Tackling workforce and HR issues on campus

Robert Morris University Illinois Vice President of Human Resources, Ann Bresingham, speaks to Innovation Enterprise about the challenges of HR among the university's workforce and student population


Established in 1913 and located across multiple sites throughout the US state of Illinois, Robert Morris University Illinois is home to more than 3,000 students and a vast workforce that helps to keep the education machine rolling. With that in mind, the university's HR function faces a range of challenges, which Ann Bresingham, the university's Vice President of Human Resources, knows only too well. Innovation Enterprise got into deep conversation with Ann on topics ranging from the current cultural climate in the US and its effect on the workplace, to the role automation has played in supporting the university's HR department, to her advice for young HRs entering the field today.

Innovation Enterprise: During this time of fragmented political and cultural climates, how do you ensure the workplace maintains an ethical and responsible course of action when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

Ann Bresingham: This is an excellent question for universities today, as we are educating students who come from diverse backgrounds – specifically at Robert Morris University Illinois, we have an extremely diverse student population with basically a third of our population being African American, a third Hispanic/Latino and a third Caucasian. We do have a mix of Asian, Indian and what is deemed as "other" in there also, but the three ethnic backgrounds stated are also diverse in socioeconomic background, religious affiliation and higher education experiences, both individually and as first-generation college students. With this, we work hard to ensure our recruitment efforts of employees, and our training and development of employees continue to focus on our mission-driven brand. We are a university that offers professional, career-focused education in a collegiate setting to diverse communities. We celebrate those communities and are open to the differences that make us unique and define us.

IE: Over the past few years, automated processes have been implemented on a wide scale to ensure efficient and timely delivery; how have these changes transformed the role of the HR executive?

AB: This has been a welcome change for our office, especially in creating efficiency for our recruitment, payroll and reporting efforts. While we have been automated for some time, we recently upgraded our HRIS system and experienced a whole new level of increased productivity. The best part I have experienced is the reporting aspect. I now have information at my fingertips to bring to the President's office at a moment's notice, when previously this could take days to do a deep dive and produce. Budgeting is now much more efficient and compliance reporting is straightforward.

IE: How do you ensure ethical standards are maintained in HR as analytics become commonplace in HR practices?

AB: With the advent of HR analytics, there is obviously so much more information that HR executives can obtain to make strategically informed decisions, based now on evidence rather than on intuition. That said, the question truly becomes to what extent should we delve into this information?

Ensuring that an organization has established policies and procedures in place when it comes to the gathering and usage of such data is imperative. There are laws in place to guide us in many of these areas, but for the gray areas, solid ethical judgment must be present.

Register today to see Ann Bresingham and a host of other leading HR practitioners share their thoughts and views at the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit, part of Innovation Enterprise's Analytics Innovation Festival, in Chicago on October 30–31, 2018

IE: As the online learning industry continues to grow, how are HR operations across the US embracing the technology, and what does their application offer busy HR departments?

AB: Online learning management tools have been instrumental in providing onboarding, as well as training methods that can be offered to employees in both "bite-sized" and longer formats. This addresses the needs of a busy workforce that may need to participate in the training and development process on its own time, or at times more convenient to a department's schedule, rather than on the HR team's schedule.

In addition to the flexibility it offers the employees, this also provides the HR team with the analytics reporting feature that will share who has completed the training, what has been completed and who still needs to complete it. The variety of training opportunities can be limitless, which expands on an HR office's ability to provide professional development opportunities beyond the staff's expertise. The technology has been a welcome change for HR departments, as well as providing a more efficient method of training for much of the topics that the workforce may need to review for compliance purposes. This online training will never replace the value of "in person" training; however, when time and efficiency is needed, it works well.

IE: What recommendations would you give to fellow HR professionals looking to implement best practices in leveraging HR analytics in order to enable better business results?

AB: Utilizing the information for more strategic business decisions is key – whether it be for budgeting, salary review, performance analysis and review, or something else, this is the primary information that the C-suite wants you to deliver to support the business decisions that matter.

IE: What advice would you give to junior staff entering the HR field today?

AB: Be prepared to wear many hats…while many HR professionals do work in silos as specialist of one area or another, the reality is that as you move up in the ranks, you do need to be a "jack of all trades", and the ultimate skill is the ability to think holistically and strategically about your workforce.

IE: Finally, what message do you hope to convey to delegates during your upcoming appearance at the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit?

AB: Utilizing our HR analytics has been a tremendous boost to moving toward a more efficient reporting system for our HR office. The ability to gather information and insight that is evidence-based within a short amount of time, that I can then bring to our President's office, not only answers the strategic questions that we are asked, it also supports the premise that our office is the knowledge center of employee information and employee relations. We honor this role by maintaining ethical guidelines that carefully guard employee data and ensure privacy at every step.

Ann Bresingham will be speaking on Day One of Innovation Enterprise's HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit in Chicago on October 30–31, 2018. To attend and hear more great insights from HR professionals across some of the biggest organizations in North America, register here.

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