May 2, 2005
Emory leaders play it straight with staff
BY Eric rangus
Improved communication on campus is staple of President Jim Wagner’s recent efforts to build community at Emory. “The intention of why we communicate,” he said from behind a podium in Winship Ballroom, Tuesday, April 26, “is to get other people to listen to us.”
Listening is why Wagner and five other Emory leaders were in Winship—to listen to questions posed by staff employees in attendance at the Employee Council’s spring Town Hall. The presidential town hall, an annual happening each of the last 13 autumns, was expanded at Wagner’s request to include not only a spring Q&A, but also a few more people to spread around the “A” portion.
Joining Wagner at the head table were Theresa Milazzo, senior director of Human Resources (HR), and four top administrators: Bob Ethridge, Earl Lewis, Mike Mandl and Johnnie Ray. The discussion moved along smoothly, with each speaker contributing.
When answers called for multiple perspectives, one respondent would pick up where the previous one left off, and everyone got his or her turn.
While many subjects were covered, including diversity, health benefits, the strategic plan and the inclusion of staff on dean search committees, the majority of questions revolved around two central issues of staff lives: professional development and compensation. The panelists responded with direct answers.
“Our fundamental goal is to pay at competitive market rates,” said Mandl, executive vice president for finance and administration, responding to a question regarding annual raises. “Are we there yet? On average, no.” Mandl added that some divisions do pay at or above market rates, and the best way to bring all of Emory up is to apply new performance management standards across the University and Emory Healthcare.
Several questions addressed HR’s new performance management system, which is designed to lead to merit pay increases for good-performing staff. Is it mandatory? (It will be, Mandl said.) How will you deal with professional staff who report to faculty members?
Provost Lewis said faculty supervisors of professional staff would be asked to participate in the new performance management system and added that deans would be informed of the new process as backups.
Several audience members voiced concern over a lack of opportunity for promotion. One speaker, a research analyst working under grant funding, said she had been working under the same job title for many years.
Wagner said he understood the limitations working under sometimes restrictive grants, and that the American Association of Universities (AAU), of which Emory is a part, is working on a plan to approach grant-funding organizations to address the issue. Closer to home, Milazzo and Del King, also HR senior director, both said new job titles have been created to give researchers a place to move up.
“Higher education has a problem with career progression,” Mandl said. “Because of the decentralized nature of a university, some units don’t know about the talent that is spread throughout.”
Mandl continued by saying that many staff don’t feel like part of a cohort. Each area has one financial person, for instance. In a corporation, all the financial people would be grouped together where they could grow together. Fostering that sort of communal development is very difficult at a university, but Mandl said creating it will be one of the main responsibilities of the soon-to-be-hired HR vice president.
The majority of questions came from the floor, but one of the queries submitted over LearnLink involved the intersection of campus diversity with the strategic plan. Ethridge, vice president for equal opportunity programs, said the ongoing plan is flexible enough to help everyone. Lewis expanded on that answer, saying that the only way to address diversity is to continue talking about it.
“With some 19,000 [employees] on this campus, we’re going to bump into each other, even when we don’t want to,” he said. “We might even trip over each other. Because of that, there will always be conflict and tension. That’s why we have to continue to educate ourselves about what it means to be part of a dynamic community.”
The town hall was broadcast live on the Employee Council website, where it is now archived (www.emory.edu/EmployeeCouncil). Because of time constraints, many questions submitted via LearnLink were not addressed. They will be passed on to the panelists, and answers will appear both on the council website and in the next edition of the HR newsletter Together at Emory.
In closing, Employee Council President Susie Lackey noted the size of the crowd, numbering over 200 in Winship (plus more than 100 individual Internet connections, it was reported later) and asked whether the expanded-panel format would be appropriate at the next town hall in the fall. No decisions were cemented, but the applause that answered her question implied that the audience wouldn’t have a problem with it.