IPR’s Business Team Supports Faculty Excellence
IPR’s senior director of operations and outreach improves key services
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IPR’s hard-working business team pauses for a photo break: (first row, from left to right): Judy Alspach, Joe Wright, Ayla Vitello, and Carlton Langford; (second row): Francesca Gaiba and Eric Betzold.
One of Francesca Gaiba’s first tasks when she started in August 2020 at the Institute for Policy Research as its first senior director of operations and outreach was to assess all of the unit’s administrative services to its faculty.
Informed by her experience in a fast-growth environment at her previous Northwestern position, she immediately launched into an in-depth business analysis, conducting over a dozen one-on-one interviews with its leadership, fellows, and staff. The interviews revealed a strong alignment between the Institute’s mission and its administrative structure—comprised of its business and communications teams—but its business team, which had been known for providing a high level of grant support service, needed a reorganization.
The business team supports a wide variety of functions—from executive support to IPR’s director and management of the Institute operations to administering grants (pre-and post-award) and HR.
Gaiba’s plan allowed IPR’s senior leadership and the team to rethink the business team structure and streamline, reassign, and even eliminate tasks.
This led Gaiba and the team to redefine job assignments and redistribute tasks among the business team positions, with one position upgraded and another added to take care of human resource needs. At the same time, she worked with existing team members on streamlining business processes, and she successfully hired and trained four new business team members to fill the reorganized and new positions.
“After the first wave of reorganization and the hire of two new staff members, it became clear that the business team needed to increase in size to accommodate the growth in size and complexity of the faculty grant portfolios,” Gaiba said.
The resulting structural and operational changes led to significant improvements in the team’s performance, as seen from two faculty satisfaction surveys on grant administration that Gaiba conducted in August 2020 and March 2021. Responding faculty rated each of the surveyed services as having improved between 48% and 90% over the seven months. One wrote, “It really ‘feels’ like there is a big spiffing up of grant support at IPR generally.”
The business environment continues to evolve, with the pandemic changing in some very fundamental respects how we work and what we do. This is why Gaiba points to continual monitoring and rethinking of processes and workflows, regular check-ins with staff, and creating a supportive work environment as key to maintaining and improving performance.
“The secret ingredient of this successful reorganization is the amazing IPR staff who understand that their priority is to provide the highest level of service to our faculty fellows,” she said.
Francesca Gaiba is IPR’s senior director of operations and outreach and research professor.
Published: April 14, 2022.