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Work teams praised for providing framework of new human resources system

June 26, 2012 By Greg Bump

Bob Lavigna, UW–Madison’s director of human resources and project lead, said he knew from when the HR Design project first began to take shape about a year ago that the university had an extraordinary opportunity to reshape its human resources system.

What even he did not expect was how arduous the task would be.

“I don’t think any of us knew at the very beginning what to expect,” Lavigna said last week at an event to recognize the contributions from members of 11 work teams to the project. “How enormous the scope of this project would be, how complicated it was going to be and just how much plain hard work it would take.”

About 130 people attended the recognition event at Union South. The work teams’ recommendations can be viewed on the HR Design project’s Web page,

The work teams, which included more than 150 members of the campus community, finalized recommendations that will provide a framework for the redesigned personnel system.

“You and your work have put us in a position to succeed,” Lavigna said, saying the work teams “created a conceptual model” for the new system.

Russell Kutz, who was a member of the Employee Categories work team, said he was impressed by the diversity of experience brought together for the project.

“It was interesting. We had supervisors, HR people, people representing labor. It seemed that everyone was very respectful of each others’ feelings and thoughts,” Kutz said.

“It brought about an atmosphere in which everyone felt they were able to participate and their input was valued,” said Kutz, a microbiologist in the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic lab.

Christine Schlichenmaier, a member of the Employee Development work team, echoed Kutz’s remarks about the inclusiveness of the project.

“One of the tenets of our group was you could speak openly and nobody would dismiss others’ ideas,” said Schlichenmaier, an environmental health specialist with Facilities, Planning and Management.

Karen Schwarz, an administrative program specialist at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, said working on the project was challenging, and sometimes frustrating, and consumed a lot of time. But Schwarz, who served on the Transition and Succession work team, said overall it was an extraordinarily good experience for the campus to go through and the process will pay dividends.

“I’ve been on this campus for eons,” laughed Schwarz, who first came to UW–Madison as a student in 1968.

“It was neat having the opportunity to do something this major with our personnel system,” she said. “I know that everyone took it seriously, and the teams definitely took the feedback from the campus community seriously.”

The campus feedback came through many channels, from large forums to smaller engagements with specific departments, Web chats, surveys, polls and emails. Overall, the project has had more than 50 engagement opportunities.

Kutz said the feedback was a major factor in the Employee Categories work team revising an initial recommendation to combine classified staff with academic staff. The move would have rescinded collective bargaining rights for some classified staff.

“I think it’s very important to listen to the campus community,” he said. “A lot of people told us they wanted to retain their collective bargaining rights. That feedback was very important.”

Future engagement events are in the planning stages, Lavigna said. Members of the campus community can also continue to give feedback by emailing

Next steps for the project involve extensive communication with governance groups and other stakeholders across campus, Lavigna said. The project team, which consists of Lavigna, Mark Walters, director of classified human resources; and Steve Lund, director of the academic personnel office, will synthesize the work team recommendations and the feedback from the communications as they develop policy proposals throughout the summer.

A proposal will be presented to the campus community in September. The final proposal will go before the UW System Board of Regents in December, and to the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations in the spring.