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In June 2017, the Centre for Work Health and Safety (Centre) engaged in a long-term partnership with Bendelta to co-design and implement a culture that values a diversity of perspectives and innovation to create a different approach to research that would enable positive work health and safety (WHS) outcomes and fundamentally proactive approaches.
In the lead up to establishment, the Centre and Bendelta worked together to create a number of artefacts that collectively defined the desired culture. These included:
- A strategy document outlining the Centre’s:
- Vision, Mission and Values.
- Two cultural traits: Diversity and Connectedness, designed to augment the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation’s (DFSI) core values of Trust, Integrity, Accountability and Service with additional traits deemed important to the culture of this new Centre.
- An Employee Value Proposition outlining why the Centre would be a remarkable and attractive place to work.
- A statement of the specific behaviours that would bring the values and cultural traits to life within the Centre.
- A statement of the impact that would be created if the staff of the centre truly lived the values and traits.
- Employee Success Profiles. These foundational building blocks for recruitment, performance management, and learning and development defined the essential requirements to succeed in each role within the Centre.
- Advertisements and a comprehensive set of recruitment activities that focussed on ensuring a balanced assessment of candidates:
- Shortlisting based on a written submission including selection criteria
- Psychometric testing
- A series of group assessment activities designed to test and evaluate collaborative skills and attributes (facilitated by Bendelta)
- Individual interviews
The Centre commenced advertising positions in July 2017, and following a rigorous assessment of the candidates, all of the successful foundational members had commenced with the Centre by mid-September 2017.
What followed was a carefully planned and sequenced onboarding program that extended over a six-week period and included a range of activities to ensure a seamless commencement experience and a rapid uptake of the cultural values and traits. Consistent with the focus on diversity and collaboration, Bendelta facilitated a workshop during onboarding, designed to raise awareness of individual communication preferences and to explore ways of working that would best aid in successful relationship-building.
During the onboarding period and in the 12 months since, the Centre has focused on continuing to develop and manage their innovative culture as an integrated part of their daily operations. Some examples of this include:
- Team members regularly committing to working in other locations so they can spend time with their colleagues.
- Agility – all team members undertake programs of work outside of their streams to better understand the holistic nature of the Centre’s strategic direction and capitalise on everyone’s contribution.
- Shared contribution – regardless of their role, all team members participate in the Centre’s core work of research. This could be as part of an ideas generation workshop discussing approaches to a new research concept, conducting a horizon scan, or being part of the project team. This leads to connectedness, the greater teams’ investment in the Centre’s research, a sense of value in their contribution and an outcome of shared achievement.
- Sharing and communicating how they want to work. They have followed some traditional values like being known for producing great quality, sticking to their promises and being accepting of others. They have also created some innovative routines such as ‘stop, collaborate and listen’, and wearing pink on Wednesdays.
- Team members paying active attention to their culture, as it is at the forefront of everyone’s mind and something that they are proud to share. They refer to it in day-to-day conversations, in meetings, and they notice when someone acts outside of the culture.
- The Centre celebrating diversity, expertise and culture. Team members have created artefacts and posters that showcase who they are. They share pictures of families, friends, pets and hobbies, allowing everyone to understand a little about who they are and what motivates them outside of the office.
Since formal establishment on 5 December 2017, the Centre has continued to work with Bendelta to track the effectiveness of the culture setting program. Data have been collected longitudinally from members of the Centre and from the broader DFSI, to provide a direct comparison of their cultural experiences since joining the department. Data was collected from the same two groups at two time points after the Centre was established: five months (April 2018) and 11 months (October 2018). The data were collected to examine two broad outcomes:
- The effectiveness of the onboarding program in assisting new staff to get established quickly and to feel valued as new employees within their new organisation; and
- To examine the efficacy of the culture setting process in creating the desired culture for the organisation.
The data were collected by DFSI Human Resource Management staff and passed to Bendelta for analysis. The findings of that analysis are outlined below.
Overall, respondents reported that the onboarding experience had helped them to establish their role and develop relationships with team members. Both the Centre and DFSI groups reported they felt prepared for their respective role, understood the behaviours expected of them and had a good knowledge of how their work supports the overall objectives of the organisation. They also reported having a clear understanding of who the key leaders are and developing a sense of community with their team.
