Room for Improvement: New Effort Solicits Workers’ Innovative Ideas for UVA

August 15, 2022
A photo illustration of a light bulb within a blue circle, surrounded by rotating arrows in front of brick pillars.

(Illustration by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications)

Adam Griggs and Patrick Wood are used to hearing from employees with concerns and ideas about the work environment in their roles as co-chairs of the University of Virginia Staff Senate. But after months of isolation and remote work due to the pandemic, they noticed a different tone crept in last year.

They kept hearing that the staff felt disconnected, discouraged or overwhelmed, some even feeling a sense of helplessness.

As Griggs and Wood met with University leaders, including representatives from the president’s office, and the offices of the chief operating officer and provost, a team came together. After many iterations, the team came up with something distinct that would allow staff to have something they could call their own, with a commitment that winning ideas would be implemented, Wood said.

The new program, called “Hoos Making an Impact,” provides a way for staff members to be more creatively involved in UVA’s ongoing efforts to be both “great and good” – the theme of  UVA’s 2030 strategic plan. Employees may submit innovative ideas to improve some process, procedure or area that could make an impact on the University, with the theme this time of sustainability.

Ideas must also emphasize the key initiative from the strategic plan focusing on staff success. That goal involves recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, as well as ensuring an inclusive and supportive environment for staff. It also seeks to enhance leadership programs and career paths across the University.

“This is an opportunity for staff to put their ideas in front of the highest level of decision-makers,” Griggs said.

With support from President Jim Ryan and other UVA leaders, the inaugural competition – the brainchild of the Staff Senate – will be devoted to sustainability initiatives that would advance UVA’s 2030 Sustainability Plan.

“Next year, we will allow a broad spectrum of ideas to be submitted to provide greater opportunities for staff input,” Wood said.

Griggs, who works as a process excellence coach for the School of Medicine, said Ryan’s support was crucial. “We brought up this idea of staff potentially being more engaged, and maybe having an input into what’s going on, and so we were able to flesh out that idea with President Ryan and other leaders,” he said.

When the co-chairs met with Ryan for their annual meeting in September last year, the president’s first response was, “What can I do to help you?”

“When we discussed the idea of launching a new competition for staff to propose innovative plans for improving the University, I was on board immediately,” Ryan said. “This is a way for us to tap into the creativity of our staff, and I look forward to seeing the proposals that they will bring forward.”

Griggs and Wood said they receive feedback from employees regularly, so they anticipate gathering a number of good ideas.

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“This is opening up a conduit where people have the ability to make a positive difference – if they’re willing to go through the research and draw up a proposal,” said Wood, a sourcing specialist in UVA Finance.

Staff members may submit an idea with a detailed description, explain why it is needed, how and when it would be implemented, and how it supports staff success and sustainability. A proposal should include an estimated budget, a timeline for executing the idea and the desired outcome.

Each winner, whether one person or a team, will receive $1,000 (a team would split the award). They’ll also be invited to a special luncheon with Ryan and other leaders.

There will be three rounds of reviewing and choosing proposals. The first round will review all entries and choose 50 ideas. Then those 50 are narrowed to 10, and those entrants will give presentations to the screening committee that will then select up to three proposals to implement, each with a budget of up to $100,000.

“There needs to be some thought into how impactful the idea is that you’re going to be implementing,” Griggs said. “Is there going to be some type of scalable benefit to staff across the University?”

Wood gave an example of a change being implemented from his position which includes buying supplies for athletics and other UVA areas. By December 2023, the University – including the John Paul Jones Arena and catering, for example – will transition from single-use plastic to aluminum.

“We’ll be recycling those cans instead of tossing them, and will dispose of the waste in a sustainable manner,” Wood said. “It’s changing how we work and what we allow people to throw away [in a place] that is attached to the University.”

Proposals will be accepted starting Sept. 6 and are due Oct. 7. The top 10 will be selected in December and winners will be announced Feb. 10.

The Staff Senate comprises 65 UVA employees, elected for two- to three-year terms, who represent University workers. Employees, not including the UVA Medical Center (which has its own committee) are grouped into 24 academic and administrative areas by their numbers. The Staff Senate aims to convey staff interests to University leadership and ensure staff are an integral part of key decision-making.

For more information, click on this Staff Senate website.

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications