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September 29, 1994

Darlene Lewis

Following a study it conducted last year of Pitt's Office of Human Resources, the consulting firm of Ray T. Fortunato Associates of State College concluded that Human Resources was underfunded, lacking in direction and "clout" within the University and "extremely understaffed." To correct the situation, the Fortunato group suggested a number of changes, including the hiring of seven new staff members and the creation of the position of associate vice chancellor for Human Resources to strengthen the voice of the office within the University.

Following a national search, Darlene Lewis was named to the position of associate vice chancellor for Human Resources in April. She came to Pitt from Magee-Womens Hospital, where she had headed the Human Resources department since 1990. Prior to coming to Pittsburgh, she was deputy commissioner for administration and finance in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Employment and Training; an office systems specialist for Johnson and Higgins Japan, in Tokyo; corporate human resources manager for the Tandon Corp., in Chatworth, Cal., and assistant director for human resources at the Cleveland Public Library.

University Times writer Mike Sajna interviewed Lewis this week about some of her plans for Human Resources.

Human Resources is beginning a re-engineering project as a preliminary step toward implementing a new Human Resources system. Can you explain what is being done and how it will change or improve the quality of service?

We are in the process of re-engineering HR and the first place we are addressing is the area of Employment. We recently sat down with the HR representatives and mapped the situation. We took the time from when a position became available until the time it was filled, and looked at all of the processes that go into making that happen. In doing so we identified over 90 opportunities to improve.

But I also think it is important that we go through the identification process of where we bump up against our customer and where we bump up against ourselves in trying to make the flow ultimately better for our customers. I am a big believer in continuous quality and I always think there is room for improvement.

One of the ways in which we also are addressing the employment side is that our HR recruiters did a lot of paperwork that I don't really think is necessary in order to get someone on board. So what we are looking at now is having them be more of an HR representative in terms of screening resumes, screening applications, being pro-active around employment issues versus reactive in just trying to fill positions. Those are some of the positive steps we have taken. We've also added a computer in the lobby of HR. It is always on gopher [the computer-based application used for browsing the Internet, including PittInfo] so that anyone can come down and view the jobs on gopher. I would encourage our employees to use this method on PittInfo to access the jobs. In addition, you can purchase a disk with the jobs on it for $3.25 if you so desire. And we also have a job line. So we are looking at every technological way we can to make jobs known and give people easier access to jobs.

You've mentioned using PittInfo, the electronic bulletin board that provides information on the University, to advertise job openings. How has that been received and do you have any other plans for using PittInfo?

At least down in the lobby, almost on a daily basis now we have a waiting line for people who wish to get on the computer and access jobs and we are considering putting another computer down there. I can only tell you that when I was at a SAC [Staff Association Council] meeting there was a very positive response from people who had used the system. I haven't received anything in writing or taken a survey, but I know there was a very positive reaction at SAC from a couple of people who had used the system. I would think that any time we can allow people to have more access and more knowledge it would be positive and viewed as positive.

Are there any other plans for me to use PittInfo?

Since there is a Human Resources section within PittInfo, eventually I would like to have something like "What's New in HR" in the system. It would be a way of notifying employees about changes within policies or pending policies. I think PittInfo has endless possibilities and I am really looking forward to using it as much as I can to communicate to the University community.

Now you are identifying the departments where the jobs are available. How is that working out?

Have you gotten any feedback from the departments involved?

Nothing negative. We put a disclaimer at the beginning of the job listings that asks people not to contact the departments. We also put it on the posting. Thus far, I have not had a department call me. Because, in fact, many people found out through the grapevine where the jobs were at and would call the departments anyway. We are just being more open and honest about it now. Basically, they know they have to put their resume or their application or their status into HR. If there is a problem I haven't heard of it. T

he Task Force on Fringe Benefits has implemented a number of cuts or other changes in employee benefits designed to help the University balance its budget.

What do you think about some of those cuts or changes and attempting to help balance the budget by cutting benefits?

