Thinking about completing a departmental reorganization? Whether you are thinking about large or small changes in departmental structure, the “how-to” of implementing the change can go a long way towards helping staff understand and buy into the changes.
I have recently completed two major reorganizations. First, three live-on graduate positions and one full-time live-off professional position were consolidated to one professional live-on position and two live on graduate positions. Housing space was a primary consideration in this case, as only three living spaces existed.
The second change occurred at a different institution and was an overhaul of a desk staff program. The program, providing coverage for five residence halls on a 24/7 basis, had previously been staffed by a variety of full-time, part-time, and student desk receptionist. One of the full-time receptionists served as Desk Manager, and coordinated the staffing schedule. In an effort to strengthen the program, University Security was brought in to staff the desk in the overnight (11 pm to 7 am) shift. This change required a significant overhaul of staffing for the program, including the elimination of five full-time and all (15) part-time positions.
Staff shortages, budget fluctuations, new initiatives, and housing demand all may be forces that challenge housing professionals to constantly adjust their staffing structure.
Hopefully, the items listed below can help you effectively implement change where needed.
1. Examine all the forces working for or against the change. Examine the situation and the players. Is the change something you desire, is it being “forced” upon you by people or factors outside of your control? Each of these factors will play a role in how others may perceive the change and the level of resistance that may be encountered.
2. Take a step back and assess the needs of the area/department independent of the people. Examine your mission. What staffing structure can best accomplish these goals? The individual strengths that current staff possess may be a helpful tool in assessing your area. However, too often I believe we look at our people first and design the program to fit them instead of looking at what we want to accomplish and then designing the program to meet those goals. I do not mean to gloss over the impact that current staffing patterns have on implementing change. Unions, contracts and seniority all are serious considerations to take into account when implementing change. However, designing jobs specifically because of the strengths/weaknesses of current staff members may serve only as short-term fixes.
3. Determine how much, if any, feedback will be utilized from current staff. Our profession tries to be inclusive at all times. There are times; however, when attempting to have all staff play a role in decision-making may not be helpful. For example, in the desk restructuring that I spoke earlier, decisions were made without input from the current staff. Part of the reasoning behind this was that some staff positions were going to have to be cut, and the decision needed to be made objectively, without stirring up a great deal of controversy that would not have been helpful to the situation. Examine your situation and make a determination of how much feedback needs to be gathered and what the most appropriate venue for that feedback would be. Also realize that these discussions may also lead to a great many rumors about potential changes.
4. Once a decision is made, be honest and up-front with people about when and how the changes will be implemented. People always feel uneasy about change. That uneasiness can be reinforced if people feel they do not understand what changes will take place and when the changes will occur. Being up-front, even if the news may not be received positively (and it is hard to tell people their positions are being eliminated) goes a long way to helping people adapt to the change.
I attempted to provide some general information for you. The local environment (structurally and politically) will always play a very large role in the details of these areas. As such, it is extremely important to assess not only how, but when change should be implemented. You must become the expert on understanding your environment. Our field will always see a great deal of change, and staffing structures will need to adapt with the changing times. The more effective we are at adapting to our surroundings, the more effective our programs will be in serving our students, and the more effective we will be as managers.
Submitted by Charles Boone, Director of Residential Life for the Lincoln Center Campus, Fordham University