The University Record, February 18, 2002

HR/AA retools for unit partnerships

By David Reid
HR Communications

Partnership was the theme that echoed through the day when the five Human Resources (HR) design teams responsible for the reorganization of HR at the University met recently. With planning already under way for more than five months, this was the first “road test” of the new model to deliver HR services to the whole University community.

More than 50 representatives from Central HR (or Core HR) and several business and academic units used role-play scenarios to test the new delivery methods. The new plan involves sharing some of the HR responsibilities that now reside primarily in Central HR with units across all campuses.

“The decentralized system is a collaborative approach to human resources, and one that can provide greater flexibility and efficiencies to the units,” says Barbara Butterfield, associate vice president and chief HR officer. She notes that major research universities like U-M typically spend up to 60 percent of their entire budget allocation on salaries and benefits. “That’s a clear investment in human capital. Why would we not want to nurture such an important investment?” says Butterfield.

Sharing resources and responsibilities between Core HR and Unit HR will create a partnership where the combined HR team understands the unique needs of the unit they serve, says Butterfield. “One size simply doesn’t fit all. There are many advantages that the organization can realize by enhancing partnerships, not to mention the way it can make careers more collaborative and fulfilling for the people doing the work,” she says.

“With Core and Unit HR as partners, we will no longer respond to the departure of a staff or faculty member with only a reactive search to recruit a replacement,” she says. “Instead, Unit and Core HR will also work together toward recruitment and retention plans built around a total rewards philosophy that can be custom developed for a particular unit’s needs and specific markets.”

Based on the theories of David Ulrich, professor of business administration and director of HR Executive Programs, this is the first application of the “new HR” in a large university environment. “This is an important and exciting change in human resources, and the key is helping everyone involved understand the theory and set high standards,” says Ulrich.

The model focuses on the delivery of services through partnership rather than the administrative duties that HR professionals typically have been known for in the past. Ulrich contends that delivering services in the way that is most meaningful to the end-user is the best way to add real, tangible value to any organization. “When people are given the opportunity to contribute to this goal in a meaningful way, they respond,” says Ulrich.

The linchpin to the partnership is a service agreement developed cooperatively by the Unit HR consultant and the Core HR consultant. A comprehensive “menu” of HR services will help guide their discussion to determine which HR services are needed for that particular unit and who should be responsible for delivery of a specific service. Certain responsibilities, like union bargaining, always will need to remain in central HR, but current thinking is that 80 percent of responsibilities can be shared.

“This process will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary,” says Phil Smith, director of human resources and affirmative action Consulting Services and strategy manager for the transformation project. “We’ll start with a small group of pilot units who want to participate in the process early and help shape it.”

Rather than organize HR staff into silos of responsibility with very limited scope, more comprehensive centers will be established, grouping areas of expertise that interrelate in a logical way.

“The new Strategic Staffing Center, for example, will focus less on the processing of employment applications and appointments than the Office of Employment and Executive Services currently does,” says Cindy Kabza, director of employment and executive services and leader of the Centers of Expertise design team. “The vision for this Center includes a shift in effort toward strategic staffing that includes assisting units in proactive human resource planning, recruiting and developing excellent, diverse pools of applicants, and assisting staff members with University career development through specialized training programs.”

In the new system, the physical location of staff and departments matters less than grouping colleagues together by expertise to work cooperatively and deliver more services. For example, one center will include both benefits and compensation experts with responsibilities that include advising the University on compensation philosophy and practice, assuring regulatory compliance, and helping units develop compensation programs tailored to their unique needs.

“The fact is that some employees will be more successful working in new locations based on the new structure, and for others work location will not change,” says Kabza.