Transforming the HR Service Model
Editor’s note: In fall 2009 the University of Georgia (UGA) was among seven colleges and universities selected to participate in NACUBO’s Challenge 2010. Grant funding by Lumina Foundation for Education covered the travel, training, and consulting expenses of participating institutions to learn about and apply the Baldrige/Excellence in Higher Education methodology to strengthen existing practices, launch new programs, and change organizational culture. UGA used the funding to help develop, document, and deliver its new 360 Personal Financial Consultation service to employees and retirees. The university’s 360PFC and its newly structured HR services model is the focus of this article.
“I’m new to the university. How do I know which benefit choices are best for me and my family?”
“My retirement savings tanked during the past three years. What should I do now?”
“I am having a problem staying within my personal budget. Is there anyone who can help me?”
“I’m about to get married and buy a house. What should I change to meet my needs and maximize my paycheck?”
At the University of Georgia, faculty, staff members, and retirees can visit the Financial Management and Education Center to seek advice on these questions and much more pertaining to a range of life management decisions. As part of UGA’s revamped HR division, the FMEC helps clients not only examine their use of the university’s benefits products, but also assess personal financial circumstances, including a review of their external assets and debts to establish financial needs and goals. (It has been UGA’s experience that when we use the term client, the expectations for our services are higher, and we intend to deliver.)
Part of the premise behind our development of the FMEC is that many employees are so busy, they often don’t feel they have time to attend to some of their personal and financial life management issues, explains Tom Gausvik, UGA’s associate vice president for human resources. “We believe if we provide a high-touch service that takes into account a person’s comprehensive financial well-being, then we will have a more productive, confident, stable, and happier employee,” says Gausvik. “This service builds career-long relationships with each person all the way into retirement and shows we care.” The free service is one of a number of new components that illustrate how a human resources operation can raise the bar to meet the needs of its workforce, adds Gausvik.
A People- and Organization-Focused HR
As background, UGA is a public land grant and sea grant research institution with 35,000 students (4,000 of whom are enrolled in UGA-provided student health insurance); 10,000 benefits-eligible faculty and staff; 6,000 temporary employees; and 5,000 retirees. UGA’s HR division, with a staff of only 34 employees, provides a variety of services to its 25,000 clients. Considering the benefits-eligible faculty and staff population alone, the ratio of HR staff to clients is 1:294, which is among the highest ratios compared to our peer institutions nationally. As such, we are continually rethinking and reinventing how to best serve our faculty, staff, retiree, and student constituencies.
In the traditional sense, human resources departments are often viewed as compliance offices and paperwork repositories. Over the course of the past four years, UGA HR has completely transitioned from a transactional organization to a people-and-organizational-services model, offering new and innovative services relevant to the needs of clients. Our new model incorporates high-touch, high-impact, and high-level services that reach well beyond and outside the typical functions associated with HR operations. “We have taken the traditional, normal, and conventional HR to the landfill,” says Gausvik.
For instance, UGA has eliminated, decentralized, automated, outsourced, or streamlined many of its transactional and traditional operations in order to focus on more relevant needs of our campus community. By outsourcing benefits enrollment, employment verifications, the I-9 process, and other largely transactional processes, UGA’s HR unit has been freed up to develop and implement its new 21st century people-and-organizational-services model. While we continue to provide customer support for hiring, benefits enrollment, compensation, and record keeping, the processes themselves are electronic, automated, or decentralized to university departments. This transition entailed updating the skill sets of our internal HR staff to focus on a new set of higher-level services.
Our new HR model includes five professional practice service areas, including the FMEC. (See sidebar, “UGA’s High-Level, High-Touch HR Service Model.”) In addition to providing the traditional services of most benefit offices on university campuses, we offer a 360 Personal Financial Consultation (360PFC) that focuses on the financial life management decisions of faculty and staff throughout their careers, including retirement.
The FMEC 360 Personal Financial Consultation
As a central component of UGA’s new HR service model, we developed an innovative concept for conducting personal financial consultations to help faculty, staff, and retirees assess their personal financial circumstances and navigate a range of complex financial and life decisions. UGA HR funded the development and implementation of the 360PFC largely from existing internal resources. In a nutshell, the 360PFC is a holistic “whole person” approach that aims to provide individuals with a full financial health and wellness assessment. It was first introduced as a pilot in September 2009 to a group of top UGA administrators and was met with overwhelmingly positive feedback.
