In 2017, the University of North Texas engaged the Toyota Production System Support Center, Inc., TSSC, in a strategic initiative to improve faculty on-boarding using the Toyota Production System. TSSC is a non-profit corporation affiliated with Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc., headquartered in Plano, Texas.
As a Carnegie-ranked Tier 1 public research university and the choice of more than 38,000 students, UNT on-boards more than 100 new faculty members annually to fill vacant or newly created positions. A complex process with multiple hand offs, faculty feedback from the 2016-2017 hiring cycle highlighted numerous issues across departments including human resources, information technology and parking. As a result of the feedback collected and the time and effort expended to attract faculty members from competing institutions, the University committed to streamlining the process to ensure a welcoming and customer friendly experience.
The TSSC approach
Using the TSSC approach, the project design included the following.
- Establishing the leadership
- Team members and roles
- Understanding the on-boarding process
- Identifying problems and opportunities within the on-boarding process
- Data gathering and
- Performing activities focused on improving the process
Data- and information-gathering phase
During the data- and information-gathering phase, it became evident that there was a lack of ownership of the entire process and silos existed within the organization as process documents contradicted one another.
Selecting a team
Following the data- and information-gathering phase, a project team was selected. Key qualities for team members included the following.
- Openness to change
- Respecting the opinion of others
- Positive attitude
- And an eagerness to learn
Learning the Toyota Production System, TPS
A key focal point was ensuring that all team interactions occurred in a safe environment and members were empowered to make changes and decisions. Project team members then were introduced to the Toyota Production System, TPS, which requires more than following a few steps to success, but a looking at problems in a completely new way and with new solutions to solve them. Built on changing organizational culture, key elements include the following.
- Technical elements: using TPS tools, methods and practice correctly
- Managerial: motivating and developing people
- Philosophy: customer first, people are our most valuable customer
- Kaizen: shop floor focus
Mapping it out
After a four-hour strategy session to map the current process, the team was charged with developing a tool to show the status of every incoming faculty member. A visual board was developed to quickly determine the status of any candidate.
Following the creation of the visual board, the team tracked every new faculty member, assigned “owners” to be responsible for each step and quickly identified “stagnation points” in the process—where incoming faculty were awaiting the next step in the onboarding process for long periods of time. Execution of the process included understanding the current process, identifying problems, and exploring and testing various solutions where necessary. The project team ensured changes being recommended were implemented, evaluated and sustained by scheduling regular discussions with business units that owned a particular sub-process.
After the Fall 2017 hiring cycle, the improvements identified included the following.
- Distribution of benefits information prior to arrival on campus to allow new faculty full amount of time (30 days) from their start date to state deadline to enroll in retirement benefits programs
- Entry of all incoming faculty into payroll system before Aug. 31 to ensure new faculty were paid on time
- In Fall 2016, more than 50 percent of the incoming faculty experienced a major issue involving the ability to enroll in benefits and obtain their pay
- Completion of a Form I-9, employment eligibility form, and other documentation in the electronic onboarding portal prior to the start of class to ensure compliance with federal and state law
- Access to the university’s information technology system within two days of receipt of signed offer letter
- In Fall 2016, more than 60 percent of new faculty members stated they did not have immediate access to information technology
- Implementation of improvements to electronic onboarding portal to improve user interface and welcome message
- Initiation of onboarding activities immediate
- Previously all onboarding activities began after Aug. 31
- Development of processes to ensure access to office and lab space prior to faculty member’s arrival
- In Fall 2016, many faculty members noted they did not have needed building keys upon arrival
- Access to parking permits prior to arrival on campus with welcome emails from the UNT Parking Office with parking instructions and information on obtaining permits
During the Fall 2016 semester, President Neal Smatresk and Provost Jennifer Cowley "were inundated" with grievances regarding the overall onboarding process. After the Fall 2017 hiring cycle, a survey was conducted to assess the overall faculty experience and the results were overwhelmingly positive.
“Thanks for all you do to help our faculty.”
“This was the smoothest hiring process I have ever seen!”
The work completed resulted in a national Best Practices Grand Finalist Award from the Southern Association of College and University Business Officers, SACUBO. As a continuation of the effort to bring organizational change and spread the philosophy of “change for the better” or kaizen Business Process Analysts from the Continuous Improvement Team lead institutional initiatives across campus using the TPS methodology.
In 2018, in order to more broadly serve the UNT community, the Continuous Improvement Team began facilitating problem-solving training and coaching, and providing project management services to administrative and academic units. With oversight administered by the Division of Finance and Administration's Associate Vice President for Administrative Services, the Continuous Improvement Team supports the institutional objectives of achieving efficiency, improving effectiveness and increasing service quality and continues to expand in order to tackle the challenges of higher education.