CBE Intranet

September 11, 2020

Dean Cheng: HR Memo 2

Dear CBE faculty and staff,

One of the most vivid memories I have of coming to know the college during the Dean’s Dialogue conversations in 2019 was a phrase from one of our staff: “CBE is a great place to work”. Through the surveys and focus groups, summarized in this organizational analysis, it was clear that faculty and staff loved contributing to the positive cooperative culture rooted in a shared belief in the importance of CBE’s teaching, research, and engagement. At the same time, there was a wide-spread perception that faculty and staff were spread too thin and were vulnerable to burnout, which led to a cautious concern that changes would require stretching even thinner by instigating new activities piled on top of all that we currently do. Addressing that concern, many suggestions were made for creating reliable systems and processes that would allow more people to focus their time on strategically chosen tasks. And a general sense that in order to elevate our work, we needed to simplify, align, and streamline. These sentiments were echoed in the strategic planning process. As part of their work this summer, the strategic plan writing team analyzed the 131 actions that came out of the task groups  and found that over 20% of them mentioned making processes more clear, more equitable, less onerous, so that they better support the goals of the task groups. In addition to the strategic plan task groups, Rachel Ward led an organizational steering group of faculty and staff whose work is summarized in a memo posted by Staff Council in April 2020.


The consistent message from all this work was that we should stop trying to do more with less, and find ways to better leverage the amazing talent, expertise, and resources we have. As I mentioned in my previous CBE Forward memos, we framed our reorganization goals in ways that attracted investment by UW Provost and partners, so we can not only do better with what we have, we can accelerate with new investments and smart use of funds from positions where people have departed. This CBE organizational change is coming at a time when other colleges and universities are implementing large scale layoffs and furloughs to meet the pandemic economic crisis and I want to emphasize that these changes do not result in budget reductions – overall CBE investment in staff is stable. Rachel and I had extensive review and consultation with UW central HR and senior staff in the UW Provost’s office to make sure each change was connected to identified needs and strategic goals. We have placed a great deal of effort in communicating to those people whose appointments have altered for any modification in supervision, role, or title. We have done additional communication with the very few people whose appointments have been more substantively changed. There are no layoffs or furloughs in these plans, which is not to say that individuals may feel negatively impacted and we understand that many in the college will need to adjust to change. We hope those that need help with the transition will reach out.


Below are the high level descriptions of the changes, and more information will be posted on the new CBE Forward intranet site as its developed.  In exploring options, one of the questions we asked was: to what degree is centralized coordination across the different needs in the college beneficial compared to the benefit from customized tasks with departmentally based staff? These explorations led to the creation of new teams and shifting some roles and responsibilities as described below.

  1. Strengthening Centralized Approach to Information Technology

We confirmed that CBE IT centralization is effective. So effective that we consider it a model for serving individual needs while providing robust college-wide support from a cross-trained team. Adjustments to further clarify roles within that team reflect Mark Baratta’s expanded role, now called Director of Operations, and the developmental progress of members of the IT team have made over time. We are grateful that Brian Vogt maintains his role of Web Developer and his connection with IT but moves his primary membership to the Advancement team. IT team changes are still under development to clarify and focus roles and when finalized, the new organizational structure will be found on the CBE Forward intranet site. Questions can be directed to Mark.

  1. Expanding the Advancement team to Encompass College-wide Communications

Over 25% of the action items suggested in the strategic planning process included communications and engagement to celebrate, disseminate, and engage partners on topics key to built environments. The needs described included tracking information effectively, telling  our stories, hosting events, and other ways to promote and engage CBE thought leadership and research. In previous years, the college-wide support for communications was extremely limited (a half-time role split with advancement) and it was clear that even with the recent change to a full time position, more was needed. This was an area where centralization with coordination to the departments seemed warranted and was sought by every taskforce group. As college expectations increased at the same time societal shifts pace and quality elevated the importance of communication, a cross-trained team with clear complementary roles became the best way to meet these demands.

Erika Harris, Director of Marketing & Communications, will oversee a team that reports up through Alex Haslam, Assistant Dean for Advancement & External Relations, as a part of the Advancement office. Some members of the expanding marketing and communications team are CBE staff in newly focused roles, this includes Brian Vogt as Web Developer and Josh Polansky in role for the Creative Production Manager, which will retain content coordinator for the gallery. We are excited to announce a team member new to CBE, Jamilah Williams, who will focus on content creation as the Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications. The Advancement team is still finalizing two roles that will support events, social media and digital content. These changes are designed to help elevate the College’s reputation, recognition, and reach locally, nationally, and globally, especially to audiences not currently aware of our work. More information about the Advancement team’s new roles will be addressed in a forthcoming note from Alex. Questions about these changes may be directed to Alex.

More on the approach

In addition to the approach that led to the centralization described above, there were other changes we believed were needed based on feedback that staff were stretched thin and their time was often spent on immediate needs instead of core responsibilities or strategically chosen projects. This was particularly critical to address since regardless of the excitement about new initiatives, it was daunting to consider how current resources could stretch to do any more than we were already doing. Creating more focus, defining more clearly complementary roles, and aligning resources from new sources or recent staff departures are all critical to the success of the changes described below.

  1. New Finance/HR Team

In the analysis Rachel led, we started by looking at how we are managing risks in faculty/staff resource decisions and financial processes and found that areas with most risk were also the ones reported as most time-consuming and/or challenging for departmental staff. This was understandable in context of increasingly complex rules governing higher education; as well as UW recent change to the Workday HR system and expected change to new Finance systems which assume colleges have someone who has specialised knowledge of those systems.

To use everyone’s time more effectively while continuing to manage risk, we are creating a new finance/HR team that Rachel Ward will lead. We will add a new HR lead and we are working to better understand how central UW finance transformation can shift some of the repetitive financial tasks to a new hub or be covered within the college with new personnel. The outcome of these changes will be that Rachel can focus on finance and strategic support for the college. Additionally, previous time spent on sponsored research will now shift in responsibility to the new partnership with CSDE described in the previous CBE Forward memo. Questions can be sent to Rachel.

  1. Continuing Support for CBE Deans

The position supporting the Associate Deans was recently vacated and we have refocused and expanded the job description to support specific initiatives. For this year the focus will be on initiatives anticipating future investments in college-wide courses and programs identified by several task groups, most particularly the curriculum task group and described in the CBE Forward memo on budget goals for future investments. The position will complement the research team as described in the CBE Forward memo on the CBE Office for Research, and will also manage schedules for Associate Deans and the Assistant Dean for Advancement & External Relations. More on the search coming soon. Questions can be directed to Rachel.

  1. Bringing More Focus to Operations Team

Meegan Amen will continue to work in the operations team led by Mark Baratta, but will fully focus her time on facilities and managing pandemic measures. When we are free to use our facilities more normally, she will take on recommendations from the Space, Place, and Resources task group . To help focus this role, her previous responsibilities in student support and event support will move to others. Questions can be directed to Mark.

  1. Defining Support for Student Experience

A new Head Advisor role – this is not a new position, but an administrative role we expect will be filled by a current advisor – is planned to advance goals identified by the Student Experience task group and consolidate work previously done by Meegan (student led events and student groups) and Josh (student wellness, Title IX, compliance.) More soon on how this role relates to current departmental advising and the Student Experience task group recommendations. We have also reviewed the departmental advisor roles and made small changes to improve equity. Adding a new part-time advisor for the new Real Estate major is another outcome of this review.  Questions can be directed to Rachel.

  1. Acknowledging Strategic Role of Department Administrators

Department Administrators and their partnership with Department Chairs are essential to the success of departments and we have excellent people in these roles. However, even accounting for differences between departments, there were inequities in the ways the positions were defined, compensated, and evaluated. Knowing that coordination between them is key to the success of the college now, and more will be needed for the college strategic goals to elevate interdisciplinary collaboration, creating an equitable basis for these roles was critical. In addition to being consistent across the departments, the administrative roles are now defined as core strategic level work. This is supported by moving the personnel and financial processes that directly interface with UW systems to the new College HR/Finance team. We are pleased to welcome Debbie Underwood as department administrator for Construction Management, which formalizes what had been an interim role. Questions can be directed to Rachel.


Some of these changes will take more time and some will be easier if they are sequenced (for example moving Workday systems tasks away from Department Administrators should wait until the new HR person is in place). We hope that all the changes will be completed by the end of Autumn Quarter with the simpler job title and supervision changes occurring before school starts. While the transition is underway, your patience is much appreciated and your attention to communication and requests for feedback will be very important. The CBE Forward page will have the most current information and we will use it to post reference materials such as organizational charts when they are finalized.

Moving Forward

Intentionally advancing equity as a cultural value was behind numerous small adjustments to positions throughout the college. By making roles and responsibilities more clear and matching positions with clear descriptions we can connect our review process to individual goals and strategic plan goals. We expect that the structural changes will lead to improved recruiting, onboarding, and retention that will be essential to reaching college diversity goals. We look forward to testing how these small and large changes bring the college operations more aligned with our values.

I know there may be questions around these changes and additional information will be coming in the next few weeks in emails and posted on the intranet. I appreciate your patience as we see how these new structures and pathways work. It’s important to give feedback on how they are impacting you, please feel free to contact me, Rachel, or other team leads directly. While there is no perfect organizational structure, I have confidence that these changes bring us closer to what we need and I trust we have processes to make adjustments as needed. Most importantly, CBE moving forward will be more focused and effective while continuing to be a great place to work for all our talented staff, researchers and faculty.

I know there have been several CBE Forward memos in the past week, we will take a bit of a break from communications on budget and HR while attention shifts to the start of school. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns.

I hope you enjoy the weekend safely and we can look forward to fairer skies and better air in the near future!