The University Record, September 19, 1994

Survey provides baseline data to measure improvement in U’s work environment

By Jane R. Elgass

Results of a survey on staff members’ perceptions of the work environment at the University show that the U-M “is polishing the status quo and needs to go beyond that to a ‘surprise and delight’ stage,” says Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr., who also is executive vice president for academic affairs.

Conducted last winter among non-instructional staff, the survey was designed to provide a framework for discussion of a quality environment, provide baseline data for future assessment of the level of quality achieved at the University, and to point out strengths and weaknesses.

Whitaker noted that the survey was needed “to help us make sure the environment here is all that it can be, that people and what they do are respected.”

At a briefing on the survey results last week, Whitaker noted that nearly 4,900 individuals responded to the 190-item survey, which he characterized as a “very credible survey.” The survey was conducted among 10,334 permanent non-instructional staff members (excluding the Hospitals) on the Ann Arbor campus.

The briefing was co-hosted by Whitaker and Farris W. Womack, executive vice president and chief financial officer, and was presented to 50 people who represented a broad mix of administrators, including executive officers, deans and associate deans, faculty leaders, and unit directors.

Marvin Peterson, co-chair of the Work Environment Research Group that conducted the study, noted that the survey “was not an assessment” of the environment and did not seek “satisfied/not satisfied” responses, but rather staff members’ perceptions of the working environment of the University.

The findings “do not show anything tremendously negative, nor overwhelmingly positive,” said Peterson, who is professor of education and director of the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education.

He was joined in the briefing by co-chair Kim Cameron, professor of organizational behavior and human resource management and of higher education.

Cameron pointed to four patterns demonstrated in the analysis of the survey results:

  • The ratings were mostly neutral to slightly positive.

  • Few items received very high or very low responses.

  • Most of the problems were attributed to unit leadership at all levels of the University—from supervisors and managers on up—and University roadblocks.

  • About one-half of the respondents, some 2,500 staff members, offered additional comments.

    Cameron noted that those who make comments on surveys generally feel that in their current environment they “have no say,” or they find that the survey questions do not directly meet their needs. In this instance, however, “the high number of positive comments related to the ‘personal work experience’ theme suggests that staff members have very positive opinions about their own personal work experience at the Univer-

    sity—their interpersonal relationships, co-workers, personal treatment.”

    As the report observes, “staff members appear to be less satisfied with other aspects of the University such as general work environment and compensation issues.”

    The most highly rated items in the survey were service to others, staff performance (people feel good about the competency of staff), and staff relations and development.

    Items that ranked lowest in staff members’ perceptions of the University included:

  • Communication, sharing successes, learning from one another, providing feedback.

  • Recognition and treatment of staff.

  • Morale.

  • The University as a “facilitative” institution.

    Also cited were planing for improvement and unit leadership.

    “In general,” Cameron said, “people feel good about their own competencies and have good relationships with their colleagues, but find that unit leadership at all levels falls short.”

    He described three mindsets that have characterized the evolution of quality approaches in recent years:

  • Quality means eliminating errors and defects to meet the standards of those we serve, relying on inspection, auditing and testing—a very “reactive” approach.

  • Quality means error prevention, the concept of doing it right the first time. This is a more proactive approach, often characterized as “zero defects.” This approach pays attention to processes, to determining how we can deliver something.

  • Quality is seen as an opportunity for proaction and innovation, a way to make those who deal with us better off. This is the “surprise and delight” approach.

    Cameron noted that a “quality culture profile” developed from the survey results shows that there is a fair amount of emphasis placed on the status quo, that the “find and fix, error detection process” dominates the University. Less attention is paid to preventing errors and focusing on processes, and not very many places “are even thinking about embracing” continuous improvement and creative quality.

    A review of the indices of a quality-oriented environment shows the “clear strengths of the University, and the ways in which we are not really doing well, issues that need to be addressed,” Cameron added.

    Noting that the presentation of the survey results “is the most important step,” Cameron said “it would be a waste of time unless something is done.” He suggested creation of a series of task forces that would address:

  • Training for leadership at all levels, from supervisors and managers on up, and identification of role models.

  • The appropriate organizational culture in which to effect change.

  • Broad-based training of staff at all levels.

  • Development of reward and recognition programs.

  • Development of an environment that would facilitate the infusion of quality in daily life.

  • Involvement and empowerment of staff.

  • Benchmarking.

    Womack noted that business and finance units already have reviewed the survey results and found them to be an “excellent tool to identify the direction in which we should go.”

    “The survey identified areas of concern, and we expected that.”

    Womack also noted that a letter will be sent to staff members in the near future, thanking them for their interest and participation in the survey, and summarizing some of the findings.

    Other members of the Work Environment Research Group are Melinda Spencer, Jake Julia, and Brad Winn, all graduate students in the School of Education.

    Information on the availability of copies of the report will be included in the letter and published in the Record.