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The gilded cherubs adorning the walls of the Faculty Club ballroom had never seen this before: surfboards, faux tiki torches and 150 McGill managers decked out in Hawaiian leis. The tropical theme set a relaxed, get-away-from-it-all tone for the third annual Management Forum conference, Renewal and Development: New Approaches.
Delegates were treated to breakfast and a goody bag containing (some thought significantly) Advil and Aspirin. Tables were set with rubber bricks for stress relief -- many were thrown at the podium during the ice-breaking exercises by Eyal Baruch from the Department of Athletics.
The first speaker that morning was Kim Bachmann from the Conference Board of Canada. "Stress Issues: Work and Life Balance" covered a wide variety of national and McGill-specific trends relating to employee retention, stress and employee satisfaction.
She said companies across Canada are facing labour shortages, and universities in particular are going to need to replace 20,000 employees in the next decade. McGill, however, is doing rather well, with far fewer managerial and clerical employees nearing retirement age. But that can work against us, cautioned Bachmann.
"When other universities are having a lot of people retiring, they're going to start looking to McGill -- they're going to start poaching," she said.
Bachmann said that when it comes to retention, it is important to be aware that when people leave jobs it's often not because of money. More often it's because of their supervisors, overwork or job frustration. Being sensitive to employees' home lives goes a long way to ensuring staff remain happy and productive.
"Real benefits accrue to organizations that make a commitment and respond to these issues," she said.
Principal's last management address
Principal Bernard Shapiro, gamely sporting a pink lei, addressed the M-Forum for the last time before leaving the university after his eight and a half years here. He was his usual pithy self, talking about McGill's challenges ahead: academic, fiscal, administrative and community. Each is related to the other.
He said he hoped that for the future's sake, managers would insert themselves more consciously into university life. As complex as the school's processes are, you can find shortcuts to your goals: "Be as active as you can and think of advancing your own needs with the university."
McGill is in the third year of a decade-long commitment to aggressively tackling academic renewal. "We need desperately to find replacements," he said of the aging faculty community. "It's very difficult -- demand far exceeds supply."
And of McGill's top-notch grant-winning research faculty, we have to consider "how to take professors at the far edges of their research to the undergraduate program, where they must make the material meaningful, incisive and intriguing to someone who doesn't know anything yet."
Rounding off the academic challenges, Shapiro said, "We have to find the areas of excellence. The days of truly comprehensive universities are over." For example, he adds, if we offer an MA in German, we can't cover every century.
The fiscal challenges McGill faces are staggering. "We need $80 million a year, every year, more than we have. I do not believe the government is willing to cover it." Shapiro adds that he seems to be the only one willing to say publicly that "tuition must rise and rise substantially.
"The nightmare for McGill is to slip into mediocrity."
We must not only think of the amount of money, he said, but of who gets it. The government is somewhat willing to fund science, engineering and medicine, but not always the core subjects that make up a university.
Administratively, Shapiro foresees a need for departments to integrate further with each other, aiming to work more effectively across units. McGill must also prepare for eventual non-academic renewal.
As McGill competes for the best students, Shapiro warns, our student services must be more competitive -- "We'll have to offer student services we haven't even dreamt about." This includes more residences, space for students, career counselling and treating undergrads well. Service should send a message "Aren't you glad we're here," instead of "Aren't you glad we said hello."
Internally, there is a problem of exhaustion in the community. We are understaffed and underfunded, and Shapiro urged the crowd to turn to the resources we do have, such as EAP and mentoring, and to consider rethinking the way we do things.
Above all, he said, universities are social institutions. "They do not serve our own purposes but that of society."
Yay, lunch break!
Bellies full from lunch upstairs, managers settled in to hear talks from Human Resources.
Linda Christensen and Ernie Kinney from the McGill 2000+ Administrative Process Review Centre spoke on how to assess your work processes and fix problems.
They have a six-step program that outlines how you and a team can identify work processes and select those that need improvement. Just identifying them is tougher than you think -- Kinney says he and Christensen have yet to come across a group that knew its processes.
The duo said that it's important to think outside the box, and above all else, challenge assumptions. You may believe it's clear how things happen in your department, but stop and think about it. Document the processes -- what if you win the lottery and decide not to show up for work tomorrow? Someone's going to have to know what to do.
They recommend you collect data on process change over the years so you have a benchmark for the future and can look at the best practices over time.
A bit of T & D
Human Resources director Robert Savoie, jaunty in a yellow lei, then took the stage to introduce Sophie Marcil, the new staff development specialist.
Marcil explained at length her approach to training and development, and how she will provide tools, professional training programs and design activities to improve performance by boosting skills and knowledge.
McGill employees can get training for both individual and career development. Marcil wants to ensure that all facets of development will be covered, from making sure the new hire knows where the bathroom is, to preparing departments for change. "There is no such thing as a static environment," she says, "and training and development helps us to be at ease with change." Even good change, she reminded us, means that there will be a short-term dip in productivity before all goes smoothly.
Savoie told the crowd that he'll evaluate her work by how many calls she gets. So make sure Marcil keeps busy and give her a call at 2303.
Vice-principals say their piece
The day finished with short talks from (and cheerful banter between) vice-principals Morty Yalovsky and Tony Masi, on non-academic renewal. Fortunately, this is not as pressing an issue, with only 10 percent of management staff to hit retirement age within a decade. Although Masi may feel older having weathered the "once-in-a-lifetime experience" of implementing the Banner system, we should soon be reaping the rewards of having a new system. So even if you feel old at work sometimes, a management day in a lei makes you feel younger again.