Field Notes: Tips for reorganizing your department

March 17, 2019
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GettyImages-986464454 "Field Notes" is a regular AACRAO Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org.

by Brian D. Scholten, MEd, Registrar, New College of Florida

The thought of an office reorganization can evoke fear, distrust, and even contempt among staff members. There are many good reasons for considering a reorganization just as there are other ways to achieve certain goals. Depending on the reasons, the approach offered here is for the leader to include and seek input from his or her staff.

First, consider the reasons for reorganizing and determine the direction you want your office to take. Implementation of a new student information system, adoption of updated methods and practices, disjointed processes, and poorly written position descriptions resulting in imbalance of work are examples of reasons to reorganize. 

Second, review and solidify the goals and expected outcomes for your reorganization. Examples may include bringing office operations into the 21st century, having trained back-ups for each position, development of a comprehensive and comprehensible office procedures manual, and substantiation for an additional position, even if the position will be for a limited period of time.

Third, having a strategy in place is half the battle and provides the direction necessary to reshape an office. When I went through an office reorganization I called it an “office structure review” when sharing the plan with staff. I explained to them that they have been doing very good work and that we need to look at the work we do, how we do it, why we do it, and what we might do differently.

I also explained that we must have positions defined appropriately to best utilize resources, skills and talents. The process would be interactive and involve the entire staff. I also assured staff that no one would lose their job since that was not an identified outcome of the process.

The process: Facilitation
We met as a group with Human Resources professionals four times over the length of a semester. Human Resources facilitated a review of the current organizational structure and positions in the office. They helped us identify all tasks, processes, and responsibilities of our office and conducted in-depth discussions about what each staff member does and how they do it. From those discussions, we created “umbrellas” which were major responsibilities of the office like transcript processing and course registration.

Task breakdown and organization
We were divided into two groups. The groups were asked to determine under which umbrella each task belonged. Once there was agreement with where tasks belonged, an open discussion about how the work should be organized under the umbrellas (what makes sense, that is) ensued.

Human Resources presented a chart that listed groups of tasks, based on the two groups’ consensus about organizing the work. No hierarchy, position titles or names were included on the chart. Additional discussion was necessary to make minor tweaks to the chart.

A new look
The leaders in our office developed drafts of new position descriptions that were reviewed and approved by Human Resources. The result was a new organizational chart. Next, we completed a skills and knowledge assessment of each staff member to provide objectivity to the process. Then we completed a breakdown of the perceived skills and abilities of each staff member based on their performance reviews. Human Resources tallied the assessments.

With guidance from Human Resources, we determined which staff member was best suited for each new position within the new structure. Some received pay raises; others received promotions and pay raises, while some made lateral moves. We also had to ensure compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Final steps: Communication and training plan
We created a contingency plan in the event that a staff member chose to resign, established an outline of important points to discuss during individual staff member meetings. Staff members were informed about the individual meetings and the meeting schedule was distributed.

A timeline was developed for the reorganization to occur and, with it, we designed a 12-month training plan. The training plan included objectives, feedback, and performance evaluations. Each staff member was responsible for helping to train and cross-train their back-ups. We also hired a consultant to provide training for our degree audit system.

We met with each staff member (a representative from Human Resources was present at each meeting) and reviewed the purpose of the reorganization process, how we arrived at the decisions we made based on each person’s unique qualifications, shared new job titles, job description and pay (if applicable), reviewed the training plan and time line, expectations, and answered any questions they had.

The next day, a full staff meeting was held to review the new office structure and positions. We arranged for Facilities and Information Technology to assist staff members moving to new work spaces, announced the reorganization to the campus, and began training/cross-training.

Keys to success

In summary, the keys to a successful reorganization include having good reasons to consider a reorganization, open and frequent two-way communication during the entire process, involvement of everyone in your office, being positive, unified and listening to and reassuring your staff that the process is objective.