When Eric Potter, Tricia Nilles, and Stephanie Eaddy joined the group helping to plan the Staff Advisory Council—a body that ultimately will become a voice for the more than 12,000 staff who work at Johns Hopkins University—they found themselves in familiar territory, having served in similar roles within their respective schools. Danielle Simms, on the other hand, is among those who bring an entirely new perspective to the task.
But they all share the same goal: to ensure that the soon-to-be-formed universitywide council will effectively reflect staff concerns, and then convey JHU leaders' responses back to the staff.
The university announced in August that it would be establishing a Staff Advisory Council to speak for JHU staff, and that the 35-member planning group would create a framework for the council, determine how its members would be elected—with elections expected to be held early this summer—and recommend issues commanding its attention. They began work in December and have had five meetings thus far, with another three or four to be scheduled. Members of the planning group were nominated by the leaders in their respective divisions. University President Ron Daniels; Laurent Heller, senior vice president for finance and administration; and Pierre Joanis, vice president for human resources, have all met with the group to show their support.
"This excites me. I like change," says Potter, administrative manager in the Krieger School's Mind/Brain Institute, who was a member of the Arts and Sciences Staff Council. "It's going to be exciting for staff to have a seat at the table."
Danielle Simms, senior operations manager for integrative learning and life design in University Student Services—and for whom this is a first-time experience—says she is "learning and discovering the perspectives of other people. You discover you are part of a larger group. I know what I can bring, and yet I'm also learning that the one thing I see may be something another person might not experience. My needs as a staff person in relation to my position may be different from those [of someone] in another school."
Yet the members of the planning committee also have found much common ground. "The one thing that is the biggest commonality," Simms says, "is our dedication to students on every level, whether we are working directly with them or not. It unifies us in that way."
Like Potter, Eaddy, senior executive specialist in the Office of the Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and Nilles, director of operations for the Bloomberg School of Public Health's BD Immunology and Flow Cytometry Core, have worked in comparable capacities within their individual entities.
Nilles is president of the Bloomberg School's Staff Assembly, and Eaddy has served on CTY's antiracist steering group. Moreover, in supporting CTY's executive director, "I am often asked to share input that reflects staff perspectives at all levels, which I think is so important," Eaddy says.
Nilles believes similar groups at the school level have "paved the way" for other staff assemblies.
"There are numerous issues we have dealt with in our school-based council that can be applied on a larger scale to the coming full-university council," she says. "The successes and mistakes we've learned from have been very valuable—and mistakes are good if you learn from them—so hopefully our input and experience will ensure that the universitywide council also will be effective."
The planning committee already has identified numerous focal areas for the permanent council to address, among them professional development; compensation and workplace culture; parking; work environment, such as physical workspaces; hybrid and remote experiences; access to food and wellness programs; policies to ensure equity and compliance across roles, divisions, and the campus community; and programming that encourages efforts to engage and recognize staff, in particular those who are celebrating professional milestones.
Eaddy notes that these areas were established with the understanding that some of them also may be the focus of different divisions and of various groups across JHU. The new council "will create strategies to advance these goals and, where necessary, they will coordinate with groups and divisions that are addressing these items to amplify information and opportunities so that all staff across campuses may benefit from them," she says.
The planning committee also will establish a structural framework for the council, including its makeup—ensuring its diversity—and how its members will be elected.
Kathy Forbush, executive director of the Talent Management team in JHU's Office of Human Resources, is facilitating the work of the planning group. "Part of their charge," she says," is to create an infrastructure, and how we compose a structure of approximately 40 people that reflects the diversity of the more than 12,000 staff, which is everything from administrative people to folks who work in the lab to [those who work with] patients and students."
The group also will recommend ways for staff to communicate their concerns, whether via a website or other mechanism. The Staff Assembly at Public Health, for example, enables staff to send their issues anonymously via a website.
The council also will have a dedicated website where it will publish news, notes, and minutes of meetings, Forbush says. She stresses, however, that the council won't be a repository for personal complaints, such as disputes or strained relations between employees and managers. "Individual concerns are not the purview of this group," she says. "If [staff members] have individual concerns, they should direct them to Human Resources. But they certainly can express their concerns about bigger issues that affect large numbers of staff, like transportation or workplace flexibility."
The council is meant to provide an opportunity to bring staff voices into policy matters and decision-making, "everything from benefits to public safety to physical spaces for work," she says. "It will be a forum for staff to bring their perspective to those issues and, at the same time, for the council to do programming and events that celebrate and recognize staff and help them develop and grow."
Eaddy predicts that the council, in its final form, "will be a transformative group at JHU" that will "deepen the relationship between staff members and university leadership."
While topic-specific town halls and listening sessions have been staples for providing feedback, the new council will be "a consistent mechanism for multidirectional communication between staff and university leaders," she says, adding, "Through this council, staff across the university will have representatives within their own divisions with whom they can connect and share insights, with the trust that their concerns and ideas will be shared with policy- and decision-makers."
University leadership has been consistent in its enthusiasm for the council, the planners say. "Throughout this process we have had phenomenal support and excitement from the leadership," Nilles says. "They come to it with an attitude of What do you need? How can we make this happen? It's not just for show. It's really clear they are invested in doing right by the staff."
Questions and feedback can be submitted through the Staff Advisory Council website.