Employees Weigh in on NUS’ Agility

The Organisational Agility survey seeks to measure staff perceptions toward NUS’ culture and capacity for change. To learn more, please view our Sway presentations from 2020, 2021 and 2022 (NUS VPN required).

Around the world, institutes of higher education are facing several challenges, from a looming “demographic cliff” and dropping student enrollment rates, to changing expectations regarding the delivery of education and its relation to career preparation. Throw in the COVID-19 pandemic, digital disruption, and economic inflation, and now, more than ever, universities are under pressure to transform themselves.

At NUS, these challenges have been met with a strategic focus on interdisciplinary and continuing education, increased mental health support, and the incorporation of new technologies for blended learning. To increase efficiency on an operational level, the University also introduced the Organisational Excellence (OE) initiative in 2018 to simplify processes, overhaul major enterprise systems, and restructure NUS’ administrative services through the adoption of a Shared Services and Business Partnering model.

But how have NUS staff responded to these major changes? How do they perceive the University’s ability to anticipate or react to challenges, as well as their own ability to embrace change? In which areas is NUS thought to be agile, and in which areas is more attention needed?

To answer these questions, the NUS Organisational Agility survey was designed and launched in 2020 by the Organisational Excellence Transformation Unit (OETU). The survey was created to assess staff perception of NUS’ agility via measurement of two key attributes, stability and dynamic capability. 33 Likert scale questions spanning five categories (People, Organisational Structure, Business Processes, Technology Systems, and Organisational Readiness) were developed, with qualitative feedback also gathered via open-ended questions placed at the end of each category.

“When [OETU was] tasked to develop a survey, in addition to asking the big question about organisational agility, NUS leadership asked us to come up with questions employees wanted to ask, but couldn’t…The first to hear our presentation was none other than President, Provost and DPA – who then took our findings to various management meetings so that the feedback can be heard, on where NUS is doing well, and where are the areas of improvement,” said Yeap Su Phing, a former OETU secondee and now the Head of Alumni & Connections at NUS College.  “Even if the respondent thinks it is ‘just a minor’ feedback – when repeated often enough by fellow colleagues it becomes an important message for NUS to act upon.”

Since then, the survey has been conducted annually.

2022 results: NUS is perceived as agile by all staff categories

The good news? For three years in a row, NUS has been perceived as agile by its staff. When considering the disruptions that have occurred in recent memory, including a global pandemic that challenged understandings of where and how education and work could be conducted, these results are significant.

In terms of categories, People has consistently ranked as the highest for three years in a row, reflected in the fact that the top five performing questions for 2022 are: “I seek to continuously improve my work” (95% agreement), “I take initiative for my own training needs” (86%), “I am adapting to the changes at NUS” (81%), “My supervisors are supportive of my training needs” (80%) and “I can come up with new ideas at work” (80%).

Importantly, for all years of the survey, more than 80% of NUS staff agreed they are adapting to the changes occurring at the University, and more than 60% agreed that the University is adapting to the rapidly changing environment and competition. 

NUS’ technology systems also received high marks from staff, with more than 70% indicating they found the systems useful and over 60% agreeing they are up-to-date. Moreover, the statement “Our technology systems enable us to be paperless,” saw the largest rise in agreement among all questions, moving from 61% in 2020 to 77% in 2022. 

“The OE journey has effected many significant improvements to policy, systems and processes. As a staff I have felt the enhanced resources, clearer guidelines, changes to ways of work like streamlining and simplifying has made me more productive. NUS is finally catching up with other industries and employers in these areas,” noted one 2022 survey respondent.  

However, results also point to several areas where improvement or further attention is needed.

Among categories, Business Processes has ranked as the lowest for the past two years, with three questions garnering less than 50% agreement this year: “Work processes are streamlined” (40%), “We are not hindered by legacy issues” (40%), and “Overall, it is easy to get things done at NUS” (44%).

Likewise, while staff overwhelmingly indicate their adaptability to the changes occurring, the question was one of only two to see a more than 5% decline since 2020. The other, “With OE changes, NUS is better able to carry out its mission,” fell by 7% points in the same period. These signs of change fatigue were also echoed in the qualitative data, with several respondents voicing concern with the pace and frequency of change, calling for more engagement and transparency.

One 2022 respondent wrote, “While we understand the need for significant changes in structures and organisational reform, there has been inadequate facilitation of discussions and planning...We are proud of the work, research, teaching, and administrative support we provide to the wider community at NUS. But some consistent institutional channels to understand sentiments on the ground rather than a reactive approach would be good.”

Based on such feedback, concerted efforts are being made to engage staff earlier in change initiatives. The Co-Creating the Future of Work project, which calls upon University staff to collectively re-imagine the ideal work community and culture, has been hosting a series of focus group sessions to generate ideas, identify concerns and co-create solutions. Likewise, the Enterprise Contract Management System (ECMS) project team, comprising departments from across the university, recently organised a series of consultations in September to brief users and stakeholders on the system’s proposed framework, as well as to better understand their needs.

Chief Legal Officer Diane Fletcher leading a recent ECMS engagement session to understand user requirements for the upcoming system. 

As OE efforts over the past few years have helped to strengthen the needed “change muscles” to respond to larger transformative challenges ahead, ensuring that staff are involved and understand the imperative and rationale for occurring changes will be a key priority. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that NUS has the flexibility to innovate; sustaining this agility will be a collective effort.

To view the 2022 survey findings, please click here (NUS VPN required).

Do you have your own OE Story to tell? We are inviting submissions of OE efforts across NUS! Please click on this link to find out more about the contribution guidelines and to submit your story.


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