Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

October 19, 2017

Health Sciences Administration: Redesigning processes in the move to shared services

Kelly Johnson, HSA assistant director. Photo: Pat McGiffert

Kelly Johnson, HSA assistant director. Photo: Pat McGiffert

A move toward shared services can be an opportunity to rethink common practices. As Health Sciences Administration gears up to launch its new Shared Services Center in January 2018, staff have already been implementing new, more streamlined processes — and seeing improvements.

Rethinking before reorganizing

HSA supports ten health sciences units in administrative functions, and staff started considering how to improve and streamline many of those functions even before shifting to a comprehensive shared services model. In advance of Workday, HSA staff centralized payroll services across all ten units to help smooth the transition. They standardized a new best practices hiring model, which has brought in high-quality hires through a multi-tiered process, and has saved time and resources. Most recently, HSA developed a new approach to employee onboarding. Launched in spring 2017, it has made onboarding more consistent, and helps new staff feel welcomed and prepared for success.

A closer look: employee onboarding

HSA’s new onboarding process exemplifies how rethinking a common practice can lead to widely shared benefits. Previously, onboarding was inconsistent across HSA-supported units. New employees were invited, but not required, to attend a general orientation through UW central HR; only a few units had their own orientations. Directors couldn’t count on all new staff coming in with the same information, even within the same unit. And, since units are spread out across various buildings, new health sciences staff had few opportunities to meet people in other units, or each other. “Inconsistency is not the impression we want to leave on new employees,” says Kelly Johnson, HSA assistant director. “We want to make them feel they’re welcome in the university and in the HSA family.”

In 2016, HSA staff met with unit directors to reassess onboarding. Once they decided on a new approach, they did test runs with staff at various stages (new hires and older employees), to see how the new process could be further improved before rolling it out.

Now, all new staff in supported units attend the same HSA-run orientation: a two-hour session on their first day of employment, always on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. Having a general orientation takes administrative burden off of those units that did their own trainings, and ensures everyone is on the same page from day one. Orientation includes everything from where to eat, where to park or catch a bus, how to understand benefits and how to use Workday. New staff learn about trainings and seminars, and receive a checklist of exactly what they need to do and by when. HSA staff follow up with emails including links to various resources and a survey to provide feedback to help improve the program.

Perhaps most importantly, new employees are meeting and networking with colleagues across units before starting in their new positions — contributing to a greater sense of community across all of HSA’s supported staff.

A shared services center in the making

The changes to onboarding and other practices had HSA considering how to more holistically support their units’ mission-critical work and ease pressures on staff, especially as resources become increasingly limited. HSA leadership — comprising Johnson, Director Bob Ennes and Executive Director David Anderson — worked with unit directors to determine that a shared services center would be the best way forward.

First, unit directors and HSA staff created a long-list of possible services to include in a shared services center based on each units’ needs. Then HSA hired a project manager who helped create working teams and determine what will make most sense to include: high volume, routine transactions such as accounting, HR functions and IT support. Now, shared services subject matter experts (SMEs) are conducting on-the-ground research and coordination; in weekly meetings, the SMEs are mapping out the processes with HSA staff.

Transparency in the process creates momentum and buy-in

The process of creating a shared services center can and should look different for different contexts. But some parts of the process can be broadly applied, says Johnson. HSA has found that building buy-in is both challenging and crucial — and that it’s best accomplished by being as transparent as possible, every step of the way.

From the very beginning, HSA has encouraged staff from all units to participate in any planning and development meetings. They’ve also created a SharePoint site to which all employees have access. The site is a one-stop shop for unit staff, providing up-to-date details on the status of each task and the overall project, as well as a direct line of communication with HSA. It includes pages on the Center’s guiding principles, FAQ and space for questions, making the “how” and “why” of the process very clear.

This focus on transparency has really helped to address potential anxieties, says Johnson. “We’ve seen amazing engagement from employees,” she says, “because they’ve been invited to be part of the process.” She notes how important it is to be willing to talk to people whenever they have questions or concerns. One of the Center’s guiding principles, in fact, is to “ensure our communication is immediate, continuous, personal and transparent so that our customers know what to expect and when to expect it.”

HSA Shared Services Center Goals

  • Greater cost savings
  • Continued service improvements for our customers
  • Process efficiency and standardization
  • Reduced administrative burden for our units
  • On deck for the new Center

    In July 2017, HSA completed the Plan and Assess stage of their development timeline. They are now beginning the Design stage, in which the subject matter expert teams research and recommend exactly which services to focus on, while units determine their particular needs. They’re also determining what staffing will look like: instead of a “lift-and-shift” model in which existing positions are reorganized, they plan to post new positions once roles are determined and encourage current unit staff to apply.

    Learn more about the Shared Services Center:


    Subject matter experts and HSA have created a five-stage timeline for the entire process of developing a shared services center, which is visible to all HSA employees on their SharePoint site.

    View timeline as a PDF.