Vice president for human resources discusses department's future, initiatives

April 28, 2011

Luis Lewin, vice president for human resources. (Photo provided)

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Strategic. Proactive. Customer-focused.

When Luis Lewin, vice president for human resources, talks about the department's future, these words come up frequently. It's a vision born from interviews with HR staff; meetings with