Innovation Corner: Professional Development and Quality of Work Life: New Programs for Penn Employees

The University has begun a major effort over the past year to broaden the range of programs it offers to address employee development, job satisfaction and the quality of work life at Penn.

In the Agenda for Excellence, Penn stated its commitment to "provide administrative employees with greater opportunities to improve their skills, grow professionally, and enhance their careers within the University." Following a lengthy examination of existing employee-related programs,

President Judith Rodin said: "We concluded that the University could do a better job of supporting and developing its work force. Penn is now stepping up to that challenge.

"The University is developing a number of strategic human resources initiatives all designed to foster an exciting, supportive and professional environment in which to invest one's career," Rodin continued. "The development and retention of our employees today require new leading edge programs and work policies that combine to support a highly productive, satisfied and professional work force. Our goal is to secure Penn's reputation as the employer of choice in our region, while providing the highest level of customer service and effectively managing costs."

Following is a summary of some of the most important human resources initiatives being undertaken by the University.

Quality of Work-Life Initiatives. Several innovative initiatives to improve quality of work life--such as snow-day child care, Faculty & Staff Appreciation Day, overall child care resources, and others--are part of the purview of Quality of Worklife Program Coordinator Marilyn Kraut.

"Penn has been actively pursuing initiatives that add value to people's work experience at Penn," she said. "We have to be mindful that employees have lives beyond the University. If we can help them feel appreciated, enriched and supported in balancing the competing demands of home and work, we've met our goals. We all have to work long and hard hours--these efforts are designed to enhance people's lives in general."

One of the most popular of these initiatives is a program that offers Penn employees discounts to many area health clubs. Called "GlobalFit," the program was begun last summer and re-announced last month. The program offers discounts that can result in cost savings of 30 percent and more.

Other initiatives involving health promotion/wellness, flexible work scheduling and employee recognition are being designed now and are planned for rollout in coming months. The health promotion/wellness program is particularly notable, because its design contemplates extensive use of Penn's significant health care and recreational resources. Kraut and her colleagues from Human Resources plan to continue to identify further new opportunities through employee focus groups designed to better understand the work life needs of Penn's employees.

Professional Development. "Much of the success of the Agenda for Excellence is dependent upon a talented and satisfied group of employees," said Executive Vice President John Fry. "Key to the success of the University--and to the success of our employees--is our ability to provide programs that enable people to grow and develop professionally."

Following are several initiatives underway directed at supporting and developing the skills and capabilities of Penn employees.

Skills Development Center. The Center for Community Partnerships and Human Resources is developing a program for current and prospective employees that is focused on developing important customer service and interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills and computer skills. Its goal is to develop those who have been in lower-skill jobs and who aspire to move into alternative career paths. Particular efforts will be made to help prepare local residents for job opportunities at Penn through outreach to local public schools and community organizations in West Philadelphia.

"Penn in Changing Times." This is a program for senior managers that teaches leadership skills and how to manage organizational change. Over 100 Penn employees have taken advantage of this week-long, highly intensive program, and because of its great success the University has decided to expand this offering.

Wharton Educational Venture. Fifty employees were asked to participate this year in an innovative, year-long Management Development Program sponsored by the Executive Vice President's Office and provided at Wharton's renowned Executive Education Center. The program combined classroom instruction by Wharton professors, one-on-one skills enhancement exercises in areas such as public speaking, and hands-on action learning projects (one of which spawned the 40th Street Action Team). It was deemed a great success by the participants, and the University is now developing a strategy to extend to all levels of employees the benefits of having a world-class management education program and facility on its campus.

This new strategy, which is a joint venture between the University and the Wharton Executive Education Center, will be designed to provide state-of-the-art training and professional development opportunities to employees at every level of the University. Key program elements currently being designed include:

  • An overhaul of the existing new-employee orientation program, which will focus on better communicating the mission, values, norms and strategies of Penn to new employees. A key component of this new offering will be how one proactively manages his or her career at Penn.
  • A Management Development Program to provide front-line managers with necessary skills and capabilities through class work, assessment instruments and feedback mechanisms, and through the process of creating professional development plans for themselves and employees. The goal here is to strengthen the supervisory and managerial capacity of our employees.
  • An "emerging executives" program, a selective program which identifies high potential Penn employees who have the capacity to assume broader general management roles, and put them through an intensive, year-long effort to prepare them for future challenges.

The Wharton/Aresty Institute will help guide and integrate Penn's existing professional development opportunities into a framework to help University staff develop their full career potential.

Other initiatives that relate to employee development will address two topics frequently raised in campus discussions: clarity in job definitions and performance standards. The following analyses are now being performed:

Job Classification Study. Up-to-date job descriptions are essential for successful performance management and career development; for planning for recruitment and selection strategies; and for mapping out cross-training or career path alternatives. In addition, the University must have current employee job descriptions in order to maintain wage and salary programs that are competitive in local,regional and national markets. Accordingly, such job descriptions are one of the anticipated outcomes of the job classification study begun last year by Human Resources.

It has been well over ten years since the University's job evaluation system was last upgraded and job descriptions were put into place. "There have been many intervening changes in job design, organizational structure, technology and work relationships," said Vice President for Human Resources Clint Davidson, "and the existing descriptions do not serve faculty and staff or the University as well as they could.

"Greater flexibility in job design and pay delivery systems has been a growing need at Penn," he continued. "This effort is meant to provide the University with a contemporary, job classification structure that helps managers accurately classify and fairly reward employees."

Performance Management. Performance management, as most organizational developers see it, is not a once-a-year event. Rather, it is a continuous process of coaching and providing feedback, as well as planning. A new initiative designed to address those aspects is called "Effective Performance Management."

One of the schools targeted to pilot the initiative is the Dental School, headed by Dean Ray Fonseca. "As a university we must learn to do more with constrained resources" Fonseca said. "That means increased demand for greater performance. It's critical that Penn manages its people well, which is why we as a school have strong interest in this program."

The Performance Management initiative intends to help managers and supervisors make good hiring decisions, effectively train new employees and skillfully manage their performance. Based on the results of this pilot, which is also underway in the School of Nursing and several administrative centers, a more comprehensive implementation of the Performance Management program will occur next year.

In summing up these new initiatives, Executive Vice President John Fry said, "Change is now the norm at Penn, given the many competitive challenges that face us as a University. Our goal--and our responsibility--is to prepare our employees to anticipate, embrace and successfully manage these changes, both professionally as well as a personally. Penn employees have made the University the great institution that it is, and they will make Penn the even greater institution it will become."

Originally published on February 4, 1997