Conference Coverage - NACUBO's 2008 Annual Meeting
Coverage from NACUBO's 2008 Annual Meeting in Chicago
SESSION: HR Excellence Essentials
What competencies should a chief human resources officer possess? What questions can administration leaders ask when evaluating the effectiveness of their institution's HR function? Kathy Hagedorn spoke from experience when offering her thoughts on "Ten Ways to Know You Have a Great Human Resources Department" during NACUBO's 2008 annual meeting in Chicago. Now president of The Hagedorn Institute, she recently retired as vice president of human resources at Saint Louis University. In addition to naming indicators of excellence, Hagedorn shared how to assess the presence of these attributes.
1. Strategic. HR programs, actions, and policies are aligned with the institution's mission, vision, values, and goals.
Ways to know: Does HR actively participate in the institution's strategic and budget planning? Are HR goals woven into these plans, and do HR policies support one or more institution goals?
2. Efficient. Service is prompt, competent, and reliable; compliance standards are met; technology is highly leveraged so that processes are as paperless as possible; and HR staff are not buried by routine transactions.
Ways to know: What do the results of an HR audit, business process reviews, customer satisfaction surveys, and transactional metrics tell you about the department's performance?
3. Trusted. Staff demonstrate integrity and respect for confidentiality; communication is regular and excellent; advice is wise and on-target based on asking the right questions.
Ways to know: Do managers and employees seek the department's advice and assistance? Is confidentiality explained and maintained?
4. Vocal. People issues and strategy are viewed as integral to the institution's success, and HR is known for providing solutions.
Ways to know: Does HR have a seat at the president's table and membership in key university groups? Do units include people strategy in their financial and technical plans?
5. Objective. Staff understand that their function is a management function and that they serve as a conscience for the institution to do the right thing. Staff balance their role as an employee advocate with serving the institution's needs.
Ways to know: Are lawsuits and discrimination charges kept to a minimum? What do surveys indicate about employee satisfaction for how employees are treated? Does evidence indicate that HR staff researches institution policies before vetting responses?
6. Savvy. Staff not only know the business of their own department but also exhibit knowledge about the business of higher education and understand each unit's mission and goals.
Ways to know: Do HR staff get out of the office? Do they possess a strong knowledge of the institution's enrollment, financial, and academic issues and data? Are they effective problem solvers?
7. Forward-thinking. The department serves as a catalyst for change and sets an example in innovation and creative thinking while keeping institutional goals in sight.
Ways to know: Do HR staff facilitate change in other units? Do they assume leadership roles in professional organizations within higher education?
8. Data-driven. The department measures what matters and provides good data for sound decision making.
Ways to know: Are the metrics employed not only transactional or historical but also ones that can forecast change? For instance, are surveys structured to measure true employee engagement versus happiness or satisfaction levels only?
9. Caring. HR staff remain positive and caring during their many interactions with administrators, faculty, staff, and students—some of which include sensitive and painful situations of death or disability.
Ways to know: What do customer surveys and informal feedback suggest regarding how each of these groups feel they are treated?
10. Effective. The HR function builds organizational capacity through supporting a culture of lifelong learning and development for staff, faculty, and administrators and uses a consultative approach with the campus community to help individuals and teams learn from past experiences.
Ways to know: What do measures of retention of key people suggest? What percentage of administrators and staff are in formal training and development programs? Is there evidence of active succession planning throughout the institution?
As for key competencies to look for in a chief human resources officer, Hagedorn noted that even more important than a solid grasp of HR technology and delivery methods are the strategic contributions, business knowledge, and personal credibility that an individual in the top HR spot can bring to the table.
SESSION: Executive Search Pointers
While every executive-level search varies, certain ground rules apply to all. In their annual meeting session in Chicago "The Art of Executive Search: Best Practices for Successful Searches," Long Island University Vice President for Planning Daniel Rodas and Brill Neumann Associates partners Nicholas Brill and Elizabeth Neumann explained some of the finer points of executive search.
Overall, today's recruiting environment poses greater competitive challenges than ever before. In addition to institutions pursuing a more diverse faculty and staff, most higher education jobs continue to increase in their complexity, requiring a greater breadth of skills. Boards and senior leaders have higher expectations, and despite a steeper learning curve, there is often less time allowed for on-the-job training, noted Rodas. Within this market context, institution leaders would do well to bear in mind some important nuances of a good executive-search process.
Be intentional about your approach. One fundamental decision surrounding the search process is whether to keep it in-house versus partnering with an external search firm. Both approaches can work well, though often internal committees underestimate the time required to do the job, said Neumann. For instance, it usually takes six to eight months to complete a senior-level search—and that's if you are moving along at an efficient stride, she added. "Be realistic about the time frame that may be required to get the right person. What is often unforeseen is the great deal of time spent on process-related activities such as scheduling interviews."
Organize and commit. A successful search-and-recruitment strategy includes identifying the hiring authority and clarifying the roles of the search, selection, and screening committees, said Neumann. Likewise, preparing an effective position announcement goes beyond the actual description to decisions about how and where to advertise to reach the right candidates, including those who are outside the higher education community. Preparation is also paramount, noted Neumann. Search committee members must do their homework and commit to studying candidate resumes carefully.
Assess fit. One critical question search committees must address is whether a candidate is a good fit. How well will he or she perform? How effectively can he or she create the change that is needed? Conversations surrounding organizational culture and personal fit are usually the first and final part of the discussion in any search, said Brill. "Once you narrow the candidates based on skill and expertise, it really comes down to who you think will be the best fit."
Identify priorities. Any successful hire must be goal-driven, not merely based on a set of skills. While identifying experiences, capabilities, and personal attributes are important, a common pitfall of any search is failing to clearly identify what a candidate's priorities will be once he or she takes the job, noted Brill. One of the most important things to articulate is the three or five results you want a new candidate to achieve in a significantly short period of time. And these priorities should be clearly communicated to each candidate, added Brill.
Ensure a smooth transition. Always be mindful that you are not done once you make the hire. The successful transition of a candidate is critical in bringing him or her along quickly. So much energy and time go into building the actual network of a search committee that it makes sense to keep those relationships active beyond the conclusion of a search, said Neumann. These same individuals can serve as a great resource to help a candidate transition to his or her new role.
Understand barriers out of your control. Reasons vary for why a candidate declines an offer or does not work out once hired. Some of these are fully out of the institution's control, such as when a family move proves too difficult. In fact, relocation poses challenges on a number of fronts. For many candidates, decisions to make a major move go beyond considerations of children in school to include aging parents, for whom a growing number of workers are assuming responsibility. Likewise, the current real-estate market is making it harder to sell a home without the offer of a generous relocation package, noted Brill.
Engage in succession planning. Something all organizations do have within their control is talent development. Yet, the kind of mentoring and career training present within the corporate world for years still has not caught fire within higher education, said Neumann. While some institutions are doing an impressive job of developing a reservoir of talent ready to move up within the institution, most still are not. Increasingly, strong succession planning will give an institution a key competitive advantage in future hiring by preparing current employees for multiple opportunities that may arise and simultaneously enhancing the overall competencies and performance of the institution.