Sullivan Discusses Leadership and Staff Survey Results with Employee Councils

December 12, 2011

December 12, 2011 — University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan shared ideas about leadership that guide her in her job and discussed the importance of the staff survey when she spoke Wednesday to the executive committee of the Employee Communication Councils.

Michael Strine, executive vice president and chief operating officer, also updated the employee group, outlining the principles of the new internal financial model he is charged with implementing, along with John Simon, executive vice president and provost.

The Employee Communication Councils facilitate communication between senior administration and staff. Councils represent offices reporting to the executive vice president and chief operating officer and the executive vice president and provost, and within the Medical Center and the Health System's academic and research missions. The executive committee, convened by Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer Susan Carkeek, comprises the chairs, vice chairs and secretaries of each council.

"Those of us who work in the administration need to know what's on the minds of employees across the organization. So your role is an important one," Sullivan told the committee.

Leadership for Everyone

"Just as a culture of leadership thrives in our student body, the culture of leadership should permeate every corner of the organization," Sullivan said.

Leaders must be responsible for what they know and what they don't know, too, she said, encouraging the council members to identify priorities in their schools and offices.

"Then determine the difference between what's 'urgent' and what's 'important' among the issues that you address in your councils," she said.

Priorities always remain important, whereas urgent matters come and go, she said.

She urged the executive committee members, as leaders of their employee councils, to find out what they don't know about the areas they represent and the people who work in them.

"Encourage your colleagues to help you fill in the gaps," she said. When she asks this of her staff, Sullivan said she promises not to shoot the messenger.

Creating a culture of leadership includes everyone at every level and builds a stronger organization from the ground up, Sullivan said.

She mentioned the Pennsylvania State University scandal involving allegations of child sexual abuse levied against an assistant football coach as an example of what can go wrong when employees don't feel comfortable reporting bad news.

"You can help us build an environment that empowers employees to share news by encouraging open lines of communication, even when the news is difficult," she stressed.

One of her goals this year is to build stronger relationships with faculty, staff and students. "I want to be sure that our employees are receiving timely information from the administration, just as you feed information to us," she said.

Staff Survey Provides Guidance

Reminding the committee that the staff survey conducted in the spring revealed a high level of satisfaction with the University as a workplace, Sullivan also acknowledged that some staff stay at U.Va. just because it's the biggest employer in town. She said Human Resources continues to develop the "career paths" element of the University staff system that is intended to help people feel they want to be here.

The survey went to employees in the Academic Division; faculty and Medical Center personnel are surveyed separately.

Promotional opportunities, along with pay and the performance evaluation process – or the "three P's," as they have come to be known – were the most critical issues to emerge from the survey, she said.

"The survey gives us a baseline by which to measure our success in working on these areas," Sullivan said. Deans and vice presidents are currently reviewing survey data to focus on issues that are unique to their schools and units.

Leadership and the staff survey were also the two main topics of the Employee Communication Councilretreat, held Oct. 28. There council members had the opportunity to offer comments and provide recommendations to the Staff Survey Advisory Committee. That committee is using detailed feedback from the Employee Communications Council and other groups to develop specific plans around the "three Ps," as well as currently benchmarking best practices at other higher education institutions.

In answering a question about improving the performance evaluation system, Sullivan said she has made a personal commitment to develop more concrete, measurable goals with those who report to her.

Sullivan said that after Carkeek reported survey results to the Board of Visitors, members asked that a similar survey be taken every two years to keep track of progress on the issues and create a longitudinal analysis of the workforce.

One executive committee member asked about her involvement in the Medical Center, to which Sullivan replied, "I assure you that I am focused on the Health System."

The Medical Center Operating Board has been restructured to include the president, the provost and the dean of the School of Nursing. In addition, Sullivan will begin joining some of the medical presentations, known as "Grand Rounds," starting with meetings on patient safety and on surgery.

"The new internal financial model will take down structural barriers" between the Medical Center and the School of Medicine, she also said.

Strine Sketches Internal Financial Model

Strine gave a broad outline of the financial system that he and Simon are developing with input from all over the University.

"It's a big change. It's something we need everyone to understand," Strine said.

The new process will make the budget easier to understand and require vice presidents, deans and other managers to become more involved in planning how they'll allocate their resources. The financial model will be more flexible in finding ways to motivate and compensate staff, he said, offering incentives for activities that fit the University's mission.

— By Anne Bromley

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications