UI: Consultant fee to revamp classification system was justified

BY SAM LANE | MARCH 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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More than $560,000 was “a reasonable amount” to pay the consultant who helped redesign a University of Iowa staff classification system that hadn’t been reviewed since 1985, an official in the UI Human Resources Department said.

“If we want to be competitive … we needed a different system,” said Robert Millsap, an associate director of Human Resources. “We got all of the things we need to move ahead.”

Officials notified all 5,200 employees of the results of the redesign on Feb. 28. Since then, more than 800 staff members — nearly 20 percent of the 4,100 eligible employees — have appealed their new classification. Only the employees who filled out and returned a job-information form were able to appeal.

In April 2007, the university hired Buck Consultants — a Xerox-ACS company that provides human-resource expertise — to evaluate the university’s current system for professional and scientific classification. Officials placed a $110,000 maximum for the evaluation services.

That September, Buck told UI administrators the current system could not be modified and needed to be redesigned. Officials rehired the group in June 2008 under a $560,000 cap to help put together the new system.

Between the two phases, the UI has paid Buck nearly $566,000. The Daily Iowan received copies of the project’s finances on Thursday after a public-records request.

Millsap said Buck was neither the most nor the least expensive of the six consultants officials considered for the project in late 2007.

He said officials had been optimistic the redesign process would be complete in two years, but it “was a commitment we weren’t going to rush through.”

The new system involves 18 “job functions” for the nonorganized staff members. In those functions, employees are classified in more than 100 “families.” Between December 2009 and January 2010, employees filled out the job-information forms to help Human Resource officials determine their new classification.

Employees will be placed in the new classifications in July, Millsap said, before they begin the compensation phase of the redesign. Millsap said no employees will see a salary decrease, though the change could influence some individuals’ pay increases in the future.

“This plan will allow employees to have a clear path for career development,” Millsap said.

He said officials didn’t know what to expect in terms of appeals, but said roughly 10 to 15 percent of eligible staff would have been reasonable.

Staff Council President Amber Seaton said the number of appeals isn’t concerning.

“There was a team of a lot of people working on this project,” she said. “They needed to share something with staff. People are reacting. That’s OK. Everybody’s feedback helps make the system better.”

David Friedland, the president of Friedland Associates, a human-resources consulting firm in Culver City, Calif., said the economic situation makes it more likely for employees to be nervous, which can cause them to argue against changes such as the redesign.

“When you make changes like this, it is going to be not really welcome to certain people,” Freidland said. “Other people may benefit from it. The point of it is to comply with current standards.”

Friedland said the cost of human-resources consulting varies depending on what’s already in place.

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