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HR Design Project work teams focus on refining the system, seek campus input

February 23, 2012 By Greg Bump

Taking a system that is more than 150 years in the making back to the drawing board is a massive assignment.

But that’s exactly what the members of 11 work teams plowing their way through the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s labyrinthine human resources system have been asked to do as part of the HR Design Project.

The opportunity to reform the university’s HR system into one that serves the needs of a 21st century research and higher education institution came about through the state budget bill passed in 2011. The flexibilities granted in the budget bill allow UW–Madison to design an HR structure separate from both the state and the rest of the University of Wisconsin System.

Seven work teams, covering a wide array of HR facets, have been working since the beginning of the year and are due to make recommendations at the end of next month. Four more teams kicked off early in February and will offer their recommendations a month later.

In the first phase teams have reviewed the current state of HR on our campus, and have defined the scope of their work. Now, they are collecting feedback from the campus community in the form of surveys, online polls at the project’s Web site, Web chats in which faculty and staff can ask questions of project leaders, and campus-wide forums that will take place next week.

The first forum is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, in the Plenary Room at Grainger Hall. The following day, a second forum is set for 2 p.m. in the Ebling Symposium Center at the Microbial Sciences Building. There are also plans to hold a third forum in the evening for those employees working later shifts. The date and time of that forum will be announced.

The second forum, on Feb. 29, will be streamed live. Each forum is scheduled to last 90 minutes.

In addition, a second Web chat with project leaders will be held today (Thursday, Feb. 23) at 2 p.m. For more information, visit here.

Dan Langer, associate dean in the School of Business who is leading the project’s Compensation Work Team, says the engagement opportunities are welcomed.

“People across campus are waiting to get more information before they can give information,” Langer says. “They want to understand more.”

Langer said his team is looking at what drives compensation, how current compensation varies across the workforce, and how it is used to reward employees.

“This is still a work in progress,” says Langer. “I’d say in terms of positives we’ve got a very engaged and very good team that represents a cross-section” of the campus community.

Tom Hogan, who leads the Titling Team, says his group spent several meetings just getting a handle on the many job titles used at the university. The team has found some redundancy and overlap in titles.

“It’s not just as simple as saying we’re going to combine this title and that title,” says Hogan, who is HR director at the Wisconsin Union. “The next challenge is that our work on job titles is inextricably tied to the work of the Employee Categories and Compensation teams.”

Like Langer, Hogan is hoping to get ideas and input from the campus community in the upcoming forums.

Barb Lanser, who is leading the Benefits Work Team, said the work team is currently concentrating on leave, with an emphasis on sick leave and vacation.

Lanser, disability coordinator/employment in the Office for Equity and Diversity, says the team spent a good deal of time familiarizing itself with how vacation and sick leave benefits vary among different types of employees.

Lanser said results from the online polls at the HR Design home page, plus comments from Web chats and from surveys are being gathered and considered by her Benefits team.

Jennifer Sheridan, research director in the College of Engineering, says the Diverse Workforce Team she leads is approaching its task with the belief that diversity and equity concerns “should be embedded in the fabric of everything we do.” Her team is collaborating on this principle with other teams.

“Fortunately, all of the other teams also are eager to ensure that the processes they are examining support diversity of and equity among UW–Madison employees,” Sheridan says. “Every aspect of a human resource system has implications for the diversity and equity of the workforce.”

Elizabeth Bolt, who is leading the Employee Categories Team, said its focus has been developing groups of jobs with common characteristics, identifying the unique roles within each grouping, and understanding how any proposed changes will affect employees in the short and long term.

“We think that our work has implications for several other work teams such as titling, compensation and competencies and so have tried to provide information as available to check in,” Bolt, associate dean for administrative affairs at the School of Medicine and Public Health, says. “We expect that we will do much more of that in the next several weeks.”

Nancy Graff Schultz, Recruitment and Assessment Team Lead, says her group is focused on refining methods to attract diverse and well-qualified candidates, streamlining the recruitment process, and identifying user-friendly assessment tools.

“Currently we have little consistency on campus for how we recruit and assess candidates,” Graff Schultz says. “We’re focused on giving people more defined guidelines rather than leaving everyone to their own devices.”

Graff Schultz echoes the sentiments of many team members when she says one of the biggest challenges has been developing principles that address the needs of the very diverse units across the campus.

“We’re a city within a city,” she says.

James Gray, a training officer in the Office of Human Resource Development, says the Competencies Work Team he leads is studying how other institutions, public and private, use competency-based approaches in HR management.

“The biggest challenge the team and team members have is finding the time to focus on HR design in light of other competing job duties,” Gray says. “Having said this, however, team members have been engaged and committed to the goals of the team and completing tasks that move the work of the team.”