Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Managing Risk by Building Culture – Operational Excellence
Year Submitted 2017
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Jane O’Brien Associate Vice-President, Human Resources
Lynn Logan Associate Vice-President, Finance & Facilities
Janet Biondi Financial Risk Officer
Sharon Farnell Director of Internal Audit
Andrew Fuller Director of Learning & Development, Human Resources
Louise Koza Director of Total Compensation, Human Resources
Nancy Stewart Senior Facilitator, Learning & Development, Human Resources
Name of Institution Western University
Office Address Human Resources, Support Services Buiding, Room 5100
Western University
London, Ontario N6A 3K7
Map It
Telephone: 519-661-2111 ext. 84261
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Jane O'Brien
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Associate Vice-President, Human Resources
Office Address Human Resources, Support Services Buiding, Room 5100
Western University
London, Ontario N6A 3K7
Map It
Telephone: 519-661-2111 ext. 84261
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.

The Operational Excellence Series is a practical learning program offered to Western employees involved in the administration of people, financial or other administrative processes across the University. The first of 14 courses was offered in August, 2015, and over the last 18 months, 315 administrators have participated.

Operational Excellence was developed following a needs assessment that highlighted concerns over unclear processes, errors, re-work, and variance in practice between units, as well as gaps in the orientation of new administrators. The assessment also pointed out the potential financial and reputational risk that the University is exposed to if proper processes are not followed.  To address this, 46 subject leaders from 6 central units at Western collaborated to design and deliver a high-quality learning program to help employees ‘get it right the first time’. 

The Series has 3 learning streams: People Administration, Financial Administration and Faculty Appointment Administration.  13 courses are in-person, and one is offered fully online.  Including repeats, 46 sessions have been offered to date (See Appendix A).

The target audience is approximately 500 administrators involved in the administration of human resources and financial processes.  So far, 63% have participated and over half attended 2 or more sessions.  In total, we’ve received 828 registrations.

To ensure maximum learning transfer, participants are encouraged to complete courses that are applicable to their current role.  This way, the practical, detailed information provided can be immediately implemented.  Successful completion of each course is noted on the employee’s electronic HR training record after achieving 70% or higher on a post-session quiz. 

After just 18 months, we are very pleased with the results.  At Western, Operational Excellence achieves efficiencies, builds culture, manages organizational risk and builds capacity (See Appendix B).  From a December 2016 survey of 72 participants who completed 2 or more courses, 100% would recommend this Series to a colleague and they identified 124 examples of “efficiencies achieved in their work” (See Appendix C).   We also see strengthened relationships between central subject matter experts and unit administrators, and a new network of operational learners with greater capacity to understand and adapt to organizational change.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

The Operational Excellence Series is a highly transferable, easily implemented initiative at any HE institution for three reasons.  First, the series was implemented at Western using minimal additional resources.  One shared, full-time “Learning Specialist” role was created to assist Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) in creating and delivering clear, engaging content for in-person and online sessions.  This role is a shared resource between Financial Services and Human Resources, and is integral in ensuring consistent, high quality-learning in courses across all 6 units.  Through active, senior-level sponsorship SME’s ‘stepped up’ to incorporate this new and important work into their accountabilities.  So, aside from the addition of the Learning Specialist role, all work was accomplished by existing employees.  Initially, team members from Learning & Development (HR) helped to design the overall program and provided guidance to the Learning Specialist and SME’s.  Great care was taken in planning the schedule of offerings in light of cyclical activities (e.g. year end, budgeting periods, payroll duties etc.) to ensure SME’s had the capacity to develop and deliver sessions.  When choosing learning topics, we started with those that included ‘pain points’ for SME’s, so that spending time developing sessions would ‘pay off later’ in less time required to resolve issues.  As another institution looking to implement this initiative, all required subject matter expertise can be found in-house.  Second, the method of course delivery makes this series very cost effective.  At Western, we used campus classrooms and large meeting rooms for all sessions.  Participants receive materials electronically prior to each session so there are no printing costs.  Short courses (1-2.5 hours) make it easy for participants to attend and manageable for presenters’ time. One course has been fully moved online with others to follow, which will minimize the time needed from SME’s.  Third, there are several resources included in the “Supporting Documents” section to give any institution a ‘head start’ at launching a similar series (See Appendix D):

Website for Western’s Operational Excellence Program including all course descriptions and registration process

