The UEA is an internationally renowned university supporting over 17,000 students. Like all higher education institutions, they have to compete for students and are having to become more business-like in their operating model. In order to be the best place to collaborate, learn and work, UEA recognised that they needed to engage their 4,500 staff to understand what is important to them, what values should be lived up to, and what big shifts were needed to succeed in the future.
The university has an ambitious long term vision and has delivered the first five year plan. The executive team wanted to validate the strategic goals and co-create the priorities for the next five year plan. They realised they were lacking the connection, common goals and the underpinning values that they needed to deliver on those ambitions. There was a clear desire to engage all staff in the co-creation of the plans and values to encourage better buy-in and alignment to deliver the strategy.
Engagement across the university was understood as being important and there had been prior attempts to engage widely on strategic topics. However, there had been a degree of scepticism about the input of staff and whether this had resulted in any changes being made. The team wanted to have greater transparency and engagement across the many different disciplines and staff groups, and felt that an open, accessible online workshop would improve visibility and give all staff a voice in shaping the plans.
The ‘Do Different Do Together’ conversation ran for 4 weeks, and 30% of the workforce joined in to share more than 450 ideas, 2,100 comments and 23,000 votes. The data was analysed to reflect the collective insight of staff, capturing both the explicit and implicit debate, recommending refinements to the strategic plan and co-creating a set of organisational values. The contributions that staff made on the plan and priorities were built into the five year plan and the draft values were made the subject of a second conversation to demonstrate that staff had truly been listened to. Staff were again invited to validate and comment on how these should be embedded, resulting in a set of agreed values and behaviours.
The UEA have had conversations they didn’t think they would ever have openly. People have felt psychologically safe to be honest in their views and that is helping them remove barriers and move forwards with a better feeling of community. People from the whole organisation have shared their views and so there is a greater sense of accountability for needing to take action in response.