Walk into Scott Inkley’s office in the Avent Ferry Technology Center and you’re likely to walk out with a book or two. After a meeting to discuss the reorganization of business services on campus, Inkley pulls two books off the shelf: one about Japan’s postwar industrial boom, fueled by a single-minded devotion to quality; the other a primer on organizational change, published by the Harvard Business Review.
If Inkley has his way, NC State will fuse these two highly charged concepts–quality and change–into a high-performance engine to help drive the university through its ongoing budgetary obstacle course and smooth out the ride.
“This is a big deal,” he declares. “The change affects everyone on campus, and we need to get it right the first time.”
First Centers Named
The reorganization of business services, launched in January 2011 as part of the university’s strategic planning effort, will consolidate 36 business offices into about seven shared service centers over the next two years. These business operations centers, or BOCs, will focus on delivering nearly flawless service for needs like travel authorizations and reimbursements, billings, time reporting and financial reconciliations.
Over time, the centers are expected to save the university money by achieving economies of scale, improving processing times and reducing costly errors.
The first BOC, scheduled to open in January, will coordinate all the activities involved in processing new hires. That will be followed, six months later, by two all-in-one centers, announced today:
- A center initially serving the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the College of Education (later adding the Poole College of Management and the College of Design).
- A center initially serving Facilities, the Office of Information Technology, and Environmental Health and Public Safety (later adding a half-dozen other divisions, including the chancellor’s office).
Dr. Jeff Braden, dean of CHASS, says the college will work hard to help implement the BOCs.
“You’re always a little scared to be the first one to do something,” he says. “But we want to be part of the solution. We’re going to need people to help the BOCs and the units they serve define how that relationship works.”
Braden says staff may benefit from improved career opportunities in the BOCs.
“There will be a career ladder that was not as clear before,” he says. “If you work in a unit and get to the top, you have to leave that unit for another unit in order to advance. The BOCs will give people much greater vertical latitude.”
If there’s a downside, it’s the overwhelming complexity of creating a new quality organization while simultaneously taking care of existing business. Just deciding which financial and HR services belong in the BOCs–notwithstanding which people–is a Herculean task. In fact, the streamlining effort is notable both for its scope and for the level of anxiety it’s generated among employees.
For Inkley, who joined NC State last fall to lead the new division of University Business Operations, the fear is understandable. This is a realignment of people; no jobs are on the line, he emphasizes.
“This is not only very complex, it’s very personal,” he says. “We’re talking about moving people from what they think of as their home, from their college or division, into a consolidated center. We have to be aware of and address the human side of that change.”
Braden, a professor of psychology, doesn’t downplay the inclination of people to resist change. But he takes a characteristically upbeat approach.
“One of the best lines I ever saw was on a tip jar at a restaurant. It said, ‘If change disturbs you, leave it here.’” But he quickly adds, “Look, everyone has legitimate concerns: what will my work environment be like, will I get the level of service I need?”
Answering those questions is the focus of several temporary committees organized to help guide the implementation of the new centers. At the weekly meeting of the BOC implementation team on Tuesday, members began working on a baseline quantitative survey to assess customer satisfaction, met with staff from the university architect’s office to discuss office space, reviewed the proposed groupings of future BOCs and considered the business processes likely to go to the BOCs.
Planning already involves dozens of people across campus and that number will grow dramatically as University Business Operations recruits employees to lend their expertise to numerous ad hoc process improvement teams and transition teams.
“Everybody owns a piece of these processes so getting different perspectives is very important,” says Jim Klingler, the division’s finance director.
Consolidating services without improving them is pointless, he says, so every financial and HR process destined for the BOCs is under review.
“We’re trying to get a diverse group of experts who understand our financial and HR processes,” Inkley explains. “We need the most experienced, knowledgeable people we can find. We need help to do this right.”
Even if the outcome isn’t perfect, doing nothing isn’t an option, Klingler notes. Deep cuts in state funding have taken their toll on the units that provide business services.
“We’ve not only asked staff to do more, we’ve asked them to do a lot of different things and do them well,” he says. “Faculty has taken on more administrative responsibilities across campus. We have to recognize how unsustainable that is and to rethink how we do business processes. We want faculty to spend less time on business services and more time on the campus mission.”
As they work to change the business operations at NC State, Inkley vows to change the mindset as well.
“When you come into this room, take off your college or division hat and put on your NC State hat,” he tells members of the implementation team as he hands out copies of a book on change management. “You will have the chance to represent your college or division through transition teams. Now, we need you to have the broadest possible perspective. We need you to become change agents and help us provide the campus with world-class business services at the least cost.”