7 Strategies to Align Academic Affairs and HR Efforts, and Expand HR’s Influence

By Edward Wilson, Jr., Ph.D.
Director of Strategic Partnerships at PeopleAdmin
Former Director of Academic Affairs, HR Director

Academic affairs and human resources (HR) priorities and efforts don’t always align … especially during faculty recruiting.

When it comes to faculty recruiting, there’s usually not a true partnership that leverages each departments’ strengths throughout the process. Academic affairs typically drives the process, and HR sometimes has little to no involvement.

When partnerships exist, HR can free up their academic colleagues to leverage discipline-specific expertise in appropriate parts of the recruitment process, while HR executes specific parts of the process. Ultimately, time is saved, efficiencies are gained, and the process can be continually improved so outcomes can be tracked and effectiveness can be measured.

The TalentIndex—a report of higher education growth, trends, and challenges from nearly 400 higher education professionals—supports this idea. When asked about HR’s involvement with talent acquisition processes, only 28 percent of respondents indicated that a 50-50 partnership exists when it comes to faculty recruiting, yet 58 percent cited a 50-50 partnership with staff recruiting processes. The report also found that academic affairs employees and other non-HR professionals have hiring expectations that differ from their colleagues in HR and the gap is significant. For example, just 24 percent of HR employees surveyed forecasted an increase in adjunct hiring—twice as many non-HR professionals expect the same.

Why are their expectations so different? It’s because there are inherent barriers that prevent the two teams from working together strategically. The silo effect often prevents HR from having visibility into the academic priorities and tactics of the academic departments. Both departments are generally extremely busy, so perhaps it becomes easier to focus on managing the day-to-day operations themselves rather than dedicate time to planning strategic initiatives that may take longer to execute and have a longer-lasting impact.

When you think about faculty recruiting, administrators generally know the type of candidate they want, and where they think they can find those candidates. Academic affairs professionals engaged in recruiting processes are often concerned with identifying the best possible candidates and getting those individuals to commit to joining the faculty as quickly as possible—while making a great impression throughout the process. HR can either help or hurt that process.

Part of the challenge is just understanding what your HR department’s brand communicates to the campus. Depending on an employee or department’s experience with HR, they can view HR as a true business partner or a barrier to progress. If your team is inconsistent or unhelpful, that news is going to travel, just like the word spreads if your team is helpful and viewed as a resource.

The good news is that HR teams with unfavorable reputations can overcome negative perceptions, build collaborative relationships, and help the institution hire the best and brightest employees while avoiding legal trouble caused by non-compliant hiring practices by providing value to their campus through strategic outreach and the execution of planned initiatives. Below are seven simple strategies to build bridges and expand HR’s strategic influence across the campus:

  1. Follow up on basic requests — Follow up on emails and other HR service requests in a timely manner. When basic tasks are going well, more complex problems to solve and strategic initiatives to execute soon follow.
  2. Don’t overcommit — Only commit to initiatives if you have the capacity and capability to execute, otherwise, you can damage your personal and departmental reputation if you don’t deliver the outcomes promised.
  3. Check in — Randomly reach out to department administrators to see how things are going, and proactively offer assistance. Scheduling regular business review meetings with key personnel or departments can also enhance good will, while nurturing ongoing communication and providing valuable insights such as department-specific metrics.
  4. Acknowledge roles in the campus ecosystem — Get to know the employees across the campus and acquaint your team with insights into how other departments are specifically contributing to institutional successes. Thank them during planned or unplanned encounters.
  5. Facilitate connections — If a department is struggling with an issue, but another department has a good solution for the same or similar issue, connect those departments so they can discuss ways to leverage existing solutions and/or brainstorm to solve the problem.
  6. Conduct needs assessments — Proactively meet with departments and let them know that you want to help identify and address some of their challenges. Outline their top challenges, then find ways to help them address the issues. Eat the low hanging fruit to build momentum.
  7. Maintain a talent pool — Keep a pool of highly qualified applicants who have desirable skill sets or may have been finalists for other positions, so when other positions become available, you can make solid recommendations or add a few vetted candidates to the applicant pool.

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