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Stanford Report, September 6, 2000

Tight job market challenges human resources chief

BY LISA TREI

John Cammidge wants to put Stanford on the public radar screen as a great place to work.

"When people ask where you work and you say, 'Stanford,' they ask: Are you at the hospital or do you teach?" says the new executive director of Human Resources. "We have 7,000 people who do neither."

It's those thousands of people who keep Stanford running -- from dining hall cooks to academic research staff -- that Cammidge wants to put the spotlight on. He knows that he's got an uphill battle. During the last 12 months, staff turnover has reached an all-time high of nearly 25 percent. That translates into 600 unfilled jobs -- many of which are in the areas of information technology and administration.

"This is a wonderful place, but you have to go out and sell," Cammidge says. That's a new experience for Stanford. Before, "when we had an opening, we opened a door and there was a line of people waiting," he says. "That line has dwindled. In fact, when you go out and shout, 'Opening! Opening!' the line doesn't necessarily form. You've got to go out into the marketplace; you've got to persuade people why it's worth their while to come to Stanford."

Cammidge's goal is to reduce turnover to 15 percent annually -- the level it was three years ago. He says he'd like to bring it down to 10 percent, but that's unlikely given the current job market in Silicon Valley. "It's like the tide coming in," he says. "I'd love to stop it, but I can't."

Cammidge says that he hopes that the recently implemented salary review program, which allows for more flexibility in pay administration and rewarding job performance, will help to address the staffing problem. "That's not a one-time event," he says. "It's an ongoing requirement to look at the marketplace and pay staff appropriately."

While Stanford employees have been wooed off campus by higher salaries and stock options, Cammidge says money is not necessarily the first reason people look for work elsewhere. What staff also want, he says, is to feel respected and valued by their supervisors and managers.

"We have to address those internal things that people look for: a sense of making a contribution, doing work that's of value, that's interesting," he says. "I say to each and every supervisor and faculty member, 'Is the person working for you doing something they understand, that they like to do? When did you last talk along those lines to your staff member?' If you don't do that, and all staff find themselves doing is making coffee in the morning and some boring job in the afternoon, they'll leave not for [a higher salary] but for the same salary."

Cammidge says that employees should be allowed to grow in their careers. "It's not in to Stanford this year and out in two or three years from now, and that's all there was for Stanford," he says. Human Resources needs to make it easier for people to move within the university. "We need to support personal development in a decentralized organization and help managers provide career advice to their people," he says.

Cammidge wants the campus to regard recruitment and retention as a collective responsibility. "HR can lead the way, come up with ideas and products and test them, and certainly understand what's going on in the marketplace," he says. "But this isn't just about ideas, it's about implementation and making the ideas work. That's much more than an HR responsibility. It requires the commitment of all of us."

One way to achieve the university's recruitment goals is to do more to reward people financially for referring new employees, Cammidge says. Another strategy is to allocate resources for a central staffing service that can work actively with managers and supervisors to help them go out in the marketplace and find candidates. "This is more than just adding three people to Linda Jack's office," he says, referring to the manager of staff employment. It means attending more job fairs, doing a better job of advertising, highlighting jobs on the university's website, going to local schools and community colleges, and using specialized staffing people to bring in specialized employees such as information technology professionals.

The university also needs to remove obstacles potential job seekers may face. Recently, Cammidge says, he heard a story about someone who wanted to come to work on campus and saw a poster that advertised a job fair -- but with no date listed on it. He also points out that the campus is very large but it has no signs pointing to the employment office. "Maybe we have a good reason why we don't want to litter the campus with signs that say, 'Here is the employment office,'" he says. "But then how do we help people find us if they want a job at Stanford? While 65 percent of our applicants come via the web, others prefer a more traditional approach."

Cammidge wants to make it easier for people to find out about working at Stanford, but he also wants to build a stronger sense of community for staff already here. Based on conversations with the leaders of the university's staff groups, he says that a new employee's understanding of Stanford is often confined to where he or she works. Staff groups should be encouraged to help people meet colleagues across campus and participate in other parts of university life. "With John and John's backing, I want to foster more activity and growth in these organizations," he says, referring to President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy. But that must be done without the staff groups becoming part of the official institution. "This is not some institutional directive that, 'Thou shall,'" he says. "It's got to be a people thing, not a Stanford name thing."

In addition to the revised compensation program, the university has taken several other steps designed to improve retention. Last month marked the introduction of Stanford 101, an expanded new employee orientation program. "What that's about is getting people connected quickly so they understand what Stanford is all about," Cammidge says.

Another step is the recent change in allocation of STAP (Staff Training Assistance Program) funds. Previously, staff were restricted to spending up to $200 per quarter and would forfeit any unused funds. Now participants may spend their $800 annual allotment at any time during the year, a move that will increase continuing education opportunities for staff. A third incremental step is the opening this fall of the Stanford West apartments on Sand Hill Road. The project marks the first time that on-campus housing has been made available to staff members at all levels, and it includes apartments that will be rented at below market rates.

Cammidge says that both staff and potential applicants need to look at the broader picture of what Stanford can offer. "The positive side is that, with a little bit of will and a fair amount of attention, those opportunities are there today [but] we're not using them," he says. "The basics are there on which to build. We can't remove all problems for all people, but certainly, in a collective sense, we can make a big step forward." SR