Rumor mill


Great results.

With so much change in such a condensed period of time, it will be important to thoughtfully evaluate these accomplishments and recommend future policy revisions. The metrics established at the outset of the project will serve as a strong foundation for that assessment. Fortunately, a new engagement survey to be designed and administered by the Office of Planning and Decision Support for the Division of Inclusive Excellence is perfectly suited to obtain much of the qualitative employee engagement data asked for in those metrics. The new HR Advisory Committee described below is also well positioned to oversee these assessment and continuous improvement processes.

Additional information on a few selected accomplishments is provided below. One final noteworthy accomplishment, the project stayed on or ahead of schedule and within budget throughout these challenging three years.

Performance management

A major component of the new HR plan is a new performance evaluation program. This new program begins with establishing cascading goals for each employee, creating a direct line of sight from the university’s strategic priorities to school/unit level to each individual’s goals. It also include expectations in the form of well-defined behaviors that reflect the university’s values. This strategically aligned performance review process provides a sound basis for feedback, assessment, career growth and for rewarding and recognizing high performers who advance the University’s priorities and provide outstanding service to students and faculty.

In a meeting with the University’s Senior Leadership (deans, vice presidents, and other senior administrators) June 24, 2017 the process of “cascading goals” was initiated. The meeting began with a discussion of the University’s strategic priorities for 2016-2017, providing the perfect starting point for this work.  Later in the agenda, HR led participants through an exercise to “cascade” these institutional priorities to school/unit goals and to individual employee goals. Participants were asked to identify other senior leaders/managers in their organizations who would be involved in goal setting with employees in their school/division/unit. Training was next offered to these managers beginning in September 2017 so they would be prepared to assist Classified staff and A&P faculty in their departments through this process.  For Classified Staff, EWPs submitted in October 2016 included goals for the upcoming year, as well as evaluation plans for A&P Faculty. It was considered important for employees to know the expectations on which they would be evaluated at the beginning of the evaluation period. By adopting goals in 2016 in the “old processes”, the university was able to reduce the lag time in implementing a new software system. Talent@VCU (the university’s name for the Cornerstone product) started out strong in Nov/Dec 2017 with 85% of employees having goals, cascading from Quest. Mid-year reviews and progress updates were piloted in April/May 2018. Use of the software for probationary employee reviews rolled out in June. The first full year of performance reviews began with employees completed their self review in November/December 2018. As of December 13, 2018, 93% of employees completed their self review - a truly remarkable rate of compliance! Managers and reviewers will participate in performance calibration sessions and complete their portion of the review process in January/February 2019.

Technology is a must for a program like this to reach a workforce the size of VCU. Cornerstone Talent Management software (an Ellucian/Banner partner) was identified as the appropriate solution based on overwhelmingly positive feedback from 80 key constituencies across the institution. Seamless integration with Banner (the existing system of record) was another factor in the decision.

As an added benefit, the University was able to also purchase two additional Cornerstone software modules to address critical business needs – learning management and succession planning - within the budget set aside for the performance management module.

The learning management system (LMS) supports the new career development programs and also improves compliance efforts around required training. It provides a “one-stop” portal for employees and for management reporting to address significant liabilities the University faced holding individuals accountable to complete mandatory training. It was successfully implemented in January 2018 for annual ethics and information security training. The leadership development programs described below also used the new LMS in Summer 2018.

The succession planning module compliments employee development programming and will be a useful management tool in the years ahead as the University engages and strategic workforce planning and seeks to develop a pipeline of talent in key academic and administrative roles.  

Career development

The new HR plan is designed around a series of visible and flexible career paths that provide opportunities for “promotion in place” as well as advancement across the university. Different career paths are available for individual contributors with deep subject matter expertise distinct from those who aspire to a supervisory, management or leadership role. Career paths not only support employees in their resounding cry for enhanced career opportunities but they also address the University’s goal of reducing the inefficiencies that come with too many layers of management and too narrow spans of control.

