Early successes help build support for Operational Excellence initiative

Faculty and staff are already seeing the positive impact of Operational Excellence, the provost’s initiative to reimagine the University’s business practices, one year after the campus-wide effort began.

A new shelter at the Frida


Faculty and staff are already seeing the positive impact of Operational Excellence, the provost’s initiative to reimagine the University’s business practices, one year after the campus-wide effort began.

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In the early stages of the initiative launched in fall 2018, hiring and procurement were two areas identified during the listening tour that needed improvements. These areas became the focus of early impact work. Employees from many central and campus units worked together to design solutions, including a hiring playbook, purchasing decision tree and data dashboards. These solutions were then piloted with the Gillings School of Global Public Health, Adams School of Dentistry, Research and Athletics.

With the successful completion of the pilot programs, Operational Excellence improvements were rolled out this year to all schools and units in three cohorts from January through July, which allowed for incremental adjustments and continuous quality improvements.

The early impact work has brought noticeable results. Before Operational Excellence began, it took 110 days on average across campus to fill EHRA non-faculty positions and 76 days for SHRA positions, from job posting to offer accepted. Since the project started, there have been more than 460 SHRA and EHRA non-faculty employees hired. The time to hire these employees has been reduced by almost 50% from an average of 82 days to 46 days with an ongoing target of 45 days or less. Streamlining the hiring process has allowed the University to be more successful in landing top candidates as a position can be filled in two months instead of four.

Similarly, the procurement design team sought to make small-dollar transactions more efficient by decreasing the use of unnecessary vouchers and increasing the use of preferred purchasing methods like P-cards (similar to a corporate credit card) and ePRO (an application for managing and automating procurement). The goal is for 95% of all transactions less than $250 to be made using one of these preferred purchasing methods, and since Operational Excellence began, approximately 86% of these transactions are being processed without vouchers, up from the baseline of 65%. Now paying for supplies or services can be as easy as using a credit card, with less messy paperwork.

Employees respond to changes

Ashante Diallo served on a design team to improve hiring. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

As employees see these positive results in their own units, support has grown for the initiative. Just ask Ashante Diallo and Shannon Taylor, who each served on a design team for early impact in their respective areas of responsibility, Diallo for hiring and Taylor for procurement.

Diallo said interaction during the twice-weekly early impact war rooms began to build a new sense of teamwork among people from central and campus units who were involved in the hiring process pilot project. It also gave employees a new sense of empowerment.

“When we got everybody together, somebody would say, ‘I thought you couldn’t do that?’ and another person would say, ‘Well, actually you can,’” said Diallo, Associate Dean for Human Resources in the College of Arts & Sciences’ Business

Diallo’s 10-member team supports and processes all human resources transactions “from recruitment to termination to everything in between” for 66 of the College’s 71 units, she said.

When the new hiring procedures that Diallo had helped design were rolled out in the College in the May cohort, some members of her team were skeptical.

But in three months, Diallo said, the average hiring time for SHRA and EHRA non-faculty within the College went from more than 60 days to 33 days.

“Now people see this initiative as not about making their work harder, but simpler and easier and more effective,” Diallo said. “People are beginning to see if you put the effort in, it works.”

Shannon Taylor oversees accounting transactions at the
Business School.
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Taylor has seen comparable improvements with the procurement project at Kenan-Flagler Business School, where she is the account manager, overseeing a central office team of five staff members who handle the school’s day-to-day accounting transactions.

A key tool that the procurement design team developed was a decision tree to help users determine the most cost-effective purchasing method for each transaction. In most cases, P-cards and ePRO were more efficient than vouchers.

Each school or division’s progress in changing its business practices is recorded on the Procurement Dashboard, created to track purchasing decisions and identify areas of improvement for purchasing teams. The dashboard also allows senior leaders to see the progress in their units and provide guidance and support when needed. It also introduces an element of friendly competition on which units hit their goals first.

Taylor, who served as a mentor to two other schools as they rolled out Operational Excellence, said she was amazed at how much has already been accomplished and the teamwork that has been fostered between various schools and units.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen some great and much needed change, and I can’t be more excited to see what comes next,” she said.