Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, September 27, 2000
TIPS helps keep staff connected to campus work life


For administrative staff who want to find out how campus works from the inside, TIPS is a good place to start.

The Team for Improving Productivity at Stanford (TIPS), now in its 14th year, holds monthly meetings open to staff members. Discussion topics include everything from upcoming changes in health benefits to computer security. Speakers from across the university give presentations and answer questions.

TIPS meetings are held from 8:30 to 10 a.m. on the third Wednesday of the month in Room 104 of the Gates building or the Hartley Conference Center in Mitchell Earth Sciences.

"It's great for learning and to get exposure to things you otherwise wouldn't see," says Kristin Burns, the administrator for Mechanical Engineering's Design Division and this year's TIPS chair. "We're not a social group, but it's good for networking."

Last week, for example, Lauren Schlezinger, a benefits service manager from Human Resources, talked to TIPS about BenefitSU (pronounced "benefits you"), a new service center designed to improve the way inquiries are handled. A brochure detailing the changes was sent to employees last week. On Oct. 2, a new telephone number -- 736-2985 -- will replace the numbers for individual counselors who were assigned to staff according to the first letter of the employee's last name. Schlezinger says the goal is for calls to be answered in person 90 percent of the time, so that people don't have to leave messages. "We're staffing up to respond to this," she says. "What we want is faster, more consistent, courteous service."

During the meeting, staff learned that callers no longer will be able to request a specific counselor when making inquiries. They also found out that, despite a rumor to the contrary, vision services will not be added to next year's benefits package. Several people told Schlezinger that this service should be added even if it means higher premiums. The university must do everything it can to attract staff in a tight labor market, several members said.

Joy Wagner, an administrative manager in the President/Provost's Office and last year's TIPS chair, says the group's size makes it possible for staff to ask hard questions in an informal environment. In a decentralized place like Stanford, she says, that's a plus. "Listening to the feedback we got, people felt they benefited from the speakers we had, especially those from upper management," she says. "In a small department, you wear many hats. TIPS exposes you to a variety of areas you might not otherwise know about."

Employees formed TIPS in 1985, when an ad hoc group of administrators started working with systems developers to find better ways of applying the expanding use of computer technology to their jobs. In 1987, when the university began putting administrative forms online, TIPS received a university charter and became an official body.

At first, Wagner says, the group focused on systems issues. Now that many processes are online, TIPS has broadened its scope to include other administrative concerns affecting staff. Its mission is "to provide a voice for user-level input" on such issues.

In addition to monthly meetings, TIPS forms working groups that assist on specific projects, such as S@VE, the Stanford Administrators Vendor Exchange, and Stanford 101, the revamped employee orientation program.

Burns volunteered for the Stanford 101 group. Often, she says, people working on a specific system may not understand how it relates to others. An outside working group helps them to see the bigger picture. "Getting involved gives you an opportunity to prevent horrible mistakes that [could] have a negative impact on the workload of people," she says.

Burns says her contributions made a difference. For example, Stanford 101 originally was called NETP, which stood for New Employee Training Program. "NETP made no sense," she says. Burns helped to choose a better name and also removed jargon from Stanford 101's brochure to make it easier to understand.