P&S Council seeks ways to help as HR, finance jobs poised to change

A proposal to make human resources and finance staff positions more specialized, changing some employees' duties and direct supervisors, dominated discussion at the Oct. 4 meeting of the Professional and Scientific Council. Council members met in small groups to brainstorm ideas to help P&S employees manage the transition.

The proposed improved service delivery models, which have been studied since shortly after President Wendy Wintersteen took office 11 months ago, were publicized for the first time last week when a series of presentations and public forums kicked off. Another presentation on the proposed changes is set for today from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Memorial Union Pioneer Room, which also will be livestreamed.

Town hall meeting

  • Oct. 11, Noon-1:30 p.m., MU Pioneer Room (livestream)

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While the proposed new models have differences, they both call for more specialization and centralized management. The plan would shift most human resources and financial services work, some of which is now done by employees who have a variety of other responsibilities, to new staff positions devoted to more defined tasks. Specialists in procurement and expenses, fiscal management of grants and general financial services, along with HR specialists, would serve individual units but report to supervisors with finance and HR experience.

The proposed changes are prompted in part by the move July 1, 2019, to Workday, a campuswide, cloud-based software system that will manage university business processes. A new classification and compensation system for P&S staff also will begin July 1. The service delivery changes will go into effect at the same time.

Council president Stacy Renfro said she has heard concern about the uncertainty improved service delivery poses and the speed of implementation. The task force that devised the proposal, the Institutional Effectiveness Leadership Team (IELT), plans to incorporate feedback into a final recommendation it will submit to Wintersteen next month.

Renfro, who sits on the IELT's "super group," said another common question from constituents is how "units" being served by HR and finance specialists will be defined, an aspect of the proposal not yet ironed out.

Senior vice president for student affairs Martino Harmon and senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert, both IELT members, spoke at the meeting about the proposal. In separate remarks, each acknowledged that altering how HR and financial services are delivered will be stressful for staff, especially when added to the other changes coming. They encouraged learning about proposed changes, asking questions and sharing ideas.

Harmon said the proposal isn't set in stone, as it changed nearly every time the IELT met.

"What we were talking about three weeks ago was different from we are talking about now," he said.

Wickert said financial specialists are needed because the Workday system requires users to have broad knowledge and access, which would be a challenge for staff who handle financial matters only on occasion.

"Parachuting into the middle, that's really not how it works," he said.

The changes suggested for human resources will make sure all employees receive uniform service, Wickert said.

"Over time, not for any bad reason, it's evolved so we really have two systems: a very distributed human resource system and a very centralized human resource system. What happens then is there just isn't consistency," he said.

At an Oct. 3 open forum the council held, IELT co-chair Sarah Nusser, vice president for research, also noted that performance evaluations, training, opportunity for advancement and workload balancing would improve under the proposed system. At the same forum, IELT co-chair Beate Schmittmann, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean, said the initiative isn't aimed at reducing the workforce.  

At the meeting, council members met in divisional representation groups to propose action items for helping P&S staff as the service delivery initiative moves forward. Those ideas will be discussed at the council's Oct. 31 meeting.