University Adopts a Unifying Vision and Platform

Expansion is a sign of success, but it also brings new organizational challenges, particularly when that expansion is built on knitting together various organizations. That’s the situation that Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health (TJU) were in as they sought to bring together what now amounts to 30,000 employees in 11 colleges, two universities and 12 hospitals.

Achieving a coherent vision for the newly expanded entity was built into the job description for Jeffrey Stevens. He said that he was hired as chief human resources officer to accomplish two key tasks. One was to establish HR locally. The second was to deploy an HR tech strategy that would “consolidate everyone onto a single core system.”

Consolidation began with a unifying vision that would apply across all the entities within the expanded organization. To that end, this past February, TJU partnered with IBM to conduct a culture jam out of which they would create a new set of values across the enterprise.

Over the course of the three days of the jam session, over 9,000 people logged in and shared ideas and success stories. They had “participation from every division,” Stevens says, which means that every faction “felt a lot of ownership” over the process.

What emerged from all that participation was a list of three core values:

  • Put people first.
  • Be bold and think differently.
  • Do the right thing.

These values underlie the portal that was developed with the help of SAP. Its systems served as the solution to both of Stevens’ objectives.

A Platform Keeps Employees Informed, Engaged

To unify disparate HR tools and processes and deliver a platform to keep employees informed and engaged, in April the university selected SAP Success Factors and incorporated the SAP Jam collaboration platform to foster communication, collaboration and learning opportunities. It purchased 30 thousand licenses to cover the entire workforce, so everyone would have access to the same platform.

Stevens explained that the “idea was to create this as a unifying platform across these health systems”—a platform that would also serve as “a personalized, individualized, virtual entrée into the organization.” For example, he added, a person “would log on and see, ‘Welcome, Jeff Stevens.””

The employees would also be able to easily find information about their benefits, paycheck, schedules, etc., as well as organizational and department news and a common calendar.

The system also gives access to communities within the larger organization that they can choose to join or get recommendations based on shared interests. In that way, the portal serves a dual function of advancing learning and improving performance. As people can tag themselves with their fields of interest, the portal can open up access to its “robust online library” and let them find discussions and conferences that match their interests.

Stevens acknowledges that when dealing with different health systems and universities, most organizations would opt to “keep firewalls between entities.” His goal was just the opposite. He wanted them to operate as a “single ecosystem so that they could define jobs across the enterprise and access learning across the system.” That introduces a new level of jobs visibility and career mobility for employees.

A major part of that effort involves “linking jobs, linking competencies and sharing learning,” Stevens says. For example, a nurse at one entity would be able to transfer to a job at a different part of the organization more easily when the description is “defined by competencies.” That offers a clear standard that makes it possible for the employee to identify which qualifications she already has and which learning gaps she would have to work on to qualify for the new job.

Stevens considers this approach “a very supportive thing to be doing,” as it removes the “barriers to mobility.” The approach identifies the skills that will transfer and also enables a seamless transition from one position to another without requiring the employee to be terminated at one entity in order to be hired at another branch of TJU.

Giving employees the tools they need to succeed is what’s behind Success Factors—not worker ratings, Stevens points out. In place of a once-a-year evaluation, this system allows people to see their own job competencies, and learn how they’re meeting their own goals on an ongoing basis. It allows them to share their achievements and projects and gain recognition as accomplishments are attained.

In Stevens’ view, this goes beyond work-life balance. With this system in place, he says, people feel more engaged, and that improves the quality of their work life.