Monday, November 24, 2014

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Charting a Course to Organizational Excellence: Advancing Faculty Research and Promoting Service Excellence

Organizational Excellence,” one of the priorities in the University’s strategic Cornerstone Plan, has initiated several projects since its formation last August. Among the first areas of focus are enhancing research administration, understanding more about the effectiveness and efficiency of the current service delivery in several administrative areas, and partnering with initiatives that are already under way across the institution.

Charged in the Cornerstone Plan to “steward the University’s resources to promote academic excellence and affordable access,” the Organizational Excellence program is working toward its overarching goal – “to enable the mission” by aligning and optimizing resources.  

“This year’s launch of the Organizational Excellence program has been very successful,” said Robert Pianta, chair of the Organizational Excellence Leadership Council and dean of the Curry School of Education. “The level of engagement among schools and service units is exceptionally high, and I am impressed by the constructive and forward-looking conversations, planning and actions that are taking place.”

Advancing Faculty Research with Better Tools

The Organizational Excellence team is collaborating with a core group of stakeholders representing the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Office of the Vice President for Research and several schools, including Medicine, Engineering and Applied Science, Arts & Sciences, Education and Nursing, to document the entire research proposal process from an idea to closeout and to identify ways to enhance the process. 

One improvement currently in development is ResearchUVa, a project to automate, streamline and improve the current, paper-based grant proposal workflow. Faculty and staff will use this online tool to compile, review and approve grant proposals. Led by a team of research administrators and the Office of Sponsored Programs, ResearchUVa will also provide better access to data through interfaces with other information sources and real-time tracking of a proposal’s status. 

Recently, the Organizational Excellence Leadership Council saw a preview of the system.

Hossein Haj-Hariri, one of the council members and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, was enthusiastic. “This first step is a welcome improvement that will make it much easier for faculty to deal with grant administration and eventually with the entire grant management.”

Connecting U.Va. Resources for Service Excellence

Organizational Excellence recently completed a benchmarking study of six administrative functions – human resources, information technology, finance, procurement, research administration and student services – to assess their current performance and provide insight into how to design and deliver high-quality administrative services that best support the University’s core activities of teaching, research and public service. Future efforts will target other services, such as facilities operations and development efforts. As a first step, the Leadership Council is analyzing and interpreting the findings in collaboration with key constituencies. 

Where applicable, the Leadership Council looks to integrate and align the benchmarking study with related and ongoing initiatives. Examples include the Managerial Reporting Project, the Human Resources Service Delivery Project and the Center for Leadership Excellence initiative, as well as enhancements to purchasing and travel and expense management.

The Managerial Reporting Project, with oversight from Associate Vice President for Finance Melody Bianchetto, was “initiated to improve financial and operational data, reporting and decision-making tools to leaders at every level,” she said. “The project is intended to provide more accurate, consistent, accessible and reliable information in a useful format.”

Two major initiatives of University Human Resources, under the direction of Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer – the HR Service Delivery Project and the Center for Leadership Excellence – will benefit from the benchmarking study. 

The Service Delivery Project focuses on the professional services of posting a vacancy, recruiting, hiring, position changes, performance management and employee relations. The project seeks to clarify and simplify processes, reduce redundancy and optimize economies of scale.

The Center for Leadership Excellence’s mission is to elevate the culture of leadership of employees at every level in the organization. For this initiative –also a strategy in the Cornerstone Plan – Pat Hogan, executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Dr. Richard Shannon, executive vice president of health affairs, will provide sponsorship.

Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services has work under way to aggregate purchasing of common items, such as office supplies, to drive more favorable pricing with vendors. The unit is also looking to streamline and redesign the process for booking travel and managing the travel reimbursement process.

Delivering Quality Support to Enable the Mission

As the Organizational Excellence council’s work continues, it will partner with academic and administrative units to define, prioritize, coordinate and sequence a portfolio of initiatives to be implemented over several years. The goal is to provide a service architecture that is optimal for the University’s mission.

“Our efforts are focused on pursuing the right structures, the right technologies and the right processes,” said Sarah Collie, assistant vice president for organizational excellence. “When we get it right, faculty will have more time to devote to their core activities of teaching, research and public service. Staff will be more engaged in meaningful support. Students will have better assistance for their educational experience. And the University will have the capacity to direct additional resources to the core mission.”

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