Currently, UGA HR is in the process of reaching out to all its benefits-eligible faculty and staff members. Our goal is to conduct a 360 consultation for all benefits-eligible employees over a five-year period, requiring a pace of completing approximately 1,500 consultations each year. For these numbers to work, UGA HR anticipates that approximately 25 percent of employees will likely decline a 360PFC appointment. In addition, while retiree appointments will be offered to some 5,000 retirees, we anticipate that only 25 percent (1,250 retirees, or 250 per year) will actually take advantage of the free consultation. These numbers are estimates, but they appear to be on track. During the past six months, approximately 750 consultations have already been conducted. At some point, additional consultants may be trained to handle the growing numbers of faculty, staff, and retiree consultations.
How the 360PFC is communicated. UGA HR has taken a novel approach to building its new HR organization, including the FMEC and the 360PFC. We describe it as our Field of Dreams approach (a takeoff from the popular movie by that name). We believe that if we develop a truly great product, employees will come and take advantage of what we offer.In line with our high-touch philosophy, we personally invite individual faculty and staff members via phone and e-mail to participate in a 360 session. As part of the invitation, an FMEC consultant answers any initial questions and schedules an appointment at the client’s convenience. “The high-touch treatment creates an exceptional experience, which is a critical part of the process,” says Gausvik. “We want our clients to feel they are walking on a red carpet.”
HR communicated the new 360PFC service in a controlled manner to best ensure success without being overwhelmed by customer demand. After our initial pilot group of top administrators, we began inviting individuals from various departments, schools, and colleges on campus to participate. The rollout has gone better than expected. Within each target group, satisfied customers have become communicators to their peers, creating additional word-of-mouth appointments. For most new hires and current employees, this service is not only an unexpected and surprising component of HR, but it is helping us to change the perception of HR from a paper-transacting entity to a full-service financial management organization focused on the needs of its people.
What happens in a 360PFC? Spouses or partners are welcome to attend a client’s consultation, which lasts approximately one hour. During the session, consultants discuss a range of issues that may include helping clients identify gaps in benefits, determining life insurance needs or the level of savings required to have on hand for purchasing a house, or deciding whether an update is needed to the client’s will. After the initial consultation, most clients want to schedule a follow-up appointment to bring information about their personal financial affairs, including information about assets and debts. Ultimately, the client leaves with a personal action plan based on the information discussed during their consultation. (HR retains no personal client information unless requested to do so by the client.)
After each consultation, clients also receive a personalized “thank you” letter and a customer survey. The letter addresses the importance of their feedback and how it will help UGA HR continuously improve its services. The survey includes questions about consultant professionalism, whether clients took any action following the meeting, and what could be improved, changed, or added to the consultation to make it more relevant. Clients are also asked to provide an overall rating of their 360PFC experience.
Financial advice. To bring the concept of FMEC and our new HR paradigm to fruition, two individuals were hired with 25 years of cumulative experience in the field of financial advising. They work in conjunction with the defined contribution plan vendors to assist faculty and staff members with their retirement savings needs and planning. These vendors are considered partners in the FMEC operation. In an unusual move, UGA HR hosts the vendors nearly full time in on-site offices, so university faculty and staff can conveniently meet with the vendors on campus. As part of the service, FMEC staff can schedule vendor appointments with faculty and staff.
Regarding liability, FMEC consultants do not claim to perform financial planning in the 360PFC. We offer advice and assistance, lay out options for consideration, and then guide clients to experts such as our retirement vendors. “Do we have the expertise on staff to do retirement planning and select a diversified portfolio of funds for our clients? Yes, but we don’t provide that service. We don’t have to, because our vendors are on site and readily available,” explains Gausvik.
Reaction to the 360PFC. Both anecdotally and statistically, the response from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. With regard to our post-consultation survey, the results based on a whopping 75 percent rate of the approximately 750 360PFCs that we have conducted so far this calendar year indicate an average rating of 8.72 on a scale of 1 to 10. (We consider anything less than an average rating of 8 to be unacceptable.) Client comments have expressed surprise regarding the depth of knowledge and the broad scope of review provided by consultants and amazement that this is a free service. Some have also noted that participation in the 360 review has contributed to their job satisfaction and eagerness to stay at UGA, and some supervisors are encouraging their employees to participate as part of their professional development. The pace of requests for consultations is growing exponentially as clients share their experiences.
Fine-Tuning UGA’s Service
As the journey continues within FMEC, and as we continue to conduct 360PFCs in a steady progression, our consultants often experience situations that support the need for our new people and organizational services model. For instance, while many of us may believe that younger faculty and staff members are not saving enough for retirement, and that older and wiser employees have all the answers and are ready to face all of retirement’s financial challenges, our FMEC consultants are continuously reminded that each employee is unique, with individual needs and circumstances. We cannot group employees together by salary, job title, and so forth, and expect all consultations to produce the same list of employee needs. Although our consultations include a retirement planning component, we also find that many individuals find benefit selection to be a confusing task and do not take the time needed to make educated choices concerning their health, life, and disability insurance products. UGA faculty and staff are pleased to have a new and innovative HR service model that offers them a continuous financial life management review throughout their careers.
Lydia Lanier is senior managing director for UGA’s Financial Management and Education Center. E-mail: email@example.com.
Tom Gausvik is associate vice president for UGA’s Human Resources Division. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
UGA's High-Level, High-Touch HR Service Model
UGA's revamped HR services model spans five service groups, with two more in the pipeline.
1. Executive and Faculty Search Group operates as a professional in-house recruiting firm for the highest-level positions within the university. The EFSG is run by five individuals who are skilled at providing the ultimate in customer service to all candidates in the search process. EFSG provides organizational and administrative support for each search, ongoing guidance for the search committees, and assistance with on-boarding new hires. EFSG has completed approximately 50 successful searches of top-level faculty and administrators since its inception in 2006. The hiring department pays a flat fee plus candidate travel and other expenses.
2. Financial Management and Education Center provides the traditional services of most benefit offices on university campuses. We also offer a 360 Personal Financial Consultation (360PFC) that focuses on the financial life management decisions of faculty and staff throughout their careers, including retirement. A staff of 13 provides the full range of FMEC services, from answering basic benefits questions to conducting consultations.
3. People and Organizational Excellence Team is designed to improve the overall productivity, life, and health of major units within the university. Launched in July 2010, POET is still a relatively new professional practice team in HR, consisting of six individuals plus adjunct consultants. Although POET customizes each engagement based on the needs of the requesting organization, most engagements include components of personal and organizational accountability, plus leadership examination and development. Clients pay a fee to cover material and consultant costs. Fees are determined based on the scope, breadth, and depth of the client-engagement, but are far less than what an organization would be pay if it engaged an external consulting firm.
4. Faculty and Staff Relations Team provides guidance to employees and their supervisors in work-related issues. The two-person FSRT handles individual issues brought forward by supervisors and/or employees due to some type of workplace conflict. The team offers guidance and assistance based on state law, university system regulations, and UGA policies and procedures.
5. Human Resource Development Center offers strategic leadership development. While HRDC is a small two-person unit, it provides ongoing professional development for the UGA workforce, with primary emphasis on delivery through an e-learning platform. The center has created a leadership e-series program that focuses on personal leadership development, personal and organizational accountability, and data-driven decision making. The model combines online learning, facilitated discussion, and classroom instruction for supervisors and non-supervisors alike, with fees based on cost recovery plus a fee (substantially under market) to keep the program sustainable.
A new unit, Quest for Excellence Coaching Team (Q4ECT), is being implemented, and will hit its stride in fall 2011 to focus on the “whole person and leader.” UGA's Leader Coaching Model is designed to improve horizontal/vertical development (e.g., leadership maturity, effectiveness, and self-actualization). Seven individuals in HR will be part of the Q4ECT: the associate vice president, two HR deputies, and the four members of POET. Several others within UGA may join the coaching team as it increases in capability and capacity. A fee and non-fee structure will be established.
Another new unit we are in the process of fully rolling out is our Strategic Talent Alignment and Retention Team, which focuses on assisting organizations in achieving their “right focus” (vision, mission, goals, and objectives), their “right form” (organizational hierarchy and structure), and their “right fit” (roles, positions, and people). START is completing its first client-engagement and will be a fee-based service.
For additional reading, several recent resources capture UGA’s philosophy and support the kind of HR transformation we have embraced:
- "HR Fiddles While Organizations Burn," by Margaret Morford, Human Resource Executive Online, July 2011.
- "HR is Dead: Long Live Employee Experience,” a white paper by Razor Suleman and Kris Dunn.
—Lydia Lanier and Tom Gausvik