The University of Newcastle, Australia

OPINION - Owning our culture

Monday, 1 August 2016

We are an interesting lot. For an organisation whose most valuable capital assets are human, I am increasingly perplexed by the view many hold of the work we do to improve our people. The murmurings we so often hear in HR point to a level of cynicism, in particular toward the new initiatives that we bring to the organisation.

Granted there have been quite a few over the last few years. It was an early priority for the Vice-Chancellor under NeW Directions to address things like performance and development, and leadership. New frameworks and systems were introduced for the workforce to digest and adopt.

As a communicator, I am fully aware of the need to consider how much ‘stuff’ people can be hit with before they start to cower in the corner. But the reality is, we are investing in our people and doing much to improve the UON workforce and the individuals who make it up. With full awareness of the constraints on resources and time, we are creating ways to build capability, to lead stronger teams and to make us all more effective in our work.

Where I find the cynicism hard to accept is that it is clearly not all about UON and 'someone's KPI'. It is very much about the individual. There is a high chance that the opportunities for growth that we provide will ultimately deliver benefits to other organisations, as some staff will move on and take their capabilities and experiences to raise the standards in other places and roles.

But what about the ones that don’t? What about the ones that look at all the opportunities and support available and decide that actually UON is a great place to work because they invest in their human capital? And when new people join us, they come in the knowledge that UON is committed to its people and their development and growth.

I just don’t see what there is to be cynical about. Certainly there are challenges and I appreciate that sometimes someone will end up being the scapegoat, but when you look at the facts of the matter, we are trying to make it possible for people to grow. The dedication and commitment that I see in members of my team, who are truly driven to make our workforce as great as it can be, is inspiring. I count myself very lucky that I work with a group of people who check their egos at the door every morning and get on with the job of doing what they can to help others.

The work we are doing across the organisation around our culture has been enlightening and exciting. There is a very real appetite for us to be more curious, collaborative and courageous. These three words were not just plucked from the air. They came from the vast number of people in the organisation who enthusiastically contributed to the conversation. It’s not just ‘another HR initiative’. To label it that would be irresponsible. We each have a responsibility to shape this organisation such that we can achieve the very high standards we set for ourselves. It’s in all of our interests to do that.

It is a collective effort and there is so much opportunity.  I am firmly focused on and motivated by the idea that at some point in the not-too-distant future we will be a collective of several thousand who will be identifiably ‘UON’ because we are bold and explore ideas, we ask why and we take risks, we challenge boundaries and we connect with great minds.

They sound like the kind of people I want to spend my day with.

Sarah Nash is the Workforce Communications Officer in the Workforce Strategy and Transformation Team, Human Resource Services. As editor of In the Loop, Sarah is taking the courageous step of offering her opinion for a new column.

If you have a considered opinion to share through In the Loop, please submit to

Related news