About 1,300 people “turned out” for the All-Staff Town Hall on Monday (Dec. 7), more than 1,000 of them by logging on to the live stream. The rest comprised a standing-room-only audience at the Conference Center.
“I’m really heartened to see so many people here live … and online,” said Dave Lawlor, vice chancellor and chief financial officer. The Office of the VC-CFO collaborated with Staff Assembly in presenting the forum.
“Success for this meeting will be for you to feel heard, for you to feel like we’re focusing on some of the right items” pertaining to staff engagement, Lawlor said.
Referencing the staff engagement survey from earlier this year — administered systemwide by the Council of UC Staff Assemblies, or CUCSA — Lawlor said the UC Davis data led him to identify three areas in particular that warrant attention:
• Supervision — “How do we make sure that we’re doing a good job of supporting supervisors, (and) equipping them with the tools (and) the bandwidth that they need to be exceptional leaders in the workplace?”
• Communication — “Today is an example of what we’re trying to do to enhance communication, which is a two-way street — it’s got to be — and so we invite you to help us do that well, to ensure that your voice is heard, that you see your voice permeating through change within the organization, and it helps us collectively be a better place to work.”
• Change management — “There’s a lot going on. … People are working very hard, they’re very well intentioned, they’re creative, but they’re taking on more and more work on a daily basis. Many priorities are coming down, many initiatives are being charged. And it makes for a very stressful and at times frustrating environment. And we need to fix that. We need to make sure that for each of those elements, we’re spending time and energy working on some of those challenges in the workplace.”
See the town hall’s PowerPoint presentation, including survey results and the university’s actions in response to the findings.
On the positive side, Lawlor said, UC Davis is in a position of strength in addressing these issues. He cited a record number of applications to attend UC Davis, research funding headed toward $1 billion annually, growth in enrollment and staffing, and $2 billion in new capital over the next 10 years.
“We need to make sure that as we succeed and as we grow that we are taking care of the staff across the institution so you guys feel really good about being supported … so that you can help us attain some of the great things that are ahead,” Lawlor said.
Pay for performance
Lawlor also addressed the pay-for-performance plan that the university implemented in 2014-15 for nonrepresented staff — linking each employee’s salary adjustment to his or her job performance rating.
“We want to do a good job and a fair job in pay for performance. ... And we want to do it well, and we want to do it well in your eyes. And so that’s a huge part of our engagement here today.”
For UC Davis, Lawlor said, performance management is as much a tactical change as a cultural change. “I think the cultural change element is one that is critical, because we want to reward people who are mindful of how we move the institution to the next level, how we as a staff entity are best positioned to support the University of the 21st Century, and that takes unique skills and capabilities, it takes a unique mind set, and it will be challenging,” Lawlor said.
“And so we want to recognize that in terms of how we administer pay. We want to ensure that we’ve done a good job of setting objectives, that goals are clear all the way down through the organization, and that to every person, to every last person in the organization, it is clear in their mind what exceptional performance means and that it’s clear that there will be a financial reward associated with that.”
Beyond the dollars, Lawlor said, the university can offer choice assignments and promotional opportunities as incentives for employees to move to the next performance level. He asked staff to help identify other incentives: “What other things would you say are most important as we talk about this, so that we really are differentiating and helping you as you plan your career and as you progress through your career?”
He described the ratings system — because of its subjective nature — as among the most challenging aspects of pay for performance: How do you differentiate between meets expectations, exceeds expectations and exceptional performance?
Estimating an audience of 1,000 in the Conference Center and online, Lawlor guessed that “probably there’s close to 1,000 different opinions on what each those words means.”
“So, we’ve got to grapple collectively with the language that we use,” said Lawlor, noting that a survey has gone out to supervisors and a task force has been established, all in an effort to make the system clearer.
In response to a question from the audience, he emphasized that the university had not mandated “forced distribution” of ratings, that Human Resources issued no such guidance.
“What we were trying to accomplish throughout this, is recognizing the (employee’s) performance, by itself, first,” Lawlor said. Every performance review should result in a rating, he said, and “it shouldn’t be gamed by dollars that are available or not available. … It should be a pure function of, How did you do and what’s your rating associated with that?”
He added one caveat: The concept of calibration, whereby managers across supervisory groups come together to discuss performance evaluations, with a goal of fairness in the ratings that are assigned, so that people land in the right place.
“It’s a new concept that we’re talking about in the context of pay for performance, and, like several other things, we need in due course to communicate effectively what we mean by that," Lawlor said.
More questions and answers
There was not enough time during the forum to address all of the questions that came in (online and in person), but all will be answered within the next couple of weeks, in an FAQ to be posted here.