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Staff initiative builds new personnel programs

| 03 June 2004

Imagine a new assistant professor arriving at Berkeley this summer. Suppose she has no idea how her work will be evaluated or what she needs to do if she wants to advance to associate professor. Imagine that she wants to compare her salary and position with those of her peers at other research universities, but can’t because other universities don’t use comparable titles.

This scenario may be totally unrealistic for faculty, but it’s a pretty good picture of the situation that staff and their supervisors face with the personnel programs currently in use on the Berkeley campus.

The picture includes confusing job titles that are hard to compare to the outside job market, inconsistent performance evaluations, and little formal support for career development. Four years ago, many staff, feeling underpaid and overworked, began to look elsewhere in the hot California job market. Chancellor Berdahl appointed the Compensation Advisory Committee (CAC) to study the problem and recommend solutions.

CAC members spent a year listening to staff and their supervisors, learning the complexities of compensation and classification, and crafting their recommendations. Chancellor Berdahl then appointed the Staff Infrastructure Steering Committee (SISC) to work with Human Resources on redesigning staff personnel systems from the ground up.

“The chancellor realized that we had to start immediately on developing better HR programs to replace the ones that simply weren’t working,” says Vice Chancellor for Research Beth Burnside, one of two SISC co-chairs, along with Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Resources David Moers. “The campus needs a rational job structure, a market-sensitive compensation system that provides for better internal equity, clearly defined career paths, and a performance management system that encourages clear expectations and communication between supervisors and staff.”

Why is it taking so long?
If the solutions have been identified, why isn’t the campus seeing the benefits of these new programs yet?

“What we’ve learned is that each piece of the puzzle has to be built on work that’s already been done, and the job structure is the foundation,” says Project Director Pamela Owens. “For example, to create career paths that will show staff how to move from one job to another, we’ve got to describe the jobs and then identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities associated with them. It’s important to get each part right before moving on to the next one.”

A primary reason for the lengthy timeline, say the project leaders, is the commitment they made from the beginning to include the campus in the development. Last year, for example, the team working on the job structure met with 18 groups of campus subject-matter experts, in some cases several times, to make sure they had good definitions of the work in the new job families and subfamilies.

“When we created the job family and subfamily definitions, we knew that the experts on the work were out in the departments,” says Scott Dinkelspiel, OHR’s acting manager of Compensation and Classification. “Staff in OHR are experts in designing systems, but the folks who know the work have to be included if we want the best result, and that takes time.”

What comes next?
The next stage in building the job structure is to distinguish between levels within each type of work so that managers can make appropriate salary decisions and staff can see how to advance. This summer the team is testing a process to gather that data with campus participation. When the customized level descriptors are completed, staff and their supervisors will be involved in matching current jobs into the new structure.

And what about improving pay rates — the primary issue for many staff members and the number-one recommendation of the Compensation Advisory Committee?

“While I know it is not the answer that staff want to hear, the reality is that salary funding is not available to make the kinds of major adjustments suggested in the Compensation Advisory Commit-tee’s report,” says David Moers. “It may look like we have funding when you see the building going on, but that is temporary money that cannot be diverted to salaries.

“SISC’s charge is to fix the broken systems,” he adds. “What we’re doing is building rational, consistent systems for classifying jobs and determining the appropriate salaries, so that when the funding becomes available again, supervisors will have a system that is easy to use and staff can feel confident that the right decision was made.”

Chancellor Berdahl, who will retire this summer, agrees that the changes he set in motion will have a profound impact on the way staff programs operate.

“Outstanding staff are essential to Berkeley’s excellence,” says Berdahl. “I’m pleased and proud that the SISC initiatives are moving us forward. I only hope that as the state budget situation improves, Berkeley staff can also receive the compensation increases they deserve.”

Want to know more?
For details, check the website at http://sisc.berkeley.edu. Send questions and comments to sisc@berkeley.edu, and look for the SISC table at Cal Summerfest on June 8.