To assist employees with their career development, “career communities” are being created as the structure around which enhanced programming will occur. These learning communities bring together practitioners in similar fields for networking and mentoring. They are the framework to create connections, share knowledge, increase collaboration, promote innovation, solve problems, strengthen competencies and enhance leadership opportunities. Career communities further develop employee capabilities, increase competencies and, where appropriate, prepare employees for career advancement.

The Career Development committee conducted extensive research of best practices and designed the communities so they flourish at VCU. The committee developed officer roles, by laws, and communications infrastructure to assist the communities in getting off to a strong start. Four career communities have already launched and five more are being formed with plans to be operational in Spring 2019. A schedule is in place to have the full complement of career communities in place by mid-2020.

A very successful mentoring pilot was also conducted in 2017. At its conclusion, two decisions were made. The first was to incorporate mentoring within the career communities going forward. The second decision was to partner with Alumni Relations on a shared software solution. Delays in signing a contract with the software vendor impacted progress. The current plan is for a pilot in Spring 2019, with full roll out in Fall 2019.

Career development plans were implemented as part of the annual performance review process in Winter 2018. Training and other support resources were put in place in August. Resources for long term sustainability of these career development programs were secured as part of the HR budget.

Leadership development

The single most essential success factor in the new HR plan is the ability of managers to embrace and champion the changes ahead. It is well documented that it is the workplace an employee experiences every day that matters. The ideal workplace is created by managers. To make VCU an even better place to work, it will be managers who create the kind of work environment where faculty and staff can do meaningful work, a place of opportunity, where success is supported and careers thrive.  

For the first time, VCU articulated what it expected of those in positions with responsibility for others. The Leadership Development Committee defined key expectations and competencies of leaders along with a training curriculum and other resources to support development of those competencies. Specific program offerings around the two key competencies - leading others and leading change - were developed and launched in 2018. The two programs - Crucial Conversations and Leading Change - went from pilot to “open enrollment” in Spring 2018 as planned. The true sign of success was that these sessions filled within hours of sending out the invitations. Monthly offerings were scheduled (and filled to capacity) for both programs throughout 2018. Work is already underway for follow up programs to reinforce the learning of these initial participants.

An “appreciative leadership” offering in 2019 will complement the new strategic priority in Quest 2025. Alignment of these development initiatives across the university’s various leadership groups (Cabinet, Senior Leadership, Managers, etc) will leverage the full potential of these programs and strengthen the university's leadership capability.

The leadership career community is on track for launch in January 2019. This new comprehensive leadership development program is taking shape to better prepare managers to be successful in these challenges roles.

In addition to providing new resources to support the development of these key leadership competencies, a series of policy training programs were developed to help managers learn the components of the new “Working at VCU: “Great Place” HR policy. For most sections of the policy, a two part strategy is now in place. Part 1 is an “e-learning” available to all employees and Part 2 is an “instructor led” class with case studies for managers. The first topic, compensation, rolled out in May 2018. As the inaugural program, design and implementation presented a steep learning curve. With the prototype in place, the subsequent topics came together more quickly. Leave was available in July 2018, career development in August, Employment, Employee Relations, and Alternative Work Arrangements are scheduled for January 2019.


The university was able to test out the new compensation policy by providing merit increases for the University and Academic Professionals effective November 2018 and another merit increase is planned for June 2019. Fortunately, the process for faculty merit increases was considered an effective one, so that served as a useful prototype. That software is currently hosted by the Health Sciences. The plan is to migrate to a more integrated, longer term solution using the compensation module in Cornerstone on Demand.

Conversion of AP Faculty

More time than anticipated was spent assisting in the transition of A&P faculty to other appointment types (T&R faculty, Academic Administrator, or Executive/Senior Administrator). That began with creating new terms and conditions of employment. A thorough review and appeals process was also developed, in collaboration with Faculty Senate. We then worked with schools/units to determine appropriate assignment for each person/position and assisting in the subsequent contract renewal process to implement those changes.