WE SPEAK survey results to spark conversations, action

Insights gained from the WE SPEAK 2020 survey will guide the university as it strives to build a workplace culture where faculty and staff continue to feel valued and understand how their work supports the university mission. Campus-wide survey results were recently released.

“The results offer some reasons to celebrate, and they also open the door to discussions that can lead to positive change,” President Alan Shepard said.

Participation in the latest edition of the survey was better than ever as more than 3,800 of 6,000 possible respondents took part. That 64.4 per cent response rate far eclipsed the 45 per cent rate of the last survey. Earlier surveys were conducted in 2012 and 2017.

Designed to give a voice to faculty and staff members, WE SPEAK 2020 was conducted over three weeks in January and February by the company Metrics@Work.

Overall, Western boasted a notably high Organizational Engagement score of 74.6 per cent, a number indicating an individual’s connectivity to the overall university. That number outpaced the postsecondary sector database average of 65.8 per cent.

While universitywide data has been released broadly, faculty, departments and unit results are in the hands of leaders, who will meet with Metrics@Work consultants to review and better understand the numbers. In the coming months, those local results will be shared with faculty and staff.

WE ACT is the second phase of the process – a time when teams come together to look at the results, celebrate achievements and identify areas for change.

“The best leaders can encourage dialogue, and ensure people feel safe and know their views, positive or negative, will be respected,” said Lynn Logan, Vice-President (Operations & Finance). “Results, even the disappointing ones, shouldn’t frighten us. They reflect a point in time and an opportunity to move forward. WE SPEAK and WE ACT are about building culture and ensuring people feel valued and understand how their work supports the university mission.”

Some leaders are new to their role since the 2017 survey and may use the 2020 results as a baseline for the work ahead.

In the Faculty of Science, for instance, Matt Davison assumed the dean’s role in 2018, but with 20 years of experience in the faculty, he says his preliminary review indicated the results align with strengths he and others have already noted.

“Those results confirm areas where progress can be made,” he said. “For instance, in the past we’ve noticed a gap between our faculty and staff members in terms of approaches, motivation, and recognition. Seeing a confirmation of this through an external process opens the door to deeper discussion throughout the faculty. That will help us to work together to do better.”

Davison also notes that results can vary greatly within a faculty. “Local culture really matters and that is best addressed by those in the unit,” he said.

“Great leadership needs to be disseminated across our campus from the president right to each person who supervises even one other person. Leadership matters. In Science, we are continuously working to encourage and develop leadership skills.”

The WE SPEAK 2017 survey drove numerous changes, including the expansion of Western’s Excellence in Leadership program, increased Living Well@Western programming and improved Educational Assistance funding.

In Facilities Management, a number of teams have seen significant change spurred by past We Speak results.

“None of the results are bad,” said Elizabeth Krische, Associate Vice-President (Facilities Management). “If you see red, it means there is an opportunity. It is not just a leader’s responsibility to fix it, as all have a role to play. But it is a leader’s job to open dialogue – sometimes frank and vulnerable discussions and that’s not always easy.

WE ACT requires a commitment of time and energy – a challenge given the other changes that 2020 has thrown our way. Many of our employees would agree that you will get out of it what you put into it.”

There were two 2020 surveys – one for faculty, one for staff. Both were similar to the 2017 surveys, with questions designed to measure employee engagement and cultural values at three levels – the job, within work units and at the university-wide level.

Clinical faculty were excluded this time, as the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry intends to develop a survey that will more specifically explore the unique work experience of those faculty members.

Andrew Fuller, whose Talent, Learning and Engagement team leads the WE SPEAK initiative, thanked the more than 40 ‘survey partners’ from each faculty or division who provided feedback and helped encourage colleagues to participate.

In addition, his team will be supporting leaders with resources and learning sessions as they head into WE ACT in the coming months.

“We are a strong organization,” Fuller said. “Strong organizations are not afraid to ask the hard questions and look for paths for continuous improvement. Continued attention to culture and engagement is essential for Western on its journey to excellence.”