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Teamwork is Key to Process Improvements

It’s the Friday before Thanksgiving on the lower level of the Avent Ferry Technology Center but few people seem interested in the pumpkin-flavored doughnuts arranged invitingly on a table in the hallway. Inside two large meeting rooms, employees huddle in groups of six or eight, working on the kind of brainteasers that would give Ernő Rubik a headache.

“It’s complex,” says Michael Walker, assistant dean for finance and administration in the College of Textiles. “But everyone wants this to work. Everyone has a vested interest in making this work.”

“We have to get this right,” adds Tracy Patty, assistant director of the university’s Office of Resource and Budget Management. “Whatever we implement has to work, and work well.”

Michael Walker.

Michael Walker is one of the chairs of a finance task force helping to streamline business services at NC State.

For the ongoing effort to streamline business services at NC State, this is where the rubber meets the road. And it’s up to a collaborative team of professionals, supported by Walker and Patty, to keep it on track. They’re co-chairs of a finance task force set up a few months ago, along with a human resources task force, to begin evaluating and standardizing a wide range of processes that support virtually every department across the university.

If you’ve ever attended a conference, ordered supplies or received a paycheck from NC State, you’ve been on the receiving end of business services. But, as state funding for higher education has decreased, the university has found it increasingly difficult to guarantee consistent resources and services from one college or division to the next.

In July, Chancellor Randy Woodson approved a broad plan that will ultimately result in the creation of about six shared service centers on campus, called business operations centers or BOCs, as well as an onboarding center to coordinate all the activities involved in processing new hires. Since then, an implementation team with representatives from across campus has been meeting weekly with the leaders of the new division of University Business Operations to guide the effort.

Task Forces Take the Lead

The HR and finance task forces, appointed by the implementation team this fall, are drilling down even further, identifying processes that could be standardized and improved, whether they occur in the central offices, the BOCs or out in the colleges and divisions.

The finance task force is currently focused on an effort to develop tools to standardize travel authorizations and purchase-to-pay activities. The HR task force is tackling seven overarching process areas, such as hiring, position management and leave administration, and more than 50 individual processes. The task forces will provide preliminary reports to the implementation team next month.

Implementation team meeting.

Teamwork is the watchword for the business reorganization effort. The implementation team, task forces and process review committees draw from experts across campus.

“It’s a large group effort,” says Cathi Willoughby, who co-chairs the HR task force with Natalie Worth, a personnel officer in the College of Education.

Willoughby, a senior classification and compensation analyst in the central HR division, says developing standardized processes for many transactions will help make business services more efficient and effective, key goals of the effort.

Looking Forward

“It’s not easy but I think it’s exciting,” she says. “If we don’t shake off some of the weight of the way we’ve done things historically we’re not going to become more efficient and we’re not going to be as successful as we could be.”

Worth, who’s worked at NC State for more than 20 years, says employees have a unique chance to help guide the development of processes that will make life easier for everyone.

“Standardization is critical,” she says. “And a close working relationship between the BOCs and the people they serve is also critical. Some consolidation is needed. But it’s going to take a cultural shift.”

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