  • Role Description for Learning Specialist
  • Comprehensive Communication Plan including rollout strategy, ongoing promotion strategy and participant email samples
  • Course Development Template (Project Management Tool)
  • Course PowerPoint Templates (including a standard course structure and learning design tips)
  • Resource:  “5 Examples of Engagement”
Quality Impact

The aim of the Operational Excellence Series is to help administrators to ‘get it right the first time’ by clarifying administrative and financial processes, and to reduce delays, stress and rework caused by errors.  We also want to continue to build positive, trusting relationships with our clients.  We know we’re hitting the mark!  In December, 2016, we sought feedback from 72 participants who attended 2 or more courses in the Operational Excellence Series over the past 18 months through a focus group and online survey.   As a result of attending, 89% of participants received clarity on processes that they previously found confusing.  99% gained specific suggestions that were helpful to them in their work and 100% would recommend the Series to a colleague.  We have also been collecting ongoing feedback through an online Post-Course Evaluation sought from attendees 2 days after each course.  The 308 evaluations received include 166 examples of “new things learned”.  81% of responses rate the “helpfulness of sessions to their work” as 5 or higher on a 7-point scale.  These evaluations have also helped us to continuously improve offerings in the Series.  For administrators, Operational Excellence has provided a valuable opportunity to network with colleagues doing similar work across the University and share best practices. In addition to improvements to the quality of work, this Series has improved the quality of relationships SME’s have with clients.  Given the decentralized environment of our University, subject experts would rather work as a partner than a gate-keeper.  Bringing people together for in-person courses enables participants to spend time with SME’s who they may only have worked with by phone or email.  After attending a session, 79% of participants feel more comfortable contacting a central subject expert with questions, which they shared in the focus group and online survey. The trusting relationships we’re building with clients through information sharing and transparency are creating a supportive network that can be relied upon as we face the tough changes ahead in the HE sector.

Productivity Impact

The productivity gains for participants of the Operational Excellence Series are significant.  88% of past participants report a reduction of errors and increased confidence in performing related tasks, shared in the focus group and online survey. This means they can complete their work in less time.  And they are not just learning for themselves -- 30% indicate that they’re using course information to teach others in their units.  In the 308 Post-Course Evaluations received, 88 separate examples of “efficiencies achieved in the work” are named by participants. In a Series update meeting for SME’s in October, 2016, it was reported that the number of misdirected questions from administrators has lessened (because they’re going to the right source) and that more processes are being performed correctly ‘the first time around’.  SME’s of one unit observed that administrators are “not needing as much support” after attending their session.  In many cases, for SME’s the exercise of documenting and describing current processes for course presentations prompted them to make process improvements along the way (e.g. removing duplicate steps, clarifying instructions).  Since many administrative processes start in one unit and end in another, multi-unit collaboration to develop courses in the Series has helped to streamline processes in all units involved and improve overall workflow and efficiency.


Many post-secondary institutions offer learning opportunities to staff on administrative or financial processes in the organization.  Western’s Operational Excellence Series stands apart through its multi-unit collaboration under a centrally-coordinated umbrella and its innovative use of technology.   In the past, administrative training has been offered by individual units at Western on an ad hoc basis with each area managing their own marketing, registration and content.  Administrators found it difficult to find out ‘who to contact for what’ and the quality of learning was inconsistent.  Now, SME’s from Financial Services, Human Resources, Internal Audit, Faculty Relations, Office of the Registrar and the School of Graduate and Post-Doctoral studies have come  together to develop and offer learning sessions under one umbrella. Each course has its own ‘project team’ to bring together relevant content – several courses require SME’s from multiple units. The Learning Specialist coordinates the Series and course logistics, while providing expert learning design guidance and support to members of each course ‘project team’ from design to delivery.  The one-umbrella strategy makes participants’ learning experience seamless.  The Operational Excellence website includes all course descriptions, the schedule of current offerings, and registration.  After a participant registers for a session, course materials are sent electronically and they attend a session with a consistent look, feel, and course structure as all others in the series – no matter which SME is presenting.  After successfully completing an online quiz through Sakai (Western’s Learning Management System), their HR electronic training record is updated.  In February, 2017, this update will be done automatically every 24 hours (one course is currently being successfully piloted).  The incorporation of online learning into the Series benefits a new generation of learners and a busy group of administrators by providing a flexible learning option in the moment it’s needed.  In addition to developing one fully online course, we have developed 3 blended-learning courses where participants complete an online module prior to the learning session.  This way the valuable, in-person learning time can be spent on more complex topics.  More online and blended offerings will be released this year.

Supporting Documents