Higher ed employees kept in the loop

Schools are more transparent with employees to avoid second-guessing

Job candidates have questions they never ask during interviews. Is this an ethical school? Will I agree with its direction? Will I like my colleagues?

Some recruiters tightly script the interview process, leaving no wiggle room for anything else, which makes some candidates wonder about a school’s transparency.

Everyone wants transparency in the workplace, which creates an open culture and happier, loyal employees. While many schools communicate basic information, is that enough?

Some go beyond this by including employee input about school challenges in profiles for senior positions, or coming clean about financials, benchmarks and student success. They believe that it’s better to risk information overload than to have employees second-guess you or believe you’re hiding something.

The University of Arizona applies a shared governance approach when disseminating information, says Allison Vaillancourt, vice president of business affairs and HR.

“We need multiple people telling the story,” she says, pointing to groups such as the faculty senate and staff council. “It’s smart for leaders to have a diverse communication network and to attend other groups’ meetings.”

Leaders address finance, the school’s direction, board of director concerns and external opinions about the school.

While it’s important to “sell the place,” Vaillancourt says, never mislead job candidates. If a school is fragmented, for example, you may be looking to hire someone who can help move employees in a unified direction. Before interviews, ask candidates whom they would like to meet during their interview and for a list of questions so you can accurately respond.

However, being transparent doesn’t mean revealing everything to everyone. One job candidate asked Vaillancourt about the school’s pending lawsuits. While she admired his due diligence, she refused, saying that information was only available to employees.

In the know

Several years ago, Howard Community College began involving managers in the hiring process, says Dave Jordan, associate vice president of HR at the Maryland college. In this case, HR acts as a facilitator, not as the driving force behind recruitment.

“Candidates had questions we couldn’t answer,” says Jordan. “Now, managers sit in on the hiring process and make the job offer, because they know the job intimately and can give as much information about that job so candidates won’t have any surprises when they walk in the door.”

Everything should be transparent, says Jordan. “No one should ever say they don’t know what’s going on.”

But pulling back the curtain isn’t always possible. Consider confidential disciplinary or termination issues. Employees may not think that HR is taking action when it really is. Still, Jordan says he’d rather share too much than too little.

“If employees feel that they’re not given information to do their jobs properly, then they won’t succeed and they will leave,” he says.

More is better

When the Community College System of New Hampshire recently recruited new presidents, it solicited faculty and staff for input about the system’s challenges and opportunities to ensure the president position profile was transparent, says Richie Coladarci, CHRO at the system that supports seven colleges.

At its annual professional development symposium, Chancellor Ross Gittell gives a progress report on key performance indicators related to student success, financial health and employer-of-choice initiatives. A quarterly newsletter also provides updates on enrollment, budget and HR news.

Coladarci says the college system shares everything from summaries of board meeting discussions to faculty and staff perceptions of administrators.

“If you don’t share information, employees will fill in the blanks—often with negative or inaccurate information,” he says. “We learned that it’s better to have the same information communicated multiple times and by different people.”

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.

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