Innovation & Entrepreneurship

The next pursuit of excellence

"Through transformation of our operations, we will have the ability to achieve so much more here at Carolina," says Provost Robert A. Blouin.

A man speaks in front of a group
Carolina Excellence launch event led by Link Butler and Rick Wernoski. Held at the UNC-Chapel Hill Administrative Office Building. February 19, 2019. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Change is coming. Carolina Excellence, the provost’s initiative to reimagine the University’s administrative functions, is transitioning from the pilot phase and will be rolling out across campus in the coming months.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert A. Blouin has made Carolina Excellence a top priority because he believes the University’s business practices are holding Carolina back. The University will not be able to reach its highest aspirational goals until it first attains the highest level of operational efficiency in everything it does.

“The Carolina Excellence program is going to focus on a number of operational elements, all intended to maximize [the University’s] performance,” he said. “Through transformation of our operations, we will have the ability to achieve so much more here at Carolina.” 

Blouin speaks from experience, having greatly increased operational efficiency in his previous position as dean of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, now the top-ranked pharmacy school in the country. As provost, implementing other Carolina Excellence initiatives will be a priority as he works alongside Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz to implement The Blueprint for Next, the strategic framework that will guide University growth over the next decade.

“Innovation made fundamental” is one of the two pillars of The Blueprint for Next at the core of the Carolina Excellence initiative.

“One of the areas we want to focus our attention on is innovation,” Blouin said. “How do we enable this University to innovate in all aspects of our work? In order to do that, we must first innovate the way we do our work.”

Early results

Carolina Excellence launched last fall, led by Rick Wernoski, senior vice provost for business operations. Over the course of the fall semester, Wernoski and his team conducted more than 50 listening tours, meeting with 400-plus faculty and staff who identified more than 100 problem areas, or “pain points,” they would like to address.

In these conversations, employees repeatedly confirmed what leaders had long suspected: Administrative operations across the board — from human resources to research administration, finance to information technology — are often a source of frustration for faculty, staff and students alike. 

Based on the problems identified most often by employees, to get started the Carolina Excellence team chose two projects for improvement that would make the greatest impact: hiring and procurement. The team then picked four areas — the public health and dentistry schools, research and athletics — to test the pilots’ “early impact” solutions.

The hiring team set a goal to cut the hiring process down to 45 days. On average, it takes 110 days to fill EHRA non-faculty positions and 76 days for SHRA positions, from job posting to offer accepted.

“We are putting timelines in place around the hiring process and moving more swiftly in the screening, interviewing and selecting process,” said employment consultant Sara Devi Reese of the Office of Human Resources, who worked on the pilots. “With this process, we are helping the University drive change because we are putting ourselves in a position to attract the top talent.”

Under the pilot, more than 30 hires are on track to be completed in 45 days or less. Hiring one business services coordinator took only 34 days.

Testing tools

As someone participating in the project, hiring manager Abbey McLennan from Gillings School of Global Public Health said she was excited about the strong sense of teamwork she felt taking shape.

“Everyone is coming together and we’re all in with the same goal of moving forward as best we can,” McLennan said. “We all want to make smarter decisions in how we do things and make the entire process more efficient for everyone.”

The procurement pilot sought to make small-dollar transactions (like employee reimbursements) more efficient by increasing the percentage of transactions using the University’s preferred purchasing method, from 73 percent to 95 percent. 

A key tool the team tested was a decision tree to help users determine the most cost-effective purchasing method for each transaction. 

Anna Crisman, a frontline purchaser as an administrative assistant in the Adams School of Dentistry already views the decision tree as indispensable.

“With any purchase, the process begins with the decision tree,” Crisman said. “This tool helps employees identify the best way to purchase items. The decision tree is going to save us time, money and frustration, but above all, it is going to change the way we work.”

Next steps

With the successful completion of the pilot programs, the Carolina Excellence team began training sessions for the new processes last week to the first cohort of schools and units.

Speaking with faculty at the School of Social Work on Feb. 21, Blouin emphasized there are no instant fixes. Processes will continue to be refined over time through trial and error.

“We’d like you to think of this as a highly virtuous thing for us to do as a University, for ourselves and our students,” Blouin said. “I need your support, your patience, your understanding when something fails that you don’t give up on us and you don’t give up on each other, but you instead reaffirm or recommit to make it better.”

The how is important, Wernoski said, but so is the remembering the why: inefficient business practices have become a “barrier to achieving our aspirations as a University.”

We are creating an environment where every individual can accelerate their own development,” Wernoski said. “By operating more effectively and flexibly, we will unlock our potential to innovate and expand the reach and impact of our mission.” 

Timeline for Implementation for Hiring and Procurement Projects

February – Cohort 1

Schools:

  • Adams School of Dentistry
  • Gillings School of Global Public Health
  • Kenan-Flagler Business School
  • School of Education
  • School of Law
  • School of Medicine
  • School of Social Work

Units:

  • Athletics
  • VC for Finance and Operations
  • VC for Research
  • VC for Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement

April-Cohort 2

Schools:

  • College of Arts & Sciences
  • School of Government
  • School of Information and Library Science
  • School of Media and Journalism

Units:

  • General Alumni Association
  • Office of Ethics Education and Policy Management
  • Office of the Chancellor
  • Office of University Counsel
  • University Libraries
  • University Ombuds
  • VC for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development
  • VC for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer

July-Cohort 3

Schools:

  • UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy
  • School of Nursing
  • Summer School
  • The Graduate School

Units:

  • Academic Initiatives Academic Personnel
  • Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost
  • Office of Undergraduate Admissions
  • UNC Global
  • VC for Development
  • VC for Public Affairs
  • VC for Student Affairs
  • VC for University Communications
  • Each cohort reflects a mix of academic schools and administrative units, with more schools weighted in training and implementation cohort 1.

  • Training and implementation cohorts are specifically crafted based on level of engagement in Phase 1, research intensity and size.

  • Pilot units for each wave will be determined on a case by case basis.