managing a worksite of any size, you’re inevitably managing people. Which means dealing with people’s problems.

Checking in with co-workers about how they’re feeling is all well and good. But for most of us, checking in is about as far as it goes—talking about health and wellbeing can be uncomfortable if you don’t know how to help once a problem has been revealed.

According to Dean Noonan, founder of Check5—a wellbeing and performance organisation—figuring out how to improve your own and your employees’ wellbeing can have a dramatic influence on the performance of your organisation.

“I was wellbeing manager at the Newcastle Knights, a member of the National Rugby League, for 12 years,” he explains. “And I started to realise that when we talked about wellbeing, most people thought that just meant mental health.

“Certainly, that’s a part of it, but I realised what we were doing in sport went further than that. From a coaching perspective, if you focus on an individual and introduce the principles to process, we now know individual wellbeing will certainly improve but so will the performance outcomes. If you’re a business owner you’re now not just doing the right thing by your employees, you’re getting something back from that process— performance.”

He’s keen to point out that what he does with Check5 is not try to turn a manager into an amateur psychologist or social worker. Instead, he says, it’s helping managers address problems individual employees might face. And many managers simply don’t know where to point people towards getting help. “We always tell people, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got,” he explains. “And that is fundamentally what our approach is. It’s going into a company and saying, ‘I’m not a business coach. I’m not a life coach. We’re not here to try and tell you how to run your business or how to be your better self’.”

“What it’s about is stepping back and taking some acknowledgement and ownership, that if things aren’t quite tracking well, then we need you to start to apply some of these principles that we’ve derived from elite sport, that will really start to have some effect for you.”


Essentially, Check5 helps managers look for patterns of behaviour or in people’s circumstances and creates a process to help them. “Our approach is quite unique,” Noonan says. “We acknowledge that mental health is very real and it’s very, very important, but we want to go a step before mental health.”

The five ‘checks’ the program works through are finances, health, relationships, work and leisure. “We identify certain people within that organisation who the business feels would be able to roll out that role, of being a wellbeing manager, a wellbeing coach. And then those people quite simply just do a check in, on members of their team throughout the business,” Noonan explains.

“The research from elite sport indicates that it doesn’t matter if you’re an Olympic athlete training for the next games, or you’re an apprentice carpenter … the research and the data indicates that it’s all about an individual. We’re all wired the same. We all function on the same level. And if you introduce a process to an individual and then continue on to get those outcomes on that line, we now know that the outcomes will be exactly the same.”


Because managers are often uncomfortable talking about mental health and the wellbeing of employees—particularly male managers in male-dominated industries—Noonan puts a lot of emphasis on the process and outcomes.

“That was one of the biggest hurdles that we have faced,” he says. “However, when we break that concept of ‘mental health’ down, there’s often those two things missing, which is process, and then as a business owner, where’s my outcomes? Where’s my actual improvement in performance here? It involves going beyond checking in and making sure everything’s okay.

“That’s not a new concept by any means. But what we do in Check5 is that we introduce them to a process which is all about then upskilling those guys, particularly the ones who aren’t comfortable or who aren’t used to that, to get an understanding of how best to approach that situation, to get those outcomes.

“We’re not here to tell you what to do—but, if you do find that there’s certain aspects of your life that you think could be better or are causing you some dramas or causing you some grief, by all means, let’s take a step back, and ask, ‘Why don’t we try this a different way?’”