However, there were some significant differences between the Centre team and the broader DFSI group. These included:
- How they enjoyed the overall process of joining the organisation.
- Feeling welcome in the new environment.
- Finding the onboarding process interesting and engaging.
- Seamless and hassle-free process for IT and other equipment.
- Receiving the right information at the right time.
For the Centre group, respondents felt supported by the team during the onboarding process, and valued the team building sessions and learning about the purpose of the team. To enhance the experience even further, respondents suggested:
- Linking in to a community of practice of peers or having a buddy.
- Introducing work-related tasks and games to learn more about each other and the workplace.
- Having more direction about where to find information.
Figure 1 provides the detailed results.
Figure 1. Onboarding items that showed a significant difference between the Centre and DFSI group at the first time point (significant level p<.05)
Overall, the results indicate that the Centre has developed a strong culture of connectedness, collaboration and customer-centricity. Figure 2 provides a depiction of the detailed results.
The results indicated that there were several areas where there was a significant difference between the two groups on the cultural measure. The Centre group reported more positive results at both time points in these areas:
- Engage a broad range of stakeholders to inform decision making and hold trusted relationships with business partners.
- Design processes and approaches with the customer in mind, act in the interests of the NSW community and listen to the industry and community.
- Focus time, effort and money on what is most important, work together in one clear direction and invest in improving how they operate.
- Feel supported in the workplace, including with career aspirations, engage in regular meaningful catch ups with their managers and adopt effective ways of working that purposefully take their health into account.
The yellow bar indicates score at time point 1 (April).
Figure 2. Items that showed a significant difference between the Centre and DFSI group at both time points (significant level p<.05)
- The team always believes in providing constructive feedback, working collaboratively and the team believes in "the Power of the Collective".
- Our whole approach is human-centred, designing our work around the end-user. We welcome debate over the norm and we constantly look at doing things differently if we believe it will have an effect on the outcome at the back end.
- The Centre for WHS operates at a high level and fosters a family approach to everything we do. All for one and one for all is not just a saying, we live and breathe this culture.
There were also a number of areas where the Centre diverged from the DFSI sample group between the two time points. While at the time point 1 (April) there were no significant differences between the two groups, at time point 2 (October) there was a significant difference, with the Centre group reporting more positive results in these areas:
- Seeking and accepting different opinions and openly debating ideas, seeking and providing feedback with a continuous growth mindset, and generating pragmatic and attainable solutions
- Being transparent in their interactions and role modelling the behaviours they ask from others
- Understanding and knowing the purpose and strategy of the organisation and visualising how their role relates to the bigger picture
Figure 3. Mean response for the DFSI and Centre groups over time for item: ‘Come up with pragmatic and attainable solutions’
Figure 4. Mean response for the DFSI and Centre groups over time for item: ‘Are transparent in their interactions’
- All day every day, we need the team to inform our strongest decisions
- The people I work with make a true effort to come up with new ideas and improve the work we do
- We are all on the same page when it comes to our purpose
- A group of passionate people finding a better way to get things done
- Open to new ideas and way of doing things. Easy to have your voice heard. Get great satisfaction from seeing the impact of your work on the NSW community
Based on the analysis of the data, the Centre has established a strong culture that values and practices robust collaboration, diverse thinking, psychological safety, and supportive development and leadership practices. The results indicated that elements of this culture emerged within the first six months of an employee joining the Centre, demonstrated by strong positive results and statistical differences found at the first time point. In addition to DFSI-wide onboarding, the Centre implemented an onboarding program that encouraged and facilitated staff to establish strong ties with their colleagues and with their collective purpose.
There are a number of factors that may have further strengthened these cultural outcomes:
- Embedding the cultural values right throughout the employee lifecycle
- Recruitment & Assessment
- Performance Management & Development
- An ongoing focus on the team holding each other accountable to the desired cultural impacts and behaviours.
- Creating a focus on how the cultural values and traits are enlivened by:
- Defining the behaviours that will bring the values and traits to life.
