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HR Transformation … Didn’t We Do That Already and HR Recommendations from the Freeh report

As many of you know, I served as a volunteer leader of CUPA-HR for many years before accepting the president and CEO role in July 2005. The highlight of that volunteer experience was serving as chair of the board of directors in 2000-01 and the opportunity to lead the program planning efforts for the 2000 annual conference. The theme we chose for the conference was “Human Resources in Transition.”

Fast forward to the focus of the work of one of our board committees and the theme of this year’s annual conference, “Revolutionary Action. Engage. Lead. Transform.”

Kinda begs the following questions. If HR was in transition in 2000, why are we trying to transform it in 2012? Were we not successful in 2000? Have we not been transitioning and transforming HR during the last 12 years? I think the best answer to these questions is “yes and no” (what a great HR response)!

At the July 2012 national board meeting and this year’s Association Leadership Program, we focused on human resources transformation as a key discussion/action topic. Our volunteer leaders from across the country came up with great examples of what HR leaders can do to facilitate HR transformation. Here are just a few of them:

  • Create a leadership culture where every employee takes responsibility for leadership and success of the college or university;
  • Create a culture of accountability, leadership, consistency and fair play;
  • Rethink the employment relationship — changing from a cookie cutter culture to one that more clearly recognizes employees as individuals;
  • Create a workplace that fully embraces different perspectives, different viewpoints and different experiences as drivers to institutional excellence and long-term viability of the organization; and
  • Implement true succession planning so that our boards of trustees see the talent pipeline that higher ed is creating as the primary pipeline for future campus leaders.

The recent Freeh report regarding Penn State University also provides compelling recommendations regarding the importance of creating “an atmosphere of values and ethics-based decision making” and the important role for HR in the transformation of Penn State and, in my opinion, many other colleges and universities across the country. Some of the HR-related recommendations in the report include:

  • Upgrade the position of associate vice president of HR to a vice president position reporting directly to the president;
  • Separate the university’s office of human resources from the university’s finance and business organization;
  • Assign all HR policymaking responsibilities to HR and limit the ability of individual departments to disregard the university’s HR policies and procedures;
  • Provide HR with complete access to executive compensation information and utilize HR, in conjunction with the university budget office, to benchmark and advise the administration and the board of trustees on matters of executive compensation; and
  • Establish a policy to ensure that all police reports alleging criminal conduct by students, faculty and staff are reported to HR.

The bottom line regarding the transforming roles for HR that our volunteer leaders outlined and the transformation outlined in the Freeh report is that HR transformation is not about “HR” at all. It is about the leadership roles our institutions need for us to perform. Of course our HR roles have transitioned during the last 12 years, but they need to continue to transition and transform to meet the ever-changing needs of our campuses — and this means doing a whole lot more than serving as the “health and happiness patrol.”

The question for each of us as higher ed HR professionals is, “Are we willing to constantly transition and transform our roles to be the leader that our institution needs for us to be?”

What do you think the implications of the Freeh report are for higher education HR? How should HR’s role on campus change or transform?

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  • Dblake

    Andy, you are spot on with your assessment. I have read the Freeh report and it is a wake up call for many. It is must reading for anyone wishing to understand what happened at Penn State. I have to wonder if HR had been involved would Penn State be in the position it is? I would like to think no. However, I am a realist and what my limited crystal ball tells me is that HR professionals need to go beyond speaking about transformation and begin taking concrete steps to make it happen. The Freeh reports, as you noted, provides us with some great suggestions on starting a conversation of what HR should look like in higher ed. As an organization, we are taking the right steps to with regard to transformation; however, I would challenge all of my colleagues to realize transformation is about action and the Freeh reports indicates the time is now.

    I am reminded of a quote that states, “If you don’t like change you will like irrelevance even less.” What we decide to be us up to us.

  • BKDickens

    Andy,
    What a timely discussion. You are right that HR Transformation cannot and should not be limited to issues of infrastructure and e-HR internal or limited to the HR function, but rather it is a change in the mindset of both HR professionals and the institutional leadership about HR’s strategic focus and alignment in support of the overall university mission and vision. In order to accomplish this HEHR transformation, HR must be seen as having the “measured autonomy” outside of the normal/more traditional reporting lines and organizational structures. The Freeh report supports this much needed HR transformation and will hopefully invigorate the dialogue surrounding the topic that will ultimately affect long term sustainable change for HEHR. Great article!!