I am going to have to beg off on that a little bit because I wasn't here for the whole process. I really would like to look at the future and not the past. I don't know what good it will do to reflect on the past. What I have planned for the future is I have put together a number of committees to try to look at the remaining benefits and to possibly put together some kind of cafeteria plan that will offer people choice. I think if we continue to pick away at benefits, one by one, it really will seem like a big take-away. We need to take a comprehensive look at our benefits and say what is a good package where people will be allowed choice and not let it become an us versus them issue. Rather I would like to look at how we can take benefits as a whole and make it better. I really do think we can do that through giving people a greater choice.

Would you define "cafeteria benefits"?

Let's say I have children who are teenagers and they need braces. I might want to choose a dental plan, while a single person might not want a dental plan option. Instead, they might want to take that credit to put money into the flexible spending account for medical expenses and/or dependent care for their parents. There are a lot of options that can go back and forth and meet individual needs and not make people feel their benefits are being taken away.

Are there any plans for implementing this at Pitt? If so, would it include eye and dental benefits?

We are investigating everything that was on the [benefits task force] list. Dental and vision were included on that list of things to be considered and we are considering a multitude of options. We have six subcommittees that I think are fairly inclusive of the University community working on it. What happened when I first came here was several groups came to me and said they would like to be more a part of the policy-making decisions within the University. And it seemed to me that SAC, as well as EQUIPOISE [a group of black faculty, staff and administrators], PACWC [Provost Advisory Committee on Womens Concerns] and LGAAP [Lesbian and Gay Academic Association at Pitt] had some of the same similar concerns. They came as individual groups, but they, in fact, had some of the same concerns. So when I put the committees together I really tried to pick at least one representative from each of the groups that had approached me. I wanted to have as diverse and as inclusive a group of people to work on this next set of flexible benefits as possible. They include faculty. They include staff. They include people from different organizations. We have not yet had any meetings. That's planned for October, but we have a fairly aggressive work plan together. I really can't tell you now if we'll have dental and vision, but it is certainly something we will investigate.

Approximately 2,000 University employees are currently enrolled in the traditional Blue Cross/Blue Shield Medical plan. There has been serious talk about doing away with that plan. What is happening with traditional BC/BS? That currently is in committee and our meeting is on Friday [Sept. 30]. I would rather not circumvent the committee process. That is still under discussion. It is really under the medical rates committee, which will make recommendations. Obviously it is going to go to the administration. There is a whole process for that. It would not be proper for me right now to talk about that until we've had full committee review.

Funding was recently approved for a Leadership Development Program to train supervisors to be better leaders and become more aware of the needs and problems of the people they supervise. When will that begin and who will be trained through it?

Right now Jerry Moore [manager of Employee Development in the Office of Human Resources] is working on a roll-out plan for implementation. We have not developed a complete plan as to how we are going to roll it out within the University. We hope to train every supervisor and manager and we have to refine some of the things we want to go over. For instance, I've asked Jerry to dedicate part of it to diversity. How do you deal with a diverse population? How do you deal with diverse employees? That is a component that wasn't in it. So we're doing some refining of the program itself. We're adding some things based on the input we've received. In addition, he is developing a plan of how to get it out to the University. Quite frankly, this is a big place. It is going to take time. It will probably take a number of years, but eventually we hope it will touch everyone's lives.

SAC feels that the program should be mandatory for all supervisors. Has there been any discussion along those lines? Will it include faculty?

I met with the provost about the training issue and he is very open to it. He said he would be one of the first ones to sign up, so I was very encouraged by him. We hope to include the faculty.

About mandatory. We all hesitate to use the word mandatory because it conjures up a kind of negative feel among people who may think they already know how to supervise and they already know what they're doing.

I have found that some of the more affective training you can do is on the departmental level, versus holding group sessions and group classes. What I've said to Jerry is that I'd like him to roll the plan out by department versus having 30 people sitting in a classroom from different areas. The reason I think that works is because the department manager is there. Nobody is not going to show up with their supervisor present. I think there are ways to get around the "mandatory" and put it to the expectation of the manager and other people that attendance is expected. So the way we are looking at it now, it probably will be concentrated by departments and will go through departments. That is what we are anticipating.

The University's classification and pay plan that establishes job classes and salary range is being revised by a consultant. What is the status of that project? Do you have any idea of what the results may be?