- Examining the impacts that the staff will have on the team, customers and stakeholders if they truly live the values.
Based on the analysis, it appears as though the approach to defining the desired cultural attributes of the Centre and the commitment to maintaining and enlivening that culture, has correlated to creating and maintaining a highly engaged, creative and innovative team that has very quickly started delivering results.
Specifically, the Centre’s approach to actively seeking and recruiting a very diverse team, with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, and then establishing the way that this team could robustly work together, has created a self-sustaining culture of collaboration for high performance. The approach would be of interest and may inform the future cultural planning, recruitment and onboarding of staff across DFSI and the public sector more broadly. The approach taken would likely be of value to any organisation looking to ensure that it attracts, retains and engages diverse innovative teams
- Detailed Results
- Detailed Case Studies
In the survey, respondents were to rate their level of agreement (strongly disagree through to strongly agree) on 32 items across nine cultural attributes:
- Trust and integrity
- Mindset and behaviours
- Systems and processes
- Symbols and stories
Each cultural attribute section was accompanied by a series of qualitative questions.
At time point 1 (April), the survey also included 10 items about the onboarding experience and two qualitative questions.
Summary of Workplace Culture Results
Time Point One. Overall, Centre respondents scored positively on all the workplace culture items. There were two themes where all items were significantly different to the broader DFSI group: Connectedness and Symbols and Stories. Key differences between the groups (where Centre scored more positively) related to engaging with a broad range of stakeholders, actively pursuing opportunities across streams and holding trusted relationships with business partners. There were also differences in putting the customer and the NSW community at the heart of decision making, working as ‘one’, including feeling involved in setting the direction for the team, testing ideas and taking creative approaches, and spending time and effort on what’s most important.
Time Point Two. Overall, there were several areas where respondents from the Centre and broader DFSI group reported a similarly positive experience of workplace culture. There was a strong sense of service as respondents indicated that they felt as though they had a direct impact on the NSW community and a role to play in setting the direction of the Department. There was also a strong sense of looking out for one another, in particular supporting each other and jumping in to help a colleague, and looking after each other’s wellbeing. Respondents from both groups reported that they were able to work from wherever was most effective, leveraging technology to stay connected.
However, there were some significant differences between the Centre team and the broader DFSI group. The Centre group scored more positively on:
- Engaging with a broad range of stakeholders to inform decision making
- Seeking and accepting different opinions and openly debate ideas, and taking creative approaches
- Being transparent in interactions, and holding trusted relationships with business partners
- Role modelling the behaviours they ask from others
- Acting in the interests of the NSW community, and listening to industry and the community
- Investing in improving how they operate, and spending time, effort and money on what is most important
- Coming up with pragmatic and attainable solutions and having good ideas heard and actioned
- Understanding and knowing the purpose and strategy of the organisation
- Pulling in one clear direction, and visualising how their role relates to the bigger picture
- Feeling supported in the workplace, including regular meaningful catch ups with their managers, productive feedback and support in career aspirations
- Having the customer in mind when designing processes and approaches
- Having ways of working that purposefully take their health into account
For the Centre group, respondents highlighted a deliberate and visible approach to creating a collaborative, connected culture in which people feel comfortable to speak up. Respondents outlined a culture in which work is designed around the end-user, including challenging the status-quo and looking to do things differently for purpose of improving the outcome for the end-user.
For the broader DFSI group, respondents presented a mixed experience of workplace culture. For some respondents, the workplace was inclusive, collaborative, involved staff in decision making and had great potential for individual learning and growth. For others however, collaboration was limited, staff were not involved in decision making and people felt cautious to speak up.
Workplace Culture Data
The item-by-item results following time point 2 are shown below. Results include the mean for each item. The mean is the arithmetic average of the results (i.e. it is the aggregate score divided by the number of responses). It is a simple indication of the average result for any item.
An asterisk (*) indicates a statistically significant difference between the means of the two groups on a given item (two tailed, p<.05) at time point 2.
The yellow bar indicates the results at time point 1.
3. Trust and integrity
7. Mindset and behaviours
8. Systems and Processes
9. Symbols and stories