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Taking the PULSE of the University

by Linda Maleitzke

November 18, 2008

Facilitating a community where employees feel connected and valued should be a major initiative of any organization. The University of Minnesota's Pulse survey is a primary tool to gauge and impact faculty and staff satisfaction, and results of the survey are used to continuously improve the workplace. This year, more employees than ever responded to the survey--42 percent of all employees, an increase of 5 percent over the most recent survey, conducted in 2006.

Key findings The 2008 Pulse survey administered last spring measured faculty and staff satisfaction with the U as an employer. Results indicate that faculty and staff satisfaction remains high, while overall, employee opinions of the U are moving in a positive direction.

Some of the greatest gains were seen in the confidence employees have about the direction of the University, including the direction of departments. More employees also feel they better understand how their job contributes to the University?s mission. Among staff, 13 categories improved, seven held steady, and two went down slightly. Faculty saw improvement in 15 categories, while four held steady and none went down.

Results of the yearly Driven to Discover survey align with the Pulse survey, showing improved employee engagement and awareness of the University's mission. Over the last year, OHR has integrated the Driven to Discover message into its vastly expanded New Employee Orientation. "By introducing staff and faculty to a common mission right away, employees can immediately begin thinking about the U's mission and recognize how each individual plays a crucial role," says Stacy Doepner-Hove, New Employee Orientation Program Manager. Colleges and units are also adopting elements of the Driven to Discover campaign to get their own messages out. "This has proven to be effective in creating cohesiveness not only at the departmental level, but University-wide," adds Doepner-Hove.

Past Pulse results and actions The University continues to address areas of concern identified through the Pulse survey. Past results indicated that salaries were a concern, while benefits were considered more satisfactory. In response, Total Compensation Statements were made available to each employee to help them understand all aspects of the compensation package.

Responses also revealed a need to increase professional development and promotion opportunities and provide more career mobility. As a result, OHR initiated a project to redesign job families to reflect current work being performed, external market trends, and establish a clear career progression for employees. Additionally, a Personal and Professional Development group was created to address a concern regarding resolution of workplace problems. The group provides courses in customer service, project management, presentation skills, leading meetings, time management, conflict resolution, and more.

Organizational Effectiveness, a division of the Office of Human Resources, developed a variety of programs and services designed to build job skills and enhance professional development. "We provide workshops, seminars, classes, coaching, counseling, and consulting services to over 14,000 U of M participants each year," says OE Director Mel Mitchell. "In the past year, we have revamped several courses and are launching new programs in an effort to improve employee engagement and increase professional development opportunities for employees."

One example of a newly created course driven by Pulse survey results is "Exploring Supervision." The course was developed to give employees interested in moving into a front-line supervisory role an opportunity to safely explore the "real world" of management. "The goal is to prepare employees for this potential and give them an understanding of the knowledge, skills, and attributes that are critical for managers," says Mitchell. As part of the course, U staff who've recently made the transition to management share their personal experiences with participants. Specific Professional Development courses can be found online.

Moving forward--plans for the future This year, the University is working to better incorporate the survey into its planning process and to help unit leaders share survey results with employees. This information becomes even more critical as the state, national and global economies move through difficult financial times.

To make sure that Pulse findings continue to be more than a survey but an action plan as well, the findings will be used to make improvements in the workplace. Unit leaders are receiving faculty and staff survey feedback reports in November and will have the opportunity to meet with an OHR consultant to talk about their specific results, identify areas for improvement, and learn about University tools and services to help develop and implement plans. Unit leaders determine how this information will be shared with their employees.

"Pulse survey results are one important source of information and can provide some significant insights into the strengths and weaknesses of a unit's management practices and workplace climate," says Susan Rafferty, OHR Assistant Department Director. Improved reporting resulting from the partnership with the Office of Institutional Research and focused support from OHR, should help campuses, colleges, and administrative units better understand and more effectively utilize survey results.

"What's different is that we are making concerted efforts to help each unit understand the results from a human resources perspective," says Rafferty. Each unit or administrative department will determine what type of actions they will take based on the results of the survey. "There is not a one size fits all approach. It is really us supporting each unit's leadership as they try to understand their results and how to act on them," she says.

One department that has committed to creating positive culture change is the Office of Information Technology (OIT). OIT has begun piloting a new approach to a survey action team, incorporating the results of the Pulse survey as well as an additional survey OIT management conducted based on principles from the Gallup Organization's research on employee engagement. "OIT leadership is serious about better understanding the issues identified in the surveys and have empowered a team of mid-level managers to explore these issues and recommend an action plan to address the root causes of these issues," adds Rafferty.

Since the first survey was administered in 2004, the U has used this valuable tool to impact positive culture change at the University of Minnesota. As the database of information gleaned from the survey continues to grow, the University will be able to more accurately measure the pulse of the U, and respond and implement those changes desired by the U community. For complete 2008 results, visit Pulse survey results.


The biennial employee satisfaction survey is commissioned by the University's central administration and conducted in partnership with the Human Resources Research Institute in the Carlson School of Management under the direction of Professor Theresa Glomb and OHR Vice President, Carol Carrier.