Your voice, your views

Gerhard Van de Venter and David Robson. Photo by Shane Lo.

Gerhard Van de Venter and David Robson. Photo by Shane Lo.

In summary: 
  • UTS’s next all-staff survey, Your Voice, Your Views, opens on Monday 9 May 2016
  • David Robson and Gerhard Van de Venter reveal how 2014 results have led to positive changes in the Research and Innovation Office and UTS School of Business

Two years have powered by since UTS last asked staff for an honest assessment of their job satisfaction. And so, with the next all-staff survey due to open on Monday 9 May, it’s a good opportunity to find out what’s changed.

Enter Director of the Research and Innovation Office (RIO) David Robson and Associate Professor Gerhard Van de Venter. While UTS benchmarked well against other universities at the institutional level, within UTS itself some results were not so good.

“To be honest, we had a fairly appalling survey result in 2012,” says Robson, who started his job in 2013. “Our results, in part, instigated a complete restructure of RIO. So we were pleased when the 2014 survey showed more positive results.

“One of our remaining low scores in 2014 concerned RIO processes, so we initiated a project that mapped our major processes. As part of this, we looked at how long it took to get a contract signed, and as a result have been able to halve our contract processing time.

“We’ve also run projects on data cleansing and electronic document management which, incidentally, has saved the time-equivalent of 1.6 full-time staff.

“We’ve also looked at leadership training and staff development; cross-unit collaboration within RIO; and, in terms of communication, we now report on progress to our staff and outside RIO.

“We’ve also introduced more structured meetings with faculties and daily stand-up meetings within RIO leadership. All this has been really beneficial.”

RIO’s approach has also improved their physical space – another area that scored poorly in 2012. “We wanted to make our office more people-friendly so we employed six SPROUTS (Student Promotional Representative of UTS) to scan all the files from a huge compactus which sat in the middle of our office into the TRIM records management system.

“Then we got rid of the compactus and transformed the space into a new kitchen that is big enough to accommodate all our staff at any one time.”

As RIO progressed with their transformation, across campus in the UTS Business School, Van de Venter, Head of the Finance Discipline Group, was digesting their 2012 survey results. His approach was to prioritise the biggest concerns first. For his team this included involvement, career development and industry and professional engagement.

“In terms of involvement, we’ve instituted a number of formal meetings, but one of the simple things I’ve done has been to informally ask as many junior staff as possible what they think about new initiatives. It’s astounding how positively they’ve responded to this.”

Van de Venter has also put considerable effort into helping his staff develop their career objectives. “I’ve started many conversations by saying ‘What do you want out of your career?’”

Coming to the role with considerable industry experience has helped Van de Venter improve their approach to industry and professional engagement. He has introduced a number of initiatives including a recent research showcase for industry. This event runs along similar lines to the Three Minute Thesis but offers researchers five minutes to promote themselves and their research to finance practitioners.

For Van de Venter, the staff survey is a no-brainer. “The survey’s important because you’ve got to know what’s wrong. If there are any alarm bells ringing, you’ve got to listen or you’ll lose your best staff.”

Robson agrees. “From a perspective external to RIO, it demonstrates that we’re moving in the right direction. Internally it’s really useful to say, ‘Well, we’ve been through a fairly torrid time, but we’ve listened and changed and now we’re coming out the other side’.”