This summer, Human Resources associate vice president Chris Halladay learned that two of his most senior team members -- Director of HR Services Toni Lee Febbo and Director of Employee Relations, Workplace Learning, and Performance Judy Zavalydriga -- would be availing themselves of the university’s voluntary retirement offer. He was filled with mixed emotions.
“On the one hand, our team is going to lose two experienced employees in crucial areas, people respected and admired on campus and in our office,” he said. “And, at the same time, we had been expecting retirements to come eventually and had begun succession planning as a result. Now we had an urgent need to move that plan into action in a way that would create a lot of opportunities for members of our team.”
Chris presented the HR team a proposition. He would meet with each member individually to discuss the current structure of the office, their own interest in growth within the department, and their ideas for how to restructure the office. As the first round of individual meetings came to a close, Chris had synthesized those ideas into a draft of a new model for the HR Office’s structure. It was pretty different.
“It was gratifying to see how much thought everyone on the team put into re-imagining what our office could look like,” he said. “I knew I needed to go back to each person one more time to show them this draft model and get their honest feedback before gathering us all together as a group to finalize our plan.”
The final model includes changes to the roles of several current employees. It is a flatter structure with less division between the various Human Resources functions. Perhaps most significantly, the office’s administrative staff members will be transitioned to a shared services unit. The model includes one new position, a compensation analyst. It also included significant increases in responsibility for other positions. While nearly all positions would see some kind of change, the final office headcount would remain the same.
Chris says this new model has a number of benefits. “First, we are able to provide professional growth opportunities to a number of staff members who have shown promise through their performance and who have invested in their own development through education and certification,” he said. “In addition, we’re breaking down silos within our own office. Staff and faculty may see us as a cohesive unit, but the depth of specialty required today in certain HR areas often inhibits that.”
The succession planning process that was underway in HR prior to the voluntary retirement offer began several years ago when positions opened due to retirements and other factors. At that time, Patti Florkowski and Lori Claudio moved into more senior roles and Aubrie Sobieski and Caitlin Leidy were hired to fill Patti and Lori’s prior positions.
As they looked further down the road toward Judy’s eventual retirement, Chris, Judy and Linda Lefever saw an opportunity to add more talent to the career enrichment and performance management team by turning an open position into a learning design and development specialist role. Tarah Cicero joined the office in 2018.
Patti pursued the CEBS employee benefits specialist certification through the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. She also completed Journey to High Performance and other professional development to prepare herself for her additional responsibilities.
“When I came to Lehigh and started working in benefits I realized this is where I was meant to be,” Patti said. “I’m kind of a geek about it and I really enjoy helping people navigate their benefits and the retirement process.”
Patti and Toni Lee recognized Caitlin’s initiative and potential soon after she joined Lehigh. “She has never needed a push,” Patti noted. “She jumped in with both feet, took on more responsibilities, and took an active role in the Lehigh community by serving on ERAC.” Caitlin also began working on her CEBS last year.
While Toni Lee continues to serve in a consulting role through March 31, Patti has assumed the role of Director of Benefits. Her team includes Catilin Leidy, who has been promoted to HR Associate for benefits, and Benefits Analyst Kimberly Drey. “There’s no way to fill Toni Lee’s shoes, she has been such a significant figure on the benefits team for decades,” Patti said. “But she and I will work closely together during the transition and I am ready to take on the challenge.”
Lori Claudio (right) has been pursuing advanced education in her field for a number of years as well. She obtained both CCP (Certified Compensation Professional) and SHRM PHR, (Society for Human Resource Management Professional in Human Resources) certifications. She also completed the year-long Leadership Lehigh Valley program as well as the Lehigh University Leadership Academy.
In 2019, Lori was promoted to a director-level position overseeing talent and compensation. With Judy’s retirement in December, Lori’s team has grown further to include the full employee life cycle - from talent acquisition and compensation to career enrichment, employee relations and performance management. Her title is now Director of Talent Management.
When the concept of merging Judy and Lori’s teams together evolved during the planning process, Lori was eager for the opportunity to lead the new team. “There used to be an organizational divide between talent acquisition-compensation and career enrichment-performance management teams, but now we’re all one,” Lori said. “I see all of this as a continuum, a cycle. I see the connections between all of the work we do and I’m excited to bring this group together and see how we turn those connections into ideas and actions.”
Lori says data is at the heart of her vision. “I love digging in and connecting the dots between all kinds of things. For example, Tarah and I started discussing whether we can see a link between participation in our career enrichment tracks and internal promotions. We’re looking for those kinds of key performance indicators in all areas. Now, as one team, we’ll be able to better assess our performance and Lehigh’s staff needs. I really believe this will have a significant positive impact on Lehigh staff.”
Another benefit of the merging of teams is cross-training and opportunities for growth. “Everybody on my team is very forward thinking and open minded, and I don't want them to feel stuck in their roles,” Lori said. “If each of them can learn about the other roles and processes on our team it’s good for Lehigh and it’s also good for their career growth and sense of fulfillment in their roles.”
Sharing The Workload
Moving to a shared services model for administrative services is a significant change in several ways. The various operational functions in HR have traditionally had dedicated administrative support that reported up to the directors of each area. Now, each HR assistant will be part of a single team supporting all of the functions of the office.
“This is a big mindset shift for everyone,” noted Chris. “To accomplish this kind of change, we knew we would need to turn to an experienced member of our office. That’s why I asked Mary Jo McNulty if she would consider taking the helm as the leader of the shared services team.”
“My first reaction was excitement,” Mary Jo recalled. “I was honored that Chris and others thought of me for this role.”
Still, the idea was somewhat daunting. There would be a lot of work involved in cross-training four staff members in each others’ work. And though three of the team members have worked together for several years, there would still be significant relationship-building to form a cohesive team.
Mary Jo went home and considered the opportunity. “I love working at Lehigh. I knew I was ready for the next step in my career. During the almost 38 years that I’ve been at Lehigh, I held several positions in two departments. I have had the good fortune to work with colleagues and supervisors who were great teachers and mentors.” She returned to work the next day and accepted the challenge.
The shared services team (comprised of Senior HR Assistants Monica Guiher and Betty Konczyk and HR Assistants May-Lin Cueva and Natalie Carey) has been meeting regularly to prepare for their launch as a unit. Members are training each other in their individual areas of expertise, including benefits processing, billing data auditing, and the employment process. Mary Jo is also learning all of the processes and is preparing to take on managerial responsibilities by attending the Journey to High Performance program at Northampton Community College’s Center for Business and Industry.
“During my time at Lehigh, I’ve performed many of the functions that our team will handle, so I have familiarity with their work. Our team has formed strong relationships over the years and I’m looking forward to working directly with them. I don’t think I’m being too idealistic, everything does seem to be falling into place well.” Mary Jo said.
As the clock wound down to her retirement, Judy continued in her duties while transferring her years of knowledge to the department. A new HR Assistant, Natalie Carey, was hired and began work on January 2. The search continues to fill the Compensation Analyst position.
While the process is moving along, there will still be a transition period. “There’s no magic switch that flipped on January 1,” Mary Jo noted. “And things will continue to evolve. We may see something isn’t working after six months down the road and make adjustments.”
With so many changes happening, someone recently asked Chris Halladay what would happen if they failed. Chris recalled, “I said, ‘We won’t fail, because there’s no failure in this effort. There are just refinements to make and lessons to learn.’”