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Getting the job done. 

Tasks and outline for the HR Redesign Project

Project planning and data collection

The first six months of the project (March 2016 to August 2016)

  • Developed a project plan which included tactics, deliverables and a timeline. As outlined in Table 1. above, the plan was built around three phases – planning and data collection, design, and implementation.
  • Hired project team consisting of a project manager, three program managers and an administrative assistant were on-boarded to become knowledgeable about the scope and goals of the project.
  • Obtained resources – space, computers and supplies – and office infrastructure put in place to support the project.
  • Created and implemented a robust and integrated communication plan with VCU University Relations starting with a kick-off communications from Dr. Rao in March 2016. The rollout to the University Community continued on June 8, 2016 with emails from Cathleen Burke, assistant vice president of human resources, announcing the launch of The Great Place: HR Redesign website and associated resources. The website included a video by Dr. Rao, a history of the Great Place initiative with a transition to Tier III Restructuring and the HR Redesign project, along with “tool kits” and talking points for managers and HR professionals, an infographic, a glossary of terms, FAQs, a “Rumor Mill,” and a mechanism for constituents to provide web-based feedback, comments and questions.
  • Four key messages were identified and reinforced throughout the project:
    • A focus on HR is a focus on you and your career opportunities.
    • Aligning people and our work with the mission of the university.
    • Keeping what we like, changing what we don’t like.
    • This is a journey not a sprint.
  • A project governance structure was adopted with a Steering Committee, Advisory Committee and an array of other program and policy subcommittees. 
  • Constituents across the university community were engaged in several ways. First, an extensive nomination and vetting process identified approximately 100 committee members from across the university to participate in one of the project’s nine committees. Initial kick-off meetings for each committee and subcommittee were held in May 2016. Concurrently, meetings with key constituency groups (Deans Council, University Council, Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, Fiscal Administrators, Chief Business Officers and departmental meetings) reaching more than 2,000 employees in 57 mostly small group settings.
  • There were a number of technical, legal complexities to be mindful of throughout the project. An amendment to VCU’s Management Agreement with the Commonwealth of Virginia was agreed upon to notify new employees hired on or after July 1, 2016 that they will be governed by the new University Human Resource System when it is implemented. This accelerated the timetable by six months, building momentum and creating a visible starting point for the new HR plan. Taking this step resulted in 508 employees automatically enrolled in the new HR Plan on the launch date of January 1, 2018.
  • There were significant technology implications for the Banner HR legacy system. A Technology Team, consisting of representatives from Human Resources, Technology Services, Payroll Services and the HR Redesign Project Office, began this critical work in May 2016.
  • An inventory of all current HR policies and systems was compiled and prioritized.
  • Benchmark data was collected and analyzed.
  • The HR Advisory committee developed metrics for success, which were subsequently approved by the Steering committee.
  • With the groundwork and structure in place, the design of policies and programs was ready to begin.  


The second six months of the project (September 2016 to February 2017):

  • Researching best practices, designing options and developing recommendations was undertaken by policy committees beginning with identifying best practices from other universities and other large employers. The committees looked at the other Tier III universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia, VCU’s Quest and SCHEV peer institutions, and sought out other “best in class” practices at higher education institutions and private organizations across the country. The committees began by creating concept papers and policy options that would be reviewed through the Advisory and Steering Committees. Once agreement was reached on the general direction, the details of the policy were drafted. The draft policy would primarily impact 2,718 Classified staff and 868 Administrative and Professional faculty.
  • Up to nine new HR policies were drafted through this process including employee groups, employment, compensation, employee relations, performance management, career development, leadership development, leave, and alternative work arrangements. In addition, the Commonwealth of Virginia Management Agreement also required policies be in place on Work Schedules, Alternative Work Weeks and Telecommuting, Pay Dates, Safety and Health, EEO and non-discrimination, sexual harassment and complaint process, Alcohol free/Drug free workplace, EAP, Unemployment Compensation, Workers Compensation, and Background Checks. These additional policies were handled administratively in collaboration with appropriate subject matter experts.
  • Input on proposed policies was sought from committee members and other administrators.
  • An early draft of the entire policy was reviewed by Faculty Senate and Staff Senate Executive Committees, the Dean’s Council, and the Associate Dean’s Forum. The President’s Cabinet was also briefed and provided input into the policy throughout the design process.
  • The draft policy was posted to the university community for open comment from February 17 through March 17, 2017. During the open comment period, there were 5,472 visits to the website (48 percent of which was new traffic); 320 comment forms were submitted offering a total of 889 comments.
  • The comment website also provided employees the option of submitting questions. Answers to questions submitted anonymously were posted to an FAQ webpage; those who provided email addresses received a direct response. In total 96 questions were submitted; 80 received a direct response. Another 76 employees received an email response answering questions raised within their comment submission form.


The second year of the project (March 2017 to February 2018)

  • Feedback received during the comment period was provided back to the original policy committees to analyze and recommend changes. The draft policy was shared with the University Council before presentation to the Board of Visitors. It received final approval by the President’s cabinet in May 2017 and was reported to the Commonwealth of Virginia Secretary of Administration in June 2017.. The new policy, a truly “best-in-class” model, became effective January 1, 2018 and should serve VCU well in the years ahead.
  • Highlights of the nine specific sections of the HR policy are listed below.
    • Employee Groups: A new employee category, University and Academic Professionals.
    • Employment: Streamlined recruitment process to promote hiring a diverse and highly qualified workforce. It also adopts a one-year probationary period for all newly hired University and Academic Professionals.
    • Compensation: A new job family structure with flexible career paths for advancement opportunities, market-based salary ranges and merit-based pay.
    • Performance management: A standardized process with more meaningful feedback that connects employee goals, contributions and career interests with VCU’s strategic priorities creating a direct line of sight to the university mission and vision.
    • Career development: Access to a range of learning opportunities supporting the need for all employees to stay current in their field, develop their capabilities, increase competencies and prepare for career advancement.
    • Leadership development: Defines critical competencies for effective leaders at VCU and creates a leadership development curriculum to nurture and develop these competencies through a series of learning, networking, and mentoring experiences.
    • Employee Relations: Encourages informal dispute resolution with clear direction for when a formal process is needed; integrates performance management and progressive discipline for corrective actions and provides layoff and severance benefits during workforce reduction.
    • Alternative Work Arrangements: Expands alternative work options to promote better work/life balance and provides resources to educate and encourage utilization.
    • Paid Leave: Provides a competitive, flexible paid time off benefit with more modern definitions and family-friendly improvements to parental and caregiving leave and enhanced short term disability and community service leave.
  • The summer of 2017 was spent creating implementation infrastructure along with communication plans and training materials to support the new policy. Nine new policy implementation teams with over 80 volunteers were created, each led by a VCU HR staff member, to focus on one section of the policy. The implementation teams developed procedures, guidelines, training and other resources to ensure the policy would be managed as intended.
  • In addition, there were five other university policies that needed to be revised to accommodate the new University and Academic Professional employee group. Those included: Affiliate Faculty Appointments, Outside Professional Activity, Secondary Assignments, Principal Investigator Eligibility, and Educational and Training Opportunities. The “employee group” implementation team conducted research on best practices and with assistance from university subject matter experts from the Provost’s Office of Faculty Recruitment and Retention and the Office of the VP for Research revisions were drafted, input was sought from committee members and other administrators, and approval was received on all but one. The Educational and Training Opportunities policy is still under review.
  • The new performance management program began with the introduction of “cascading goals” in Fall 2017. Planning and design was also underway to ensure successful implementation of two modules (Performance management and learning management) of a new software product (Cornerstone on Demand). A project coordinator/systems administrator was hired. The new software was purchased, configured, and a pilot project was conducted to test the functionality and resource materials.
  • Concurrent with the policy development work, a new job structure was also being built. The new structure was designed around approximately 20 job families. Each job family had career paths and each job title had an associated market pay range. Career paths and market ranges were submitted to senior leadership for review and input in February 2017. The unveiling of the new job structure with the University community occurred in conjunction with the “First Look” career fair held May 22, 2017.

The new job structure represents a significant shift away from a “position-based” model to a “person-based” model. Traditional job classification systems categorize positions based on duties and responsibilities. The new VCU structure is based on the competencies of the individual. The employee has the opportunity to progress across and up through established career path based on their knowledge, skills and contributions, while the majority of the underlying duties performed may remain essentially unchanged. This model is based on the comparable faculty career path of Assistant, Associate, and full Professor, albeit with opportunity for smaller, more frequent steps for advancement. The faculty career path has proven to recognize and reward high performers and is well accepted throughout higher education as a strong retention strategy. As such, opportunities for advancement is what VCU employees were asking for in the Great Place Initiative survey.

  • Significant resources were devoted to planning the enrollment process and policy launch both effective January 2018. There were three categories of employees impacted by the “enrollment” process.
    • Automatic enrollment for new classified staff: Classified staff hired at VCU since July 1, 2016 would automatically convert to the University and Academic Professional employee group on the January 1, 2018. After January 1, 2018, VCU would no longer hire classified staff.
    • The option to stay classified staff: Classified staff hired before July 1, 2016 would have a choice to remain classified staff, or elect to convert to the University and Academic Professional employee group. There would be a 90-day enrollment period from January to March 2018 for employees to decide. Employees would be provided a side-by-side comparison of the current and new policies along with other support resources to assist them in making this decision. As required by the Restructuring Act, VCU must provide an enrollment option to classified staff at least every two years. The effective date for those who elect to switch during the enrollment period would be July 1, 2018.
    • Options for A&P faculty: VCU would no longer hire Administrative & Professional Faculty (A&P) after July 1, 2018. Current A&P faculty positions were evaluated to determine how best to categorize individual employees in the new HR plan. A&P Faculty could either become University and Academic Professionals or Teaching and Research Faculty. Within each of those employee groups, positions could also be designated either Executive/Senior Administrator or Academic Administrator. A&P Faculty were notified as part of their contract renewal cycle (July 2017 for most) of upcoming changes and were offered a reconsideration process if they disagreed with their position allocation.
  • Preparation for the enrollment process began in 2016. A separate enrollment committee was formed to plan and carry out this process. The resources made available during the enrollment process were primarily designed to assist employees who had choice in making an election decision.
  • Throughout the design phase, the project office was focused on the mantra - communicate, communicate, communicate! Summer of 2017 featured FAQs of the week, and more constituency meetings to update the university community on the final policy and next steps.
  • While the specific policy and programmatic areas were being implemented, there was also a need to look at how HR services were delivered across the University. The current model (some centralized and some distributed) is fraught with inefficiencies, ambiguity, redundancies, and risks. The role of HR practitioners in the field was inconsistent, unclear and duplicative of work being done in the central HR office. There were more than 300 “personnel administrators” with access to the Banner HR legacy system, many of whom only do that work as a small percentage of their overall workload. That many people with access to highly sensitive data created risk for the institution and many errors were being made by those who only used this complex system sporadically.
  • For a project of this scope and complexity to be successful, careful attention must also be paid to change management. A “vision” of a new HR service delivery model was designed by the HR Partners committee and shared throughout the central HR department and the HR practitioners across the university. Key stakeholders (Associate Deans and HR professionals in the schools/units) were brought together to begin to identify and plan for the change management that would be required to address these challenges. The level of energy, engagement and overall readiness of those gathered during the planning session was promising for success on this front. As was shared during these sessions, if the University went through all the effort to adopt new HR policies and programs but continued to operate as was always done, the inertia of current state and past practices could quickly derail the desired future progress. Effectively delivering HR services in a new model would be essential for the long-term, sustained impact that was envisioned.
  • Two pilot projects to test the new service delivery model were conducted in the Schools of Business and Engineering. They were a huge success, even better than could have been hoped for, saving time, improving customer satisfaction, and improving the effectiveness of HR transaction processing. The success of the pilots encouraged other units to request similar autonomy and accountability. A strategy is now in place so that over the next 18 months all HR service delivery will transform across both Monroe Park and MCV. Enhance­ment of other HR services such as employee relations, contract administration, succession development, talent acquisition and executive search is also underway.
  • It was also necessary to build stronger HR competency and develop subject matter experts within the HR community. The commitment to build capacity among the HR staff and HR professionals across campus continues. Starting with in-depth training programs, monthly sessions continue with HR Professionals to develop their confidence and competence. The HR Career Community held its first program with some 75 participants rating the event very successful. Planning of professional development activities for these key constituents continues.
  • To assist managers, employees, and the HR community in learning about the new HR policies, 18 training programs were designed; 13 of those were delivered in 2018. The remaining 5 are on track for deployment in early 2019. Topics included compensation, career development, leave, etc.  Three different types of delivery strategies were used for the training programs - in person, e-learning, and a combination of e-learning and in person. Some trainings were offered open enrollment; others were delivered to intact work groups. There were also different types of facilitators used to deliver the programs.  Some were delivered by a small team of trained facilitators, some were delivered by HR Professionals, and some were pairings with a subject matter expert and a coach/facilitator.

A survey was conducted to get feedback from the HR community on the effectiveness of the various formats and the impact of these trainings on managers and employees understanding of the new HR plan. Early findings reveal: high satisfaction with the online modules and with the “bundled” format that combined an online component with an in person session; more help was requested around developing SMART goals; and there has not been much activity yet with career planning so more follow up there would be warranted in 2019.  Most encouraging is:

    • 88.8% Agree/Strongly Agree that "my department has a basic understanding of the new HR Plan"
    • 88.8% Agree/Strongly Agree that "People have the tools/training to meet new expectations"
    • 77.7% Agree/Strongly Agree that "individuals better understand what is expected of them in the new HR Plan"
    • 77.7% Agree/Strongly Agree that "Managers and leaders are developing competencies needed to lead well in the new HR Plan"
  • Finally the creation of a new employee group would require changes within the University’s governance model. President Rao appointed a task force to research governance models at other universities and develop models for consideration. With input from senior leadership, one model emerged as the most appropriate for VCU. In April 2018, an open comment period invited feedback from the University community. The task force final report and recommendations was prepared for senior leadership consideration. Implementation will unfold over the course of the 2019.

Open enrollment

The Great Place: HR Redesign enrollment period ran from January 1 - March 31, 2018. During that time, 922 classified employees voluntarily enrolled in the new HR plan. That is 41.5% of the total number of eligible classified employees who had the choice to switch. On July 1, approximately 750 A&P faculty joined these new enrollees along with about 500 employees who moved over to the new HR Plan on January 1 and the new hires through June 30. This brought the total University and Academic Professionals to about 2/3 of our non-faculty salaried workforce; and about 1/3 remain classified employees.

For more specific details, please check out our HR Redesign enrollment statistics.