Management school practices what it teaches
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Purdue University's Krannert School of Management has put in an online training program for its administrative support staff formerly known as secretaries. This sounds like business as usual, but it is not.
"The job of the secretary has changed more than any other job on campus in the last 10 years," says David Schoorman, a Krannert professor who teaches human resource management. "What the school has done is a brilliant human relations move because it addresses the reality that secretaries are no longer typing manuscripts on IBM Selectrics.
"Support staff are often ignored even though they are deep in the organization, right in its core. They are among the most important people in the organization."
Support staff at the Krannert School, who each generally work for about six professors, are creating and maintaining Web sites, managing databases and, what Schoorman finds most amazing, talking about customer service.
It all started about six years ago, Schoorman says, when the Krannert School began offering its professors what's become known as a "no-secretary option." Professors were given the option to choose a yearly budget they could use to buy information-processing equipment or anything else to do their own support.
"That created an impetus to motivate the support staff," Schoorman says. "People realized that they couldn't sit still or their jobs would go away."
Younger professors came in with technology skills and the energy and ideas to get their own work done efficiently.
No staff were let go, Schoorman says. "This created an environment where people who didn't want to grow in their jobs opted out. Those who stayed were energized. That's extremely consistent with sound H.R. practice and what we teach our students."
Flash forward to the present and the new training program.
Barbara A. Strueh, Krannert School manager of facilities and support services, says, "Last May, we rolled out password-protected online training. It's a formalization of what we've done before to enable our staff to become more proficient in their current jobs and grow and expand both professionally and personally."
The online PowerPoint training includes tutorials on computer software packages, the Purdue computing system and workplace subjects such as ergonomics, teamwork, and stress and time management.
This year, Krannert support staff are required to complete 20 hours of training 10 hours of technical training and 10 in personal/professional development. Individual staff members choose the subject matter, and completing the 20 hours of training is on the honor system.
Pat Fletcher, a Krannert support staff employee, was part of the seven-person staff Voice Committee that helped Strueh put the training program together.
The committee started with a survey, finding resources and conferring with others on campus. The Purdue libraries have a Web-based training program, so the committee adapted some of their material.
Then, the Krannert School's in-house computer staff installed PowerPoint training tutorials online.
Strueh says she also maintains a library of books and videos available to staff in addition to specialized training.
Another part of the message is the 53 support staff at Krannert are a team, so if a support staff member needs to become proficient in new software, such as Excel, Strueh's office refers her (or him) to a list of other Krannert support staff people who are already using the software.
"In addition to the online training, we also have monthly seminars on topics such as office safety and connecting with customers," Fletcher says.
Even though the high-tech training program creates support people who are sought after in the marketplace, Krannert isn't concerned about employee turnover.
"The goal is to have a support staff who have the skills to enable them to take positions elsewhere," Schoorman says. "But we want to create a work environment employees can't replicate anywhere else even if they could make more money elsewhere."
Former secretary Fletcher is a believer. "I think the investment in us is extraordinary," she says.
Schoorman says Krannert's return on its investment is that "the school retains and recruits great people."
Writer: J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: David F. Schoorman, (765) 494-4391, email@example.com
Barbara A. Strueh, (765) 494-4454, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pat Fletcher, (765) 494-7324, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
A publication-quality photograph is available at ftp://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/strueh.training.jpeg