HR pilot project being implemented by CAO


The Controller's Accounting Office (CAO) has begun a pilot project on competency-based human resource practices, in collaboration with the Implementation Resource Team (IRT) of Human Resources.

The pilot is designed to validate, test and adapt the competency-based system proposed by the Human Resource Practices Development team (HRPD) for eventual wider use at MIT. Competencies are defined as the personal attributes that cause or predict outstanding performance or behavior in a particular position. There are technical competencies (the skills and experience detailed on a r�sum�) and behavioral competencies (the personal characteristics that show how someone goes about doing their work).

Vice President for Human Resources Laura Avakian attended the kickoff event of CAO's local area resource team for the pilot project. She told the group that HRPD's work on behavioral competencies had influenced her decision to come to MIT.

"The idea of using competencies in HR practices speaks well of MIT's commitment to its people," she said. "I believe that people thrive when you utilize their abilities effectively and provide appropriate challenges and support."

The specific CAO areas that are involved in the pilot include Accounts Payable, Procurement, Travel, Dining and Dorm accounting, and Facilities accounting.

HRPD's research showed that an integrated, competency-based human-resources system provides the following benefits: a better way of ensuring that new hires are in the right jobs, a way for employees to take a more active role in defining and prioritizing the work for which they are accountable, clarity about what is expected, a framework for supervisors to develop and coach employees and tools to improve communication about performance.

Competency-based human-resources practices have been successfully implemented at Johns Hopkins University, Duke, the University of Calgary and Cornell, as well as at major corporations like General Electric and Pepsico.

The local area resource team in CAO will begin its pilot work by looking at selected current administrative and support-staff job descriptions in the department and updating them to include technical and behavioral competencies, duties and accountabilities. The team also will define training needs for these positions.

After the job descriptions are completed, competency-based interviewing will be used in recruiting and hiring new employees into these positions. CAO also will test a performance management system that was designed in response to concerns and suggestions of MIT supervisors and employees.

Controller Jim Morgan told CAO team members that they are the forerunners for change in HR practices. "MIT is on the cutting edge of research and education, and we must continue to make improvements on the administrative side. This pilot is an important part of that effort," he said.

The local area team in CAO includes a cross section of administrative and support staff who have volunteered their time to implement this Human Resources initiative on behalf of their CAO colleagues and eventually other areas of the Institute. Team members are Donna Cairns, Catherine Cherico, Kenneth LeVie Jr., Mike McNamara, Jay Nickerson, Jane Phillips, Juanita Rivera and Laura Simmons. Their advisory group includes Paul Arsenault, Larry Connelly, Linda Lancaster and Diane Shea from CAO; Barbara Peacock-Coady (project leader) and Stacey Frangos from the Implementation Resource team; Bill Cain from Human Resources; and Jim Dezieck from the Performance Consulting and Training team.

"Using competencies for current CAO staff will make them more successful in their positions because they'll have a much clearer idea of what's expected of them," said Ms. Cairns. "And when we have open positions, we'll be able to interview candidates in a way that identifies the ones who would be the best match for the job."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 8, 1999.


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