Skip to Main Content

Organizing for Effective Management of Human Talent

By Ivonne Ambrozkiewicz, Director, Human Resources,

Neighbor Works America

The Woolbright Group asked Ivonne Ambrozkiewicz to speak about talent management, hiring and retention, and the challenges HR managers might face in today’s competitive employment environment. We started the conversation by quoting the Human Resource department at John’s Hopkins University definition of “talent management:”

“A set of integrated organizational HR processes designed to attract, develop, motivate, and retain productive, engaged employees.”

And, the goal of talent management:

“To create a high-performance, sustainable organization that meets strategic and operational goals and objectives.”

The Woolbright Group: Do you agree with these definitions, and what if anything would you add?
Ivonne Ambrozkiewicz: Generally speaking, yes. However, I would recommend turning to either The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) or the Human Capital Institute (HCI) for the formal definition. Johns Hopkins is not the governing body of HR. SHRM is. The HCI is gaining respect and credibility in this field. I think your best bet is to quote the original source for a formal definition.

I would like to add that although JHU is focusing on “…organizational HR processes,” I would redefine this statement to read “a set of integrated organizational-wide processes which are owned and driven by the HR function.” In higher education, many more key departments and divisions play a role in talent management than in, say, profit driven or corporate environments where they may have talent management as a stand-alone division. For example, the budget office, the public relations office and school/department financial administrators all typically play a part in talent management.

The Woolbright Group: What are the most critical challenges that hiring managers face? How might managers transform these challenges into opportunities to hire and retain the best and brightest?
Ivonne Ambrozkiewicz: Lack of resources to attract top talent (salaries are most typically below market), and an inability or unwillingness to make changes to outdated internal mechanisms, e.g. burdensome approval processes, inadequate technology.

First, it has become increasingly difficult in tight job markets for non-profit higher education institutions to be competitive. The more traditional and hierarchical institutions find it increasingly difficult to be agile enough to respond to the shifts in the market. In terms of market competition, these institutions, although at times boasting “market rates” typically pay in the 50-60th percentile.

The result can be that months go by and the vacancy persists despite aggressive advertising, multiple referrals and occasionally a promise of a pay raise once hired. Retention has become a pressing issue. We may have gotten better at attracting talent through branding and online advertising (it’s cheap and often free as a result of scraping e.g. but once your “new hire” starts, they quickly see the lack of resources in higher education and promptly leave for a better paying opportunity in the private sector. Currently, this is most true within information technology and senior management roles.

Sometimes a vocal chair or a Provost with influence can push through higher salaries for designated vacancies, resulting in internal inequities. This creates yet another headache for the HR department, whose policies on internal compensation get thrown out of whack. Getting that corrected and readjusting sometimes takes years and in the meantime, it can leave the organization vulnerable to audit red flags.

If your HR function falls under the CFO (a very common but outdated model in higher education), intangible qualities such as “highly effective inter-personal skills” and “cross divisional collaborator,” though highly valued attributes in candidates from an HR perspective, aren’t well understood by the CFO as justification for higher salaries.

With respect to outdated internal mechanisms, bottlenecks and red tape occur during the vacancy approval stage, the application review stage, and job offer approval stage. Managers could transform this challenge into an opportunity by creating a more streamlined position approval process. I once worked at an institution where there were well over 20 compensation checkpoints in order to approve a vacancy. Can you imagine? We managed to get the process down to about eight checkpoints but it took months for people to trust the process and the constant querying persisted until I left six years later. With respect to the job offer stage, it would take anywhere between 1-6 months to finally get approval to extend the offer. You can imagine what happened. The candidate was long gone, having accepted another opportunity elsewhere. Good candidates do not stay on the market long. My recommendation would be to eliminate the offer approval stage entirely, and rely solely on getting all your required approvals at the beginning stages.

In terms of the handling applications, if you’re still shuffling paper applications via scanner and email, I’m sorry to say, you’re not going to make much progress in eliminating unnecessary red tape. I would urge you to invest in the right technology - an applicant tracking system (ATS) by means of a solid RFP process. Very few institutions use paper applications anymore. My current employer recently invested in a cloud based solution and its done wonders, not only for the hiring manager and HR experience, but also the applicants. During spot checks, our applicants consistently tell us they appreciate knowing where their application is in the process and being informed about next steps. This is another one of those priceless “intangibles.”

Another frustration for managers is getting hiring traction when working with a difficult CFO and/or a weak compensation policy. One strategy is to focus the attention on benefits. Does your institution offer any unique benefits? For example, when I worked at CUA they offered an extremely attractive time off schedule (35 hour work weeks, half day Fridays during summer), tuition remission, tuition exchange, and up to a 10% match for a 5% contribution to a 403b. Such benefits are a great selling point. However, I would caution that they also tend to attract a certain type of candidate. For example, parents who are looking to get breaks on a child’s college tuition. A millennial fresh out of college who is looking to capitalize on a competitive market is unlikely to sacrifice salary to work in higher education. And top performers get quickly frustrated with low pay and lack of professional opportunities and leave for a better opportunity outside higher education. Meanwhile, the institution does not have the funds to pay more, so they continually hire less skilled workers and the cycle perpetuates.

The Woolbright Group: What are the key processes and/or tools used by your institution to attract, recruit, engage and retain talented staff? And, what is your process for acclimating new staff and ensure they feel welcomed and valued?
Ivonne Ambrozkiewicz: I recommend a solid recruiter who understands your business and an engaged hiring manager. It’s not just HR’s job anymore. You must have a solid recruitment strategy for each vacancy and backup plans A, B and C if you can’t fill the position via your regular recruitment process. If you have someone on your team that knows your culture, can speak to it and move quickly, you’ve got a winner.

Branding is very important and employment branding is a large part of that. If you already have a university brand, piggyback your employment brand from there. Showcase your star employees! Take them, not just your hiring managers, to career fairs with you.

Good technology is a must. Classrooms have it, why not the HR department? Buy an ATS and review it every 3-5 years to ensure it’s still doing what you need it to.

Do internal market adjustments (a good retention strategy) and provide a solid leadership development program for first time and intermediate supervisors. This must include your chairs/department heads–they manage staff, too. Academic acumen does not necessarily mean they know how to manage.

A simple new employee orientation program is key to acclimating new hires. Good programs are simple, informal and welcoming.

The Woolbright Group: Thank you very much, Ivonne, for your insights and time!

Ivonne has more than eight years of human resources related experience and a certified Birkman consultant. Her background includes health care, oil and gas industry and higher education. Her most recent work experience includes serving as the Director of Human Resources for Neighbor Works America in Washington, D. C. and as the Director of Recruitment and Training at The Catholic University of America with a focus in organizational development and talent acquisition. She holds a post-graduate degree from the University of Western Australia and is SPHR certified.

No comments for this post

Leave a comment

HTML tags are not allowed.