Tags » Staffing

 
 
 

Juice Bar Competition Update

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

A selection committee convened last week to review the nine proposals we received for a student-managed food and drink service in the Juice Bar. As we have mentioned before, proposals were evaluated on the following criteria: feasibility, economic viability, vision, and simplicity. We also took into consideration the numerous comments readers left on the last update post, so thank you to all who contributed.

After much deliberation, we have narrowed the field to three proposals. We have notified the students and we will be conducting interviews in the first week of January. We hope to make a final decision shortly thereafter. If we are unable to reach a decision after the interviews, we will reconsider the other applications.

In the meanwhile, please feel free to continue chiming in on what you’d like to see at the Juice Bar.

On Staffing, Mission, and the Challenges of Reorganization

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

To illuminate one aspect of the staffing changes the College has experienced during the last two years, we asked Jeff Cason, Dean of International Programs and a faculty member in the Political Science department, to describe the benefits and challenges of reorganization.

*****

As everyone knows, we have been going through a great deal of change on campus lately as we have dealt with a reduction in staff, changing expectations about what staff should do, and reassessing what we all do, in many ways.

I have found it particularly interesting—as well as challenging and rewarding—to work with staff in the “international” area as we have dealt with the need to readjust our expectations over the last year and a half, and as we have consolidated operations in the area. In this international area, we’ve seen a staff reduction that mirrors the overall staff reduction at Middlebury, which is about 15%. This has not been easy—how could it be?

In the consolidation, we have brought together staff in the International Programs and Off-Campus Study office, the International Students and Scholar Services office, and the Rohatyn Center for International Affairs. Bringing these three areas together makes a great deal of sense, given their affinities and related and cross-cutting purposes.

The consolidation has brought both challenges and opportunities. Since we are an area of the college that has certain “non-discretionary” service requirements (we can’t stop providing services for international students who need visas to come to Middlebury, after all!), we have to figure out how to do things more efficiently, and figure out what we have done in the past that we no longer need to do.  And in some ways we are doing more.  For instance, over the last few years we have been increasing the number of students from other colleges and universities who attend Middlebury’s Schools.  This makes both financial and reputational sense for the College, so we know we will continue in this direction.

A key component of our reorganization effort has been to make sure that communication happens throughout our area and the entire organization.  We have done this by making sure that everyone is at the same table every two weeks, in a general staff meeting. While this might be seen by some as a new time commitment, by bringing colleagues together, we have been able to learn from one another and save time in other ways. At these meetings we have also increased cross-campus dialogue by inviting colleagues from other departments (most recently, the office of Student Financial Services) to meet with our full staff and discuss topics related to the entire group’s work. The individual units also continue to have their standard meetings to discuss nitty-gritty and routine work in their areas. This is still a work in progress, but we have made progress.

Very importantly, this consolidation has led to colleagues doing new things, which almost everyone has found beneficial. As one colleague put it to me in an email, responding to a query about what I might include in this post: “I think the thing most worth mentioning is how the consolidation has forced us to think differently about ‘our jobs.’ We have people who have traditionally always done certain tasks/projects, but as we consolidate, different people have been given the opportunity to dabble in areas of interest where they may not have had experience before.” Noting that there are different needs (and different crunch times) in the different offices, this staff member concluded: “The challenge is identifying these needs and availabilities and matching them with staff interests enough in advance to capitalize on the opportunities, but we’ll get better at that.”

I do think we’re getting better at that, as our staff knows more about what everyone in the broader area—and outside the area—does. It is not a simple process, of course. And it’s interesting, to say the least.

Closing the Loop

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

To shed some light on the ins and outs of internal communication, I asked the directors of two of the biggest operations on campus to explain how their departments manage the communication process.  This is what they had to say.

From Norm Cushman, Director of Facilities Services

At Facilities Services, the pursuit of exemplary customer service is a continual goal. With many details to keep track of in our business, there is always the chance that we will fail or disappoint a customer.  Over time, we’ve come to subscribe to the philosophy that if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.  Consequently, we believe that taking care of the little things is what matters most.  And in order to take care of the little things, we try to “close the communication loop” in our interactions with others.  Simply stated, if I know something that you don’t know, the communication loop is open.  For email, a response of “thanks,” “I agree,” “let’s discuss,” or “understood” lets the other party know that you have read their message and that they have been acknowledged. Similarly, returning phone messages lets the caller know that you take their call seriously. Closing the loop requires little effort and even when the news does not satisfy the other party, it helps avoid the “they never get back to me,” black-hole of communication.  People almost always wish to know that their message has been received and understood, even if they don’t like the reply.  By the way, this philosophy applies to communications within Facilities Services as well communications with the rest of the campus.

From Mike Roy, Dean of Library and Information Services

People frequently contact LIS when something is wrong, something is broken, or they need something quickly in order to get their work done. And because many of our services require coordination among the various parts of LIS, we often need to communicate internally before we can respond with a complete answer and follow up on a request.  This communication loop can be a challenge to manage. We receive requests through multiple channels—email, web forms, phone calls, faxes, walk-ins, paper forms—and we respond in variety of ways.  We strive to blend the friendliness of a hotel concierge and the efficiency of FedEX.com, and avoid the soulless bureaucracy of governmental agencies.  Over the years, we’ve found that the use of queues (like sending email to helpdesk@middlebury.edu) and allowing patrons to track their requests via the web is the most robust way to manage requests, with the caveat that the best forum for handling a more complicated request is a face-to-face meeting, a phone call, or a series of email.  But the problem with email is that it is fragile. It is usually a one-on-one transaction, and if the thread gets lost, or the person on the other end happens to be on vacation, your request can be forgotten or delayed. More robust systems that allow requests to be routed, managed by multiple people, and allow the requester to check on the status of things are, in principle, far superior to email. That said, such systems are more cumbersome for all involved, and feel much less personal than the phone, face-to-face conversation, and even email.

The Staff Resources Committee (SRC)—Where We Are, Part 1

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

President Liebowitz had a lot to say about the work of the SRC in his fall address to the campus, and for good reason—the committee has played an important role in guiding the reductions in staff and reorganization efforts that have taken place during the past two years.

SRC business was also the focus of a recent Senior Managers meeting and a forum hosted by Staff Council, a recording of which is available on the Council’s website.

The bottom line coming out of these meetings is mostly good, though the numbers speak to dramatic institutional change.  After two years of attrition—encouraged by early retirement and voluntary separation programs—the College’s staff has shrunk by almost 15% since the summer of 2008. As of October 21, the College employed 856 FTEs (these are “full-time equivalents,” not actual people), down from 1021 in August of 2008. See the graph below for an historical perspective on the size of the staff.

These reductions were instrumental in resolving the budget deficits that the College forecast when the recession hit and our endowment plummeted and fundraising became more uncertain.  They also guided us down to an overall FTE count—in the neighborhood of 850—that the SRC believes is a reasonable threshold or limit going forward, based on the College’s financial resources.

With fewer staff resources, we have also worked to consolidate departments with overlapping responsibilities and reassign staff members from one area of the college to another. Not surprisingly, this initiative has generated anxiety, with colleagues wondering whether or how their areas will be affected, which is why clear communication is so important. That said, we are aiming to complete major consolidations of departments by January 1.

Despite the progress we’ve made, challenges remain.

In particular, Vice Presidents/Deans must continue to work with managers/supervisors to refocus departmental missions, prioritize work, and identify those functions that we will no longer support because of reduced resources, or do differently in light of fewer staff.  This effort—and the vertical and lateral communication it requires (a dept shouldn’t stop doing something without figuring out how that loss will affect other areas of the College)—has been a struggle. Staff colleagues continue to report that their workloads have not been adjusted downward, or that they are doing more with less. As we pull out of this recession, we must do a better job of aligning expectations with our available resources.

Feedback? This has been a broad-brush summary, and I would welcome any comments, questions, or recommendations. You may post anonymously if you like.