More on the Efforts to Marketize UW-Madison

Thursday, June 21, 2012
A few months ago I wrote about the HR Design process at UW-Madison.  Some readers questioned the accuracy of my assertions.  We have new confirmatory information obtained via open records requests.  It seems the Huron Engagement has been expensive, indeed.   In the following memo, the Wisconsin University Union summarizes what we now know. It's a bit long, so I have underlined and bolded key points.

To: Interested campus employees
From: WUU
Date: June 20, 2012
RE: Memos from Huron Consulting Group

As you may know, Wisconsin University Union (WUU) has filed a series of open meeting and open requests to UW administration to gain access to information on the HR Design Project (the Project).  We initiated these requests because we believed that the effects of the Project will likely be far-reaching and long-term and that despite the administration’s attempt to project a gloss of participation and transparency to the process, it was fundamentally top-down and opaque.

When the administration finally complied with our request, we were disappointed, though not surprised, that most of the documents added little if anything to our knowledge base. For example, minutes of meetings described the topics under discussion but gave no account of the discussions themselves. The exception to this lack of transparency were memos from Huron Consulting Group (HCG) to the Project managers. These memos very briefly summarized the week’s events and posed concerns and questions on the future work of the Project.

For this reason, a month ago, we filed a new request for records specifying HCG memos to administration along with a request for their billings to the UW. After a month wait, we received the records this week.

The memos did not disclose a “smoking gun.” Instead, they confirmed much of what we know about the potential effects of the recommendations.  The following are excerpts of the HCG memos:

(5/3/2012) The work teams are proposing a “contemporary” but not radical approach to HR management at a research university. The model puts greater emphasis on performance and employee development and shifts the focus from internal equity to external competiveness.

The implied shifts for HR management implied (sic):
Greater emphasis on data and analysis (over set rules)
Greater reliance on the skills of managers/supervisors
Ongoing development of central HR as a center of excellence

I (from the HCG staff member) don’t have a good sense of the project team’s appetite for this type/level of change. If this does turn out to be the direction you choose to go, substantial pieces of it will be phased in over time. Still, it represents a significant amount of change that will to be championed by OHR and supported through the application of potentially significant resources.

(5/10/12) Compensation, Performance Management and Workplace Flexibility all have suggestions related to boards or committees being involved in appeals of decisions that impact employees. Ongoing governance (small “g”) of HR functions and processes will be a topic that we need to address over the summer. This is an area where I expect that the campus community will want more specificity in the fall.

Understanding our resource requirements for the summer will evolve as our project plan evolves. At the same time, I would suggest that adding resources is an opportunity to start to build the long-term capabilities of OHR in areas such as compensation.


These excerpts confirm a few of the central objections we have made in prior analyses:
Salary equity will be abandoned in favor of labor market “competitiveness.”

Compensation based on labor market analysis will require a substantial on-going investment to build capacity. It is difficult to estimate the cost for new HR staff members or more likely, consultants, to conduct wage and benefit analyses for hundreds of job titles.

Supervisors and managers will have substantial new powers due to the major shift in compensation responsibility along with new discretionary authority in promotion, hiring, etc. This will require a major investment in training and, one would hope, oversight and supervision of the supervisors. What will be the safeguards against favoritism, discrimination and other adverse effects?

HCG advises that, that because these new offices will be “substantial”, HR should build its new “empire” slowly and incrementally so as not to call attention to its long-term costs.

Committees acknowledged that some form of dispute resolution methods will be necessary but have either not specified how this might occur or recommend that the dispute process be overseen by HR. The HCG seems to recognize that employees will likely want better answers.

Consultant Costs:
Billings to UW from HCG:
Nov. 2011: $32,751
Dec. 2011: $154,738
Jan. 2012: $61,714
Feb. 2012: $93,798
Mar. 2012: $89,976
Total:     $432,977