Dear colleagues

Thank you to everyone who took part in the recent workplace culture survey and consultation to explore The University of Queensland culture. The preliminary results are in and we would like to share them with you prior to the Christmas break.

As many would agree, 2012 has been a challenging but ultimately rewarding year for The University of Queensland community. We can be proud to call UQ home. After all, we have continued to achieve excellent international rankings performance, major research breakthroughs, a strong corporate reputation, increasing student numbers, strong grant performance and strong philanthropic partnerships.

However, 2012 has had its fair share of challenges as we all had to learn, and indeed confront, things about our institution that we may have not liked. Various aspects of our culture have been commented on by some media. The University has worked hard to respond to those concerns in the most productive way possible and seeks to use this as an opportunity to strengthen our collegial and institutional culture. To this end, we have embarked on delivering an ambitious integrity and accountability reform program that will see us emerge as a stronger institution – one that is ideally positioned to continue to be a leader in the future.

Cultural change takes time, and is often experienced differently in different parts of the organisations. For this reason, the University has engaged the independent Nous Group to undertake the most robust and comprehensive expression of the opinions of UQ colleagues.

The Process

First, a reminder about the process we went through. All fixed-term and continuing staff were invited to participate in the survey and 57% (4,306) took the opportunity to do so. In addition, more than 100 staff participated in the series of focus groups held across our four main campuses and one-on-one interviews for those staff that requested them.

The preliminary results have been analysed and were recently presented to the University's Senior Management Committee (USMC) and to a group of more than 100 senior staff from across UQ.

The Results

Overall, the results show that many of us have really positive experiences working at UQ but that our culture falls short of our aspirations. The Executive Summary from the Organisational Culture Inventory (OCI) survey report (provided by Human Synergistics) provides greater detail, and is available to all staff here, via the UQ intranet. We have also taken the opportunity to highlight and explain aspects of the results below.

Our campuses and facilities, supportive colleagues, stimulating people and employment conditions were some of the most frequently cited positive aspects described by staff. For many, UQ feels like a friendly community. Some of the comments that have been shared with us about the most positive aspects of the UQ work environment are:

  • "I have some wonderful work colleagues."
  • "The physical environment - library, coffee shops, sporting facilities, grounds."
  • "Being able to work on things that really matter with a small group of dedicated and like-minded people."
  • "I continue to work here despite being offered a much more competitive salary from my corporate partners because of the flexibility and understanding this organisation has shown me. I truly feel valued."

The positive aspects are encouraging, however, many of these comments reflect our working conditions rather than our workplace culture.

The findings also showed us that many of our colleagues have less positive experiences of the UQ work environment such as an indication of a prevalence of people managing up, rather than dedicating time and energy to support people management at all levels (for example recognising others' contributions, ensuring fair outcomes for everyone and listening to people's concerns or ideas).

Indeed, the overall survey results indicate that the UQ culture can be described as conventional, where people will tend to follow policies and practices, make a 'good impression' and conform. It is also characterised by passive/defensive styles of behaviour, specifically:

  • Where people will tend to:
  • Push decisions upwards;
  • Take few chances;
  • Make 'popular' rather than necessary decisions;
  • Shift responsibility to others; and
  • Avoid being blamed for problems or errors.

We recognise the need to create a work environment where staff feel encouraged and supported to raise new ideas, search for new ways of doing things and feel empowered to express themselves.

Next steps

We have sought the expertise of an independent management consulting firm, Nous Group, throughout this process. Nous advises a number of large organisations, like ours, that are committed to organisational change, including other Go8 universities.

A closer look at the results will be a major item for discussion in the New Year when USMC will consider a set of recommendations from Nous and, from there, plan our approach to building a more constructive workplace culture.

We are also using this opportunity to continue our push for greater transparency and we are proactively briefing the media on the preliminary outcomes of the survey.

Creating lasting change will not be a quick process, however, as we have said before, we are committed to this process. Only through concerted effort will we actually shift the way we operate. It will be up to all of us to reflect on our personal actions and habits in order for us to build toward a more constructive culture that supports affiliation, achievement and growth.

We have been awarded as one of the best universities to work for – and we are recognised as one of the world's top 100 universities – but if we don't look at where we can improve, we run the risk of not being the best we can be. To be successful when times get tough, it is our culture, collegiality and passion for UQ that will get us through the difficult times.

Thank you again for your hard work and contribution at UQ, and for engaging on this important initiative to build a more constructive workplace for everyone at UQ.

Professor Peter Høj
Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Deborah Terry
Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor