March 16, 2012

Survey leads to better communication in IT

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UAB is a big, big place, and with more than 20,000 employees it’s easy not to know what is happening — even in the office next to you.

(From left) Information Technologies Web Services team members Kevin Canada, Colin Brown, Karen Placke, Lauren Ritchie and Steven Till discuss strategies for their newly implemented newsletter at a recent meeting.

If no one tells you, you’re very likely to never know.

Campus groups and organizations also experience these issues on a smaller scale. It was a source of consternation for employees in UAB’s Information Technology department, according the fall 2010 Faculty and Staff Climate Survey. The group of 180-plus employees comprises professionals whose services support the UAB community. These services include support for research computing, research administrative systems, financial and human resource administrative systems, central email, networking, online educational resources and IT security.

Employees were concerned that they did not know what was happening within the individual administrative systems, infrastructure services and support services divisions — and sometimes even within their own group. IT’s goal is to help the university reach its greatest potential by providing the equipment and applications that enable many of the core services relied upon by students, faculty and staff at UAB. IT employees believed their division could be more efficient if all of its members knew the projects being planned and implemented across the organization.

IT has implemented several new forms of communication with faculty and staff as a result of the survey, including a monthly electronic newsletter, town hall meetings and email notifications of job postings within IT.

“We’ve implemented quite a few changes, and we’re continuing to innovate,” says Doug Rigney, Ph.D., vice president for IT. “It’s an ongoing process. Our changes and improvements are by no means over, but we feel like we’ve made some good strides.”

Heather White, director of Fiscal & Administrative affairs, has organized and directed some of the changes — many of which were suggested by the IT Employee Feedback Group and IT’s Strategic Planning Team.

The Employee Feedback Group is made up of non-management employees and was implemented directly as a result of the climate survey. Employees rotate on and off the group and represent all areas of the organization. The group meets with Rigney bi-monthly to give feedback — positive and negative — on the organization.

The group was the point of origin for developing IT’s employee newsletter.

“One of the first things that group said to us was that they really felt like they knew what was going on in their own workgroup, but they wanted to have a better understanding of what other groups in IT were doing,” White says. “They wanted to know about big projects that were of interest across IT. That was the impetus behind developing a monthly newsletter. It’s turned into a very successful, organic thing.”

The newsletter, which is edited by Web Content Coordinator Lauren Ritchie, includes news items throughout the organization, including ongoing projects and upcoming events. The team built the newsletter in SharePoint, and there is a method for employees to submit items electronically.

“We’re able to leverage our employee’s knowledge and available technology to deliver something electronically that is a resource for our employees,” White says.

The Employee Feedback Group also asked for employees to be recognized for good work, and they are working on a recognition program.

The management team already has put together a recognition program for departments. The program, known as IT Makes a Difference, is an opportunity to highlight IT initiatives, projects and activities that make a difference to the university, an internal department or other group on campus. It also showcases a project or initiative that exemplifies IT’s core values of excellence, accountability, service, innovation and integrity. Groups honored as part of the program have a story in the newsletter and are presented a certificate.

“We’re also working on putting up a permanent display that would house honorees of the program,” White says. “It’s really trying to highlight that the IT organization makes a tremendous difference on campus. They are unsung heroes.”

Other changes

Another way employees wanted to improve organizational communication was to ensure that all employees were made aware of job availabilities.

Now, employees receive an email notifying them of new job openings and the available positions are posted in the monthly newsletter and the bulletin board in the Cudworth and Rust buildings.

“We’re being more proactive in telling our employees about the positions we have available,” White says.

Currently, there are 20 job openings available in IT, and managers are working to get them filled from inside and outside of the organization. To help, IT introduced a new recruitment plan to its employees this past week. The plan provides monetary incentives for employees if they refer someone for a position who is then hired and completes their six-month probationary period.

“There will be a reward and recognition incentive, and it’s a program we’re really excited about,” White says.

Employees also can expect more clearly defined career paths in the coming months — another area they addressed in the survey. IT management is working with Human Resources and the Health Services Information System on defining career ladder steps.

“We’re trying to be very coordinated and roll out a joint program that addresses IT job titling,” White says. “We hope to have that finalized in the next three to six months, and we think it will give our folks clear career paths within the organization.”

Overall White says, the survey and the implemented changes of the past 14-plus months have been a positive experience for the entire IT organization. Feedback continues to come in from all areas, and it’s making the group stronger.

“We’re getting feedback on ways we can continue to improve and make things better, which is great,” White says. “That tells me people are reading the information in our newsletter and thinking about how we can continue to improve. It’s showing that our employees are engaged in the process. We have a great group of people that are extremely talented and very creative. We’re trying really hard to tap into that talent and creativity to make the organization better.”