Well, we're a long way from the results. Of the 500 requests we sent out, 380 people responded. We're now going back to those responses to get working titles and what I've suggested we think about is going to a market-based system versus a point system.

What do you mean by market-based system versus a point system?

Right now we have a system that says 'Tell me what percentage of time this person spends on each of these major job duties.' You then take that information and you give it to the compensation people and they say, 'Based upon the percentage of time that you spend on each of these duties this is worth so many points. Therefore it should be an administrator III or a secretary I or a secretary II.' What happens in that system is that people will write their percentage based upon what they think will get them a higher classification. There is no relationship between the job in the sense of bumping up the price and what it will take to go out and hire someone who is called an accountant, for example. What the point system typically does is reward budgetary, supervisory and managerial people. You tend to get more points for those kind of duties than if you're a technician. A speech pathologist may be harder to get and more expensive, but typically they are going to rate much lower because they don't have budgetary, management or supervisory experience. Point systems tend to keep technical skills lower, when in fact those technical skills in the market may be driving a person up the scale faster than someone else who may have those managerial or supervisory experiences.

So what you find in the marketplace is that you have a position that is historically a low paying position because that is what the market pays, but on the other hand you'll have someone who has a technical position who is highly sought after, the market is moving like crazy on this person, and we can't recruit because we have valued the position on a point system versus a market system.

I think you can justify market-based, too. You can certainly say 'this job' and get away from the individual. I think that is what we are trying to say. 'This job is worth so much money to the institution.' It is worth so much because that is what it is worth out in the marketplace. I should be able to say to an employee or a supervisor, 'This is the mid-point or this is what the market is paying for this amount of experience and this particular job.' It gets a little complicated. It gets a little convoluted. I don't expect people to read this and say I understand. We are going to have to do an education process for people to understand what a market-based system will mean.

An advisory board has been studying the University's performance appraisal system for about two years now. The performance appraisal period begins Jan. 15. Will that give you enough time to implement any suggested changes or will you just use the current performance appraisal process? I have seen the suggested performance appraisal system. I know they worked hard on it. But at this time I don't feel comfortable in implementing the new form. I would like to look at it in light of the whole Human Resources information system and also look at a way to get those forms out to people electronically. We've got to stop this paper madness that we have with forms and having people filling out forms. As a matter of fact, we are looking at a couple of automated systems now where we might encourage people to use that particular software or we may even put something out on the system that people could use and electronically send in to HR. So we're looking at it in the whole context of automating the department. I just feel uncomfortable about starting another paper system that really doesn't reinforce my overall vision of becoming less paper-intense versus more paper-intense.

In most institutions, affirmative action and Human Resources are combined. Here at Pitt they are separate. What do you think of that arrangement and do you think they will ever be brought together?

I think it is how you view Affirmative Action. Bill Savage [director of Affirmative Action] and I have had a number of conversations about it. I think if I could view it as Bill Savage he would say he perceives himself to be heavy on compliance. That doesn't mean that they don't take complaints, etc. But, I think, he is more heavily involved in the compliance side. I have always, in all my previous jobs, always had the responsibility of Affirmative Action. I don't think I would know how to act without some responsibility. And I do think HR has some responsibility too for Affirmative Action.

For instance, if someone comes here and says, 'I have been discriminated against,' I really don't want them shuffled off to some place else. Because sometimes when you sit down and talk about it and deal with it, it is an employee relation problem that may or may not be based on race. It may be based on a lot of other issues. I think we have an obligation to investigate and find out what are the real root causes of the issues.

What changes are you now planning for Human Resources?

My major project is redesigning the department and implementing a Human Resources Information System. I want to look at every way we can to become more efficient through automation, or just more efficient. Of course, I am very involved in the flex benefit or cafeteria benefit planning. An employee assistance program I think is something else that is being done that is important. It will be announced in October. I am very excited about that. It will provide counseling free of charge to employees. We've entered into a partnership with the employee assistance program at UPMC. It will be located in the new medical arts building. I think it is going to be a very positive program for employees who are under stress in a multitude of situations. Most people think of employee assistance programs as just drinking and alcohol, but it is a much fuller range than that. It is really for someone who is in crisis for a number of reasons: family, financial. I think it is a very positive program that we are about to start.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 3

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