Leading the Way:
A Culture Change Journey at Western Sydney University

Industry: Education

Western Sydney University is a thriving institution comprising 13 campuses across Sydney. WSU educates and empowers over 60,000 students, offering a diverse range of programs taught by over 1,500 dedicated faculty members. 


new, clearly-defined values to drive organisational alignment and behaviour
increase in ability to effectively give and receive feedback
increase in leaders’ capability to navigate their team through change

Due to The Culture Equation’s Greater Collective leadership program, WSU Student Experience & Marketing (SEM) department successfully transitioned from the traditional, hierarchical, risk-averse, and isolated culture into one that is dynamic, collaborative, and student-centric.

This transformation ultimately led to a high-performance, innovative, and student-centred culture that has become a hallmark of their operations, resulting in being awarded the highly-coveted Brandon Hall Award in Talent Management. 

The Challenge

The SEM team faced a multitude of cultural challenges, stemming from a deeply entrenched poor performance culture and two contrasting departmental cultures ; institutional versus customer-centric.

Further, a core challenge arose in the initial reluctance from the wider University community to embrace SEM’s culture transformation, bolstering resistance to meaningful and lasting cultural change.

The Opportunity

SEM presented a crucial opportunity, with the potential to drive change not only within their team but also across the entire University. We realised the chance for SEM to serve as a catalyst for broader cultural change, fostering a progressive and innovative subculture that could influence positive transformations throughout the institution.

What we did

Built a World Class Leadership Team
Conducted a leadership program which prioritised team alignment, data analysis, psychological safety, and skill development.
Defined Values
Designed Values and Purpose that aligned with SEM’s vision, defined through a unified communication plan, and team involvement in defining and integrating values into the employee lifecycle.
Drove Accountability
An Upward Feedback Survey identified high-performing managers for peer training and supported struggling ones, fostering leadership development and open discussions.
Embedded Day-to-Day Culture Initiatives
Co-creating SEM traditions such as "Mega Zooms," coaching, and peer-led efforts by ‘Culture Change Champions’.


Witnessing pre-existing biases and assumptions dissipate during team-building leadership programs, resulting in greater psychological safety and team cohesion.
Co-developing a unified communication plan, so that leaders embedded values with one harmonious voice.
Two-day leadership retreat, allowing leaders to better understand themselves and their leadership style through engaging, fun and unconventional sessions.
According to the team, ground staff have demonstrated a new thirst for learning, ownership and buy-in. There has been a greater sense of being a “team”, with a focus on helping out peers, and a culture of care and support for students.
“The result has been cultural change at many levels, resulting in a more collaborative, dynamic and engaged workforce. Improved employee empowerment, development and satisfaction is enabling greater innovation and improved student experience outcomes; the ultimate test of our cultural success.”
Michael Burgess | Chief Student Experience Officer, WSU