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September 15, 2003

New VP Promises Team Approach
To Improving Service Quality

For staff in the Department of Human Resources, Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith couldn't have joined the University at a more critical time. With their ranks depleted by this year's early retirements, they welcomed their new leader last week with a frank appraisal of their department's status quo.

"I would like to be more proactive," said one staff member.

Image: Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith

Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith, vice president and chief operating officer, meets with Karla Fox, associate vice chancellor, in Gulley Hall. The new vice president is conducting a series of consultations with key individuals and groups at the University in order to evaluate UConn's administrative processes and develop a plan to improve the quality of service.

Photo by Peter Morenus

"We'll work on that together," the new vice president replied.

"I've learned not to get too comfortable. Things are always changing here," said another.

"In an institution that's grown as fast as UConn, you're obviously accustomed to change," came the response. "We will be making more changes. But an important part of change is to know you're part of the decision-making, and you will be. I promise you that."

Flaherty-Goldsmith joined UConn last month in the newly created post of vice president and chief operating officer, part of an administrative reorganization designed to improve the quality of service and efficiency across the University.

Reporting directly to President Philip Austin, and working closely with Provost John Petersen and Peter Deckers, the executive vice president for health affairs, she is responsible for facilities, public safety, purchasing, accounts payable, human resources, and information technology at all campuses, including the Health Center.

Drawing on Experience
Flaherty-Goldsmith grew up in Mississippi on a cotton farm. She earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Alabama, graduating summa cum laude, by studying nights and weekends while working full-time as a secretary and later as a fiscal analyst for the university. She earned her MBA at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

After spending a year as an accountant in Mexico, she took a job at UAB in 1980. She worked her way up, moving from budget analyst to budget director, treasurer, chief financial officer, and vice president for finance and administration. In 1993, Austin, who was then chancellor of the University of Alabama system, hired her as vice chancellor for finance of the system.

At the time she joined UAB, it was growing rapidly.

"Many of the processes that had been in place when it was a smaller institution were no longer appropriate," she says. At the same time, the state of Alabama was cutting funding for education. "We needed to find better ways of doing business," she says.

Quoting the American social psychologist Douglas McGregor, who characterized different management styles, she identifies herself as a "Theory Y" manager who believes "people want to do the best job possible, and if you make your expectations clear and empower them to do their jobs, by and large they exceed expectations.

"I don't like to micromanage," she adds. "I prefer to define our mission, and jointly set clear expectations regarding the goals we will achieve."

She illustrates her approach with anecdotes from her UAB days.

"Soon after I became CFO," she says, "we took 20 managers to a retreat and had them identify every problem that kept us from functioning optimally and wrote them down. When we were done, the walls were covered in sheets of paper. It was an overwhelming sight. But as a group, we came up with solutions and at the end of the retreat, we had a plan for addressing all those problems."

Within a couple of years, she says, "our customers were bragging about our services."

Five years ago, she left the UAB administration, although she continued as finance chair of the UAB Health System board. After teaching a class on leadership in the workplace to business majors at the University of Alabama for two years, she launched her own consulting company, quickly accumulating clients who valued her expertise in managing projects, including software implementation projects such as PeopleSoft and Oracle.

Although not an information technology expert herself, she contracted with other consultants who were. "My philosophy," she says, "is that you need to have a basic understanding of the areas you supervise, but you have to rely on people who are experts in those fields. That's what I do."

During the first half of this year, she worked with Alabama Gov. Bob Riley's administration to help develop a tax reform package that was rejected by Alabama voters last week. Primarily through higher property taxes, the package would have increased taxes for people at higher income levels while reducing the burden for lower-income Alabamians. It also would have resulted in considerable increases in funding and accountability for education, including funds for a public four-year-old kindergarten program and a college scholarship program.

"The package would have cost me and most of the people who worked on developing it a great deal financially," says Flaherty-Goldsmith. "Even though it was soundly defeated, I am proud to have been a part of that effort. It demonstrates something that is basic to my beliefs: one must look beyond self-interest to the good of whole. Sometimes leadership requires that we support unpopular causes just because it's the right thing to do. "

A Plan for the Future
Since arriving at UConn, Flaherty-Goldsmith has been on an information- gathering mission. Her calendar is packed. The meeting with human resources staff was just one of a series of consultations with each of the units that report to her, and with each academic dean, many department heads at the Health Center, and administrators at the regional campuses. She also met with members of the University Senate and some union leaders last week, and plans to meet with other faculty, as well as individual students and student groups.

"We will be looking at our administrative processes to determine whether they can be altered to make them more user-friendly, while improving accountability," she says.

"Along with the Board and the President, our faculty and students, patients, and other administrators who use our services are our customers," she notes. "If not for faculty and students, we wouldn't need administrators. Sometimes we forget which way around it is. We have constraints - financial, regulatory - and we can't always do what the customer wants. But to the extent possible, our goal is to serve the customer."

Part of her charge is to more closely integrate Storrs and the Health Center.

"It's easy to have a 'we/they' mentality when units are in different places," she says. "Health centers have functions that are distinct from university activities. Yet we all share a desire to do our best to serve faculty, students and, at the Health Center, patients."

Flaherty-Goldsmith intends to spend two days a week in Farmington.

After hearing from each human resources staff member, Flaherty-Goldsmith has taken three pages of notes.

"I will continue to listen and learn," she tells the staff, "and by early October, I will start putting together a plan for how we're going

to address the issues. One person doesn't do anything on his or her own. It takes a team. My goal is to break down barriers and make it possible for all of us to do our jobs better."

After developing a plan for the University's administrative functions by early November, Flaherty-Goldsmith will have it reviewed by the President and others. She hopes to begin implementing it in December.

She emphasizes her goal of increasing the opportunities for training, including training in Total Quality Management (TQM).

"Despite the fact that it's no longer in vogue to be a proponent of TQM, I am," she says. "It got a lot of bad press because people didn't really implement it. In the TQM model, a leader has to give up a bit of his or her power in return for a commitment from employees to be held accountable for the outcomes. Many of the managers who found TQM not to be successful didn't really empower their employees to assist in the decision-making process. You have to really believe in the concept for it to work."

To allay possible fears, she recounts another story from UAB.

"When I took over as CFO, one well-meaning high-level executive said I would have to clean house in order to be successful. The same gentleman visited my office five years later. He forgot what he had told me, and lamented that I had the easiest job on campus because I had the best staff around. Yet in my entire restructuring over a five-year period, there was only one senior manager who left. The gentleman didn't realize my staff was primarily comprised of the same people he had advised me to get rid of a few years earlier.

"We did it together, just as we will make our improvements together," she told human resources staff. "I look forward to working with you."

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