March 21, 2013

Employee open forums shed light on survey responses

Tanya Grove meets with Cornell staff
Jason Koski/University Photography
Tanya Grove meets with Cornell staff members during an open forum at Robert Purcell Community Center, Feb. 5.

Most employees would support efforts to promote a “thank you” culture of appreciation across campus and increase the opportunities for staff members to advance their careers, said Tanya Grove, Employee Assembly (EA) chair and facilitator of the EA’s open forums held in February.

The EA held four forums to review four concerns identified in the fall 2011 Employee Survey – workload/workload imbalance, supervisory feedback opportunities, career development and growth, and recognition of excellent work – and to present and get feedback on recommendations that the EA, human resources staff and volunteers across campus have developed to address these concerns.

Several common themes emerged from the forums.

“Information-sharing – how people find out about things – kept surfacing,” Grove said. “There is no single place where staff members can access everything they need to know, and campus e-mail lists have so proliferated that most people don’t have time to open and sort through them all.”

Forum participants were also interested in workload issues, Grove said, including how to update their position descriptions to match their current work responsibilities and then have their updated descriptions reviewed. They welcomed the news that Compensation Services is developing career ladders to make it easier for staff to map out career paths at Cornell.

Grove said forum participants noted that opportunities to advance from one position to another are limited by the lack of open positions, as most staff who work at Cornell are not leaving for positions elsewhere. Workload and budget issues can also limit the career development or advancement opportunities available to staff. Such opportunities as job rotation and mentoring, which expand skills without the need to formally change jobs or work processes, can provide some growth opportunities, they said.

Forum participants responded positively to the recommendation that supervisors be evaluated by their staff members as part of the performance dialogue process. They emphasized the need to protect the anonymity of staff feedback, especially in small units.
Grove agreed, adding that training on both giving and receiving feedback would be provided if this recommendation were implemented.

“Creating processes for giving and receiving constructive feedback formally provides employees with a tool to address their concerns in a format that is comfortable,” said Grove. “We want to get to a point where we have created a culture where everyone is open to feedback on every level throughout the year, not just at performance dialogue time.”

Grove noted that staff recognition programs have also been expanded, as part of an effort to build a culture of appreciation: The EA’s Kudos program has been expanded, and two new staff awards implemented.

“In general, participants appreciated our recommendations and stressed that we need to make sure they are developed to apply to everyone,” Grove said. “Beneath all of these recommendations is a real emphasis on creating a culture at Cornell where we say thank you to one another, provide open and honest feedback, look for ways to develop our existing staff, and have a positive work/life balance all across campus.”

The EA also held a Web-based forum March 19 at noon with staff from the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y. Feedback from all five forums will be used to finalize EA recommendations before they are submitted to President David Skorton for final review.