La Trobe's culture director reveals transformed HR strategy

'People, culture, wellness, capability building must be central to all you shape, design and do'

La Trobe's culture director reveals transformed HR strategy

There are key words and philosophies that routinely pop up when Zemeel Saba discusses La Trobe University’s human resources strategy.

“People”, “culture, wellness” and “capability building” are vital pillars.

The “here and now” needs of the university are also crucial.

“People, culture, wellness, capability building must be central to all you shape, design and do,” Saba, La Trobe’s director of culture, leadership and capability, told HRD.

“No matter where your organisation is at due to COVID-19 - now, more than ever is the opportunity for HR to partner with businesses to design strategies and programs that are fit for purpose with culture at the heart for the future.

“You may not have dollars – but you do have culture.”

The higher education sector has been significantly impacted by COVID-19.

The pandemic urgently required La Trobe to rethink its future to manage an expected downturn in revenue in the short-medium term.

The university’s strategic plan was set to expire in 2022 and it would be normal practice to commence revising the plan next year. La Trobe accelerated the process and last month released its 2020-2030 strategic plan.

The HR team also adapted to the new environment.

“HR has needed to completely transform itself and respond to the ‘here and now’ needs of the university – and in 2021 and beyond as we moved from a growth position to downsizing and being a more focused university,” Saba said.

“We abandoned the 2018-2022 HR Plan and designed a Workforce Strategy that was fit for purpose with the newly endorsed La Trobe strategy reset and a range of plans that would focus on the university of the future.

“We designed a range of HR ‘here and now’ programs focusing on change, culture wellness and physical and psychological safety in a virtual environment and a health and wellbeing portal to help all staff regardless of whether they were leaving La Trobe or remaining.”

Saba says her advice to other HR directors rolling out new programs is to stay connected with stakeholders, partners and customers, listen to their here and now needs and be agile in the design of suitable programs.

“Mental health and wellbeing are now central and integrated into every program that HR is delivering during these difficult times,” she said.

Saba also notes the importance of listening to staff, providing programs and support centred on wellness, resilience and embracing change in a timely manner.

“HR needs to be more agile than ever, so look at how HR is currently delivering services and consider a taskforce/concierge approach,” she said.

“This really helps from a HR brand perspective.

“Now, more than ever take a future focus as this soon will pass.

“Yes, design and deliver for now – whilst working with your organisation quickly to be strategically ready for 2021-2023.”

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