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Lavigna answers common questions about HR Design

November 20, 2014 By Greg Bump

If attendance at recent information sessions is any indication, interest in the HR Design project is increasing.

Project leaders have held quarterly information and engagement sessions for the last three years, making sure to provide opportunities to participate for employees who speak English as their second language, as well as second- and third-shift employees.

The three sessions held in late October and early November included breakout sessions on several different topic areas. A total of 882 employees attended the three sessions, a 37 percent increase over attendance for the June sessions.

The revamped human resources system was scheduled to be implemented on July 1, 2013, but was pushed back two years by state legislators. But Bob Lavigna, UW–Madison director of human resources, says work on some aspects of the project has been continuous despite the delay. And HR Design is on schedule for implementation of key components on July 1, 2015 — the date the university will no longer be governed by most state personnel rules.

“We are working hard on policies and training programs around key areas like recruiting and hiring, performance management, new employee onboarding, and employee rights, and are also working closely with governance groups on these new policies,” Lavigna says.

Lavigna is responding to questions commonly asked at the sessions, and dispels some myths about what HR Design will or will not do. For more information on HR Design, go to

Where is campus in terms of implementation of HR Design?

We are on schedule, particularly for those components we are statutorily required to implement on July 1, 2015. We are working hard in each of these areas. We actually are moving forward on more than 20 different components of HR Design but in particular, we are focusing on the areas currently governed by the Office of State Employment Relations, such as hiring; additional compensation flexibility (including the living wage); and employee grievance, probation, and layoff policies.

We have teams working in each of these areas, and we’re also working closely with our shared governance groups, including engaging in very productive conversations about draft policies. We feel confident we will meet the statutory deadline. In each case, we’re developing detailed policies to implement the provisions of the HR Design Strategic Plan, which has been approved by governance groups, campus administration, and the Board of Regents.

There are also HR areas that we’re not statutorily required to implement, but are also moving forward on. These include performance management, new employee onboarding, and workplace flexibility. As we’ve been saying from the beginning of this process, we consider HR Design to be a unique opportunity not just to focus on what we’re statutorily required to implement, but to look at — and redesign — our entire system of talent attraction, development and retention.

What are some of the most commonly asked questions you heard at the recent series of forums?

We had excellent turnout for these sessions. We’ve had good turnout all along, but it was especially strong this time. At these sessions, we tried to focus more on how the HR changes will specifically affect our colleagues across the campus. They’ve been hearing about this new system for a couple of years now, but as we move toward the July 1 deadline, it’s important that we make it clear to people how it will directly affect them.

We were asked questions about the choice process, which will provide classified exempt (salaried) employees the option to move into academic staff positions after the July 1 deadline. There is still some confusion about which employees this will apply to (there are about 1,500 employees who will be able to choose), when they’ll have this choice, how will they know what the impacts of the choice will be, and whether there will be a deadline for decisions. At each forum, we held a breakout session dedicated to just this process. If the employees who attended didn’t know whether they’d be affected, we had a list of each exempt classified employee.

One important point we want people to understand is that we will provide one-on-one counseling on the impacts of moving to academic staff for all employees who will be eligible to choose.

There were also questions about the living wage. Right now, there are about 750 employees on our campus who still make less than the living wage (as determined by the City of Madison), which will increase in January from $12.45 per hour to $12.60. Because we are limited right now by the state compensation plan, we cannot raise the wages of all of these employees to the living wage level. However, we are still committed, and our administration has made a financial commitment, to increase the wages of those colleagues on July 1, 2015.

But then there were also related questions about wage “compression.” For example, if a supervisor makes one dollar an hour more than someone who is below the living wage, when we move the employee’s wage up to the living wage, will the supervisor’s wages be adjusted upward as well? Our answer is that we recognize this compression problem and are assessing how to resolve it. It’s unlikely, however, that we’re going to be able to match dollar-for-dollar for everyone up the whole chain.

Some forum attendees had questions about benefits, including how the (exempt classified) choice process will affect benefits. There also continue to be questions about whether we are going to create a single benefits system for all employees, including merging the different leave accrual rates for classified and unclassified employees. The answer is no, we are not going to do this on July 1. It’s important for the campus to understand that even after July 1, we will all still be state employees and will remain in key state benefit programs including state health insurance and retirement.

Related questions also came up about the planned job title and compensation study — when it will occur, what it will cover, how long it will take, what the process is going to be, and which employee groups will be covered. Right now, we are beginning to plan the study, which will likely take 12-24 months. Our plans include analyzing the benefits programs that the university controls.

Several of our trades employee (we have about 300 trades employees and they have some different benefit provisions from other employees) asked what will happen to their benefits. Trades is the only union that is currently certified to bargain, so these employees also want to know whether we will be negotiating with them, and what will happen with prevailing wage their pay is pegged to. We anticipate that, as of July 1, we will be able to bargain directly with unions that are certified, and we will include an assessment of trades’ benefits programs in the job title and condensation study.

Forum attendees also asked about the new performance management policy, including how it will directly affect them, and what will be done to ensure supervisors understand their roles. We recognize that our new policy, which will require an annual performance evaluation for all employees, will be a cultural change for some campus units. In addition to the new policy itself, we will also be rolling out new training programs on performance management/evaluation. In addition, the draft policy includes a provision that any supervisor who doesn’t do his or her performance evaluations will not be eligible for any merit-based or general wage increases.

What are some of the misconceptions about HR Design that you’ve been hearing?

There are a couple of rumors that we explicitly addressed at the forums, including a rumor that we are going to require classified employees to reapply for their jobs after July 1, 2015. This is absolutely, unequivocally, not true. I don’t know where that came from, or why anybody would ever think we would want to do something like this. We have more than 5,000 classified employees who perform critically important work. Beyond the administrative nightmare something like this would create, it would also be a tremendous slap in the face to all of our classified employees, the same people we’re trying to help through the living wage, the new classified governance structure, and several other changes.

So that is one rumor. Another is that we are going to change the benefits structure as of July 1. As I said earlier, we are not going to do anything with benefits on July 1; we are going to include an analysis of benefits in the larger job title and compensation study. One of the HR Design work teams did initially suggest that we unify some of our benefits (i.e., classified and unclassified employees have some different benefits programs including different leave accrual rates) when we implement the HR Design changes. However, this is complicated and we want to approach any changes in a thoughtful way, so we’re not making any benefits changes on July 1.

Another question was about the sick leave conversion credit that employees can use to pay for health insurance after they retire. Is this going away? I emphasized that the university can’t — and won’t — do anything to change this important benefit. That’s the legislature’s purview.

Another misconception is that HR Design is only going to apply to classified employees. We’ve been saying all along that this new HR system will affect everyone on this campus. Now, it’s true that a lot of the policies that are going to change apply to classified employees. But in areas such as hiring, performance management, new employee onboarding and workplace flexibility, changes will apply to the entire campus. In addition, as we create new policies for classified employee grievances, probation and layoffs, even though these policies may apply to university staff employees (on July 1, “classified” staff will become “university” staff), many of these employees work with unclassified staff (e.g., supervisors), and therefore the new policies will affect unclassified employees too. We will continue to emphasize this important point.

We are also trying to do some expectation setting about what will occur on July 1. While many changes will go into effect on this date, HR Design is a long-term strategy. So, for example, we will not have an entirely new job title and compensation system on July 1. This is something we will roll out over time, and changes will be largely influenced by the job title and compensation study.