A Great Time to Share Your Thoughts
VCU launches the “Great Place Initiative” to promote employee excellence, celebrate current university benefits and consider improvements
University Public Affairs
Each of Virginia Commonwealth University’s nearly 50,000 students, faculty, staff and administrators has a special reason for choosing to be associated with VCU.
And now the university is kicking off the Great Place Initiative, an effort to celebrate and enhance the human element at VCU, promote service excellence and start a conversation about what VCU can do to become an even better place.
VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., recently explained the Great Place Initiative in a video message to launch the effort.
“For my faculty colleagues, I want VCU to be a place where you are not only free to discover and advance knowledge, but where you are fully supported in your work,” Rao said in the recorded video message. “For the members of our staff, this is a place where your dedication and commitment truly make a difference for so many people.”
Rao also said the Great Place Initiative supports the university’s efforts to make VCU a place where students’ lives are transformed.
A Great Place Initiative steering committee was named during the fall semester, consisting of administrators, faculty, staff and students from both campuses.
Maike Philipsen, Ph.D., a foundation of education professor who has researched faculty work-life balance, and Cindy Andrews, who recently retired as assistant vice president for human resources, were named to co-chair the committee. Kawana Pace-Harding, director of employee relations and compliance, became co-chair when Andrews retired.
“It really is a diverse group that has a lot of experience,” Philipsen said. “And the collective wisdom of this group is going to be essential in moving the GPI forward.”
The steering committee’s work builds on a work group that launched early last summer and started exploring the initiative’s vision and mission. That group included Philipsen; Andrews; Beverly Warren, Ed.D., Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; and David Hanson, Ed.D., senior vice president and chief operating officer, among others.
“This is an opportunity to invest in the human element at VCU,” Philipsen said. “We’ll be following a two-pronged approach: identifying, celebrating and better publicizing all that VCU already offers and learning about and improving what it takes to make VCU an even better place to learn, work and live.”
Andrews said employees are often surprised at the variety of benefits already offered and the Great Place Initiative will improve awareness.
The web site includes a comprehensive inventory of current benefits and resources categorized in the areas of community building/culture change/professional development, family-friendly policies and programs, physical space/safety and recognition.
“From a human relations perspective, this is a real great opportunity to educate people about benefits we already offer,” Andrews said. “And it’s also a way to find out what people think we need to make VCU an even better place to learn, work and live.”
The university community will be able to weigh in on VCU’s role in supporting its people and have opportunities to suggest improvements.
“We know that people can become ‘survey weary’ but this is an opportunity to weigh in on something the university cares about and will respond to,” Andrews said. “We can all have an impact.”
The McKnight Group, a consulting firm, has been hired to conduct a climate survey of faculty and staff later in the semester. After the survey is complete, focus groups and town hall meetings will be scheduled to get additional feedback.
“We want to get a better understanding of the landscape,” Philipsen said.
Based on feedback from the university community, the steering committee will make recommendations to senior administrators about next steps to implement changes.
“The committee is going to have to figure out priorities and how to make resources available to get it done,” Andrews said.
Philipsen said cost-neutral efforts will likely be tackled first as short-term steps and more complicated and expensive proposals will be considered over a longer period of time.
Andrews said the Great Place Initiative can be recognized as a success when workers are happier and more satisfied.
“If we see an increase in the number of people taking advantage of what we already offer, that will be a good sign,” Andrews said.
And Rao said a supported workforce that’s dedicated to service excellence will make sure that everyone who interacts with a representative of VCU will feel valued and respected.
Additional details about Great Place Initiative and updates on the survey, town hall meetings and focus group opportunities will be announced as they become available and will be added to the new website at http://www.greatplace.vcu.edu/.
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