Leadership team introduces plan to improve working environment for staff


[img_inline align=”” src=”http://padnws01.mcmaster.ca/images/croppedleaders.jpg” caption=”Work team chairs and President George”]

Photograph(l-r):University President Peter George and work team chairs David Kidney, Gillian Howard (vice-chair), Jennifer Wesson-Howe and Lynn Hruczkowski.

McMaster will be hiring an external organizational change consultant and asking individual members of the community who possess expertise in particular areas to assist with the implementation of some 21 recommendations aimed at improving and enhancing the work environment for staff.

I have the time, will and desire to make things better here…to make McMaster an employer of choice, said University President Peter George at the opening of the first of two town-hall meetings held on campus last week to roll out the recommendations, made by four committees comprised of staff volunteers. George said many of recommendations will be relatively easy to implement but some will require a cultural shift and attitudinal change by many people.

The chairs of the four committees were on hand to present summaries of their recommendations and to answer questions. A leadership team, consisting of David Kidney (communications), Ray Procwat/Gillian Howard (development), Lynn Hruczkowski (recognition) and Jennifer Wesson-Howes (staff involvement), Karen Belaire, Harvey Weingarten and Peter George — has accepted all of the recommendations submitted by the work groups and is now developing a plan for implementation.

There was such a strong feeling when we learned that all the recommendations had been accepted. We felt a sense of victory and success, but we also now face a real challenge in terms of how we make these recommendations work, said David Kidney, who chaired the communications work team.

Some of the recommendations have already been implemented; others will be implemented over longer periods of time ranging from six months to two years.

The recommendations address four areas of concern identified in a staff survey conducted by Reacon: communications, staff involvement, staff recognition and staff development.

The public forums provided members of the community with a face-to-face, open and fairly frank discussion of topics of importance and concern to staff. Conversation focused on the progress made in staff contract negotiations, the shortage of staff lounges, the need for better and more open communication and more staff involvement in decision-making, organizational change, perception versus reality, and manager competency.

Some staff cast doubts about the commitment of managers to the survey follow-up process. How many managers and supervisors are here? asked one staff member. Another suggested the best way for staff to stay informed was to have the opportunity to share a coffee break in a staff lounge; word of mouth — not e-mail — is still the first (and best) way to obtain information. And what about those staff lounges: “Where have they all gone?” questioned another.

While some staff sounded dubious of the survey follow-up process, others seemed anxious to move it along. I think it's now up to us as staff members to work with (the leadership team) to make the University a better place. We as staff members have to get involved. We have a lot invested here. They've done their part now let's work with them to make it a reality, commented one female staff member. The remark drew applause from many colleagues in the room.

Another contributor said that improving the work environment involved the ability of people to respect one another and treat one another with dignity.

To a question about the application of the recommendations in academic areas, University vice-president academic and provost Harvey Weingarten commented that the recommendations apply to the entire University.

Leadership team member and University vice-president administration Karen Belaire (shown in photograph at right), who joined McMaster in April, praised the work teams for their efforts and pledged her commitment to the project. My number one goal for the upcoming year is implementing the staff survey recommendations. Belaire said quarterly reports would be issued on the progress made on the recommendations.

Belaire says individuals on campus may be invited to assist with some of the task teams that will be formed as part of the implementation plan.

An external consultant will be hired by September. He/she will be charged with assessing the current culture at McMaster and implementing a course of action that would result in a more participatory, open and respectful culture. Jennifer Wesson-Howe, who chaired the team that recommended the hiring of an external consultant, says the group wanted someone from outside McMaster because “anyone within would either have or would be perceived to have their own agenda.”

The town hall meetings, held in the Health Sciences Centre and Convocation Hall on June 27 and 28, drew more than 250 people, mostly staff, from across campus.

A very brief summary of some of the recommendations made by the teams appears below:

Communication team:

* establish staff liaison officers

* all staff have access to e-mail, Web

* more lounges for staff

Staff involvement

* hire an organization change professional, then implement the recommendations

* establish a policy mandating staff representation on selection committees (departmental, faculty — chair only — and University )

* establish a staff volunteer database

* establish an electronic staff newsletter

Staff recognition (non-monetary)

*enhance President's Staff Awards through better awareness and promotion

* increase number of President's Awards to 10 from five

* clarify the annual performance review process (with a goal of eliminating inconsistencies in application)

* implement a staff recognition committee in each department

Staff development

* more and better communication about training and development opportunities offered by Human Resources (University currently spends about $1.3 million annually on staff traning and development)

* establish core competencies for managers

* consistent application of policies

* career counselling for staff

* revision of Human Resources Web site

For more details on these recommendations and others, to find out more about the timelines for the recommendations, or to find out more about follow-up project, visit the Web site listed below.