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PPSA/A-3 Assembly
Summary of the Joint Session

Over 300 staff members attended the February 26 joint meeting of the Penn Professional Staff Assembly and the A-3 Assembly, moderated by Chairs James H. Bean of PPSA and Donna Arthur of A-3 Assemlby. Three speakers emphasized staff development and changes being made in the culture of Penn as a workplace. Below are some highlights of the three presentations made. -- Ed.

For Penn Staff at All Levels: Some Notes on the Future

From EVP John Fry, Some Pressures and Projections

Starting with "what Penn can do to be a better employer," Executive Vice President listed two overall things: facilitate the professional growth and development of its employees, and create a better quality of life in the workplace.

He described a series of forums he held last year with randomly selected groups of employees from all schools and centers, and from various categories of employees--eight sessions averaging about 25 people each. From these, plus other consultations with leaders of organizations such as PPSA, A-3 Assembly, and the African American Association, the themes that emerged were that:

  • Penn does not have unlimited resources and people understand that, but they also want more consultation and more communication prior to the making of changes. "I'm here to tell you that I've heard that, we know we can improve, and we're determined to do that," he said.
  • While Penn can "no longer guarantee employment for its staff over their full careers," it can do better in three areas:
  1. It can commit to the professional growth of all employees, so they can find real career ladders at Penn or be more employable in other contexts and other industries. This should be "structured and meaningful," not just random training courses that people might attend.
  2. It can make positive changes in the work environment and try to create greater flexibility for employees to manage the home and worklife balance.
  3. It can recognize and reward people: "There are some extraordinary things happening here--happening because of our employees and for no other reason. We don't do enough to systematically and meaningfully reward and promote the people who are doing the best work."

These goals are to supplement existing priorities, he added. "There is no change of priorities; there have always been three priorities since I've arrived here." He detailed them:

(a) aggressively manage administrative organizations and processes with an emphasis on cost avoidance, cost reduction and revenue enhancement;

(b) significantly enhance the quality of life on and off campus, both to retain faculty and staff and to attract and retain students; and

(c) identify and mitigate "management and reputational risks."

Mr. Fry predicted that higher education as an industry will undergo a "sea change" in the next decade comparable to the one health care is undergoing now-with increased scrutiny on costs and a fight for market share. Penn's health system is managed admirably in the face of a lot of pressure, he said. "I think higher education, and in particular the big visible universities, are going to be called upon to do the very same thing." As evidence that "an emerging set of price wars" might break out, he noted that six Ivy League universities so far have announced 1998-99 increases in total undergraduate charges (tuition, fees, room and board), and they are:

Harvard 3.5%,
Cornell 4.5%,
Princeton 3.7%
Yale 2.9%,
Dartmouth 3.9% and
Brown 3.9 %.

Columbia's increase is awaited, and Penn's will be announced on March 20 at the Trustees Executive Committee meeting.

"Clearly the days of double-digit tuition and fee increases are gone. Places like Yale at 2.9% and Princeton at 3.7% are really pushing down those charges, he said. "They can do this more comfortably than an institution like Penn because they have a much larger endowment. But we have to compete."

Hence a projection that the increase proposal taken to the executive board would be "below that 4.5%"--which was itself the lowest increase at Penn in three decades, Mr. Fry said. "People are starting to turn up the heat already among our institutions, and I don't think we have any choice but to respond." With each percentage point at Penn worth $2 million, he sees "more pressure, not less, to think about things like costs, enhancing revenues, and improving our competitive position, particularly the quality of life on and off campus."

To get through this, he ended, "We need great people, who feel that they are well compensated and well treated; that they're invested in professionally; that they're cared about personally. I know we have a long way to go but I'm also resolved to get there."

Annie McKee: The Staff Development Thrust

After five years elsewhere in the University, Ms. McKee said that since joining Mr. Fry's team a few months ago she has been circulating throughout the campus to identify "key issues affecting the way people feel about the work environment here at Penn." Some of what she came up with relates to " improving practices of management, communication, and the way we engage with each other in the workplace."

From her gleanings, Ms. McKee has also brought back to a work team and to senior management the summation, "Look, people really do want to prepare themselves for a better future. How are we going to do that?"

Two significant efforts she outlined, both "in the planning stages-still open for change and input but moving forward" are:

  • A professional development process, to identify for people what they need to do to be successful at the Penn in professional and managerial roles. This involves creating a "competency model"--looking at those workplace effectiveness skills (not necessarily technical skills) that allow people to be effective no matter what job they're in. She described a process whereby "people can come in, work with us, work with coaches, actually, in a confidential setting, in a setting where it really is about development-not about performance appraisal....

"We've got total commitment from senior management [John Fry, President Rodin]. We've got a good team of people in place, we're working closely with the folks in Human Resources. We're looking at putting together a group of talented people from around the University to help us focus on design and implementation. I would like to see a pilot program up and running within about four or five months and over the next 18 months, which we look at as a pilot time period, we'd like to see a couple of hundred people go through this process."

  • A skills development center, where Penn staff and West Philadelphia residents can similarly assess and benchmark themselves against goals and markers of success--with access to learning that will help meet their goals.

A committee that includes Donna Arthur, Jim Bean is guiding the design. "We've got a working group in place, we've got people who are dedicating 10, 15, 20 hours a week of their time in addition to their regular jobs working on this thing. We're moving ahead. We have some programs and processes that are already up and running with this thing," Ms. McKee said.

"I want to emphasize that while this is first and foremost a set of programs dedicated to the University of Pennsylvania and our staff, we are also opening up the doors to our community and we are partnering with people out in the West Philadelphia community and Philadelphia proper," she added. A school-to-career component is in place with University City High School under the coordination of HR's Ron Story, staffing & recruitment specialist and with governmental agency funding bringing high school into internships, pre-apprenticeship trades, and other programs..

Ms. McKee concluded with "a word about what we need to do in order for these things to work.

"We have not necessarily had a culture that encourages people to develop themselves on the job--that allows people to leave at 4:30 in the afternoon in order to take a class, for example. Sure, there are pockets of the University where that happens, and supervisors are supportive and people really do have an opportunity to learn and grow. There are other places in the University where it doesn't happen, and that's a reality.

"We hear this time and time again, that for these efforts to work we have to change our attitudes. And yes, we need senior leadership support for that, but the real change happens in us-it happens in each [manager] when one of our staff comes to us and says "Look, I'm really commmitted to this particular career path and I need to do this, this and this to get there; can I work with you to fix a schedule that will allow me to do that." It takes each of us believing that we have the right to develop ourselves, while we're here at Penn-an attitude shift, really and truly. These programs and processes are wonderful and beautiful but unless we change the way we deal with this issue, they won't work. And it's up to each one of us to do that."

Jack Heuer: Toward Balance in Worklife

Mr. Heuer, who started at Penn some 15 years ago as an A-3 staff member in benefits, said he wasn't sure about taking the vice presidency when it was offered last summer, but "when I talked with President Rodin and with John [Fry], I realized that there was a new initiative-an initiative in the quality of worklife and toward improving human resources.

"Human Resources is not telling people how to do things, it's listening and then helping them do things; and that's where I consider all of you part of the Human Resources team."

From such listening, he said, have come initiatives in progress, such as:

  • Moving past childcare to design an enhanced "dependent care program"--not limited to childcare's traditional referrals of daycare or summer daycare, but with referrals to address schooling issues, tuition issues, teen pregnancy issues, "a much larger program--including eldercare." While childcare needs are local, he explained, eldercare is nationwide. An aging parent may be anywhere, so the vendor Penn chooses will have 24-hour access and nationwide scope for working with different agencies, getting referrals, making contacts. "We want people to come here and be able to concentrate on their jobs; we want them to be successful. We also realize that we take our jobs home and we bring our homes here. And how do we help those work better together? Eldercare referral is something that employers of choice offer; we want to be an employer of choice." Planning for dependent care programs is being spearheaded by Marilyn Kraut of HR.
  • Exploring flexible work options. Penn is looking at starting and stopping times, shifting hours, working certain days of the week or working weekends--and at telecommuting, working from home, and all ways of "making a schedule that more fits your work and also the work environment." In the near future President Rodin will ask a committee to look at the ideas of a flexible work program and "how it's actually to be applied at Penn." Guidelines and principles are to be formed by the beginning of the next academic year that all schools and centers can follow. "That doesn't mean that we have not been addressing those issues already," Mr. Heuer said. "Marilyn Kraut and some others have been working with the schools and centers and staff members to address those issues on a regular basis already, but we believe there's an opportunity to make that part of the cultural environment that we should have here at Penn.
  • Expanding appreciation activities. Staff Appreciation Day is on a weekend "usually in the fall and tied into a football game and a flood," he quipped. But feedback has shown interest in celebrating with coworkers during the week. A committee has been working on a Spring Appreciation Week, probably in June, starting with events such as Museum tours and other activities to help staff understand more about the University--and highlighted by a picnic on the Green.
  • Health promotions. Working with the Health System and with healthcare vendors, staff would have access to services, and learn more about testing and counseling. A staff run--or at least a walk-- is one idea in the planing stages. "We believe it's something that will help bring the community together. We also believe it's important for us to enjoy one another rather than our business interactions. This is only one opportunity; we want to continued to look for many," Mr. Heur said.
  • Expanding the years-of-service awards program (Almanac November 4, 1997). In this first year of recognizing staff beyond the 25-year mark, Penn has singled out some 1600 staff, Mr. Heuer said.
  • Awards for excellence. Beyond years-of-service, which touches large numbers, will be a more "limited reward structure, a very meaningful structure" for individuals or teams of individuals who create "excellence in service, excellence in programs" and changes that they make in the Penn environment for the future.
  • Mediation for conflict resolution. Penn's grievance procedure for nonunion staff is used infrequently, Mr. Heuer said, explaining that "a grievance procedure creates conflict, and as adults we often look for ways to resolve conflict ourselves." While the grievance procedure would continue, an all-University committee under the guidance of Carol Horne Penn will look into the development of a new program that will focus on the principles of mediation, with people trained in mediation helping individuals resolve conflict. "In a grievance procedure sometimes, somebody feels like they've lost," said Mr. Heuer. "What we want is for both parties to walk away with an acceptable solution. There will still be a grievance process after that if it cannot be resolved, but we really want to change the focus with people having a little bit more control over their own destiny."

Mr. Heuer discussed several program itemsfrom the the Benefits Redesign Project's second phase which were then "upcoming" but have since been confirmed by the adoption of the recommendations of the Benefits Advisory Committee (see Of Record,in this issue). He also doubled back to one item of Benefits Redesign's first phase:

Paid Time Off: Noting that several e-mails had come to A-3 Assembly Chair Donna Arthur on this topic, Mr. Heuer said that in addition to presentations already made for some 1100 staff, four sessions were set up for this month. (See Almanac March 3 for details of the remaining ones March 23.) The new policy combines vacation, personal and other time off into one Paid Time Off (PTO) policy that "allows people a little more flexibility," he said, but this year "balances have to be down to 24 days before June 30."

The Classification Redesign Project

and its Implementation

The University has completed its extensive review of the job classification program, a campus-wide effort that began three years ago. During this project a tremendous amount of information was gathered from University staff about their positions. This data was invaluable in helping the University to build a contemporary evaluation method used to classify jobs.
During the last week in March, University staff will receive information regarding their individual positions within the University's new classification program. This information has been shared with and approved by school/center management.
There will be a new single-salary structure of 12 grades covering both exempt and non-exempt positions. All staff will receive a new grade and some staff will receive a new Personnel/Payroll system title. The new University system titles are, by design, generic in nature to assist in grouping similar jobs together for the purpose of classification and pricing of jobs in the marketplace. In certain instances, a more descriptive title may have been approved by a department and will remain in effect.
Each of these grades will have ranges that are significantly broader (the difference between minimum and maximum amounts of the grade) than in the current system. Staff positions will be placed into this salary structure, which is competitive with the marketplace for comparable jobs, and will allow for more flexibility in pay administration and staff development.

What Staff Can Expect

In the packets that will be distributed at the end of March, staff can expect to receive the following:
  • a letter indicating the new grade and, in many instances, new system title
  • an information booklet which will provide a summary of the classification system and background information on how the system was developed
  • the new salary structure (within the information booklet)
  • Position descriptions for University positions are being created as part of this project. These descriptions will be distributed to staff by the end of the fiscal year.

    Implementation Schedule
    Changes introduced through the Classification Redesign Project will be implemented at the beginning of April. This will enable a full transition of data prior to the beginning of the cycle for the University's annual salary increase program.

    Looking Ahead

    The nature of the work place today is one of change, requiring organizations to respond quickly to meet new business challenges. The job evaluation system has been designed to respond more effectively to these challenges.
    Given the size of the University and the great diversity in terms of different types of work, the Classification Redesign Project has been a significant undertaking. Due to the high quality data provided by University staff through the position information questionnaire process and the hard work of the Classification Redesign Team, we have built a strong job evaluation system and a competitive salary structure. These improvements will strengthen the overall staff compensation program at the University of Pennsylvania.

    --From the Office of Compensation/Human Resources

    Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, March 17, 1998, Volume 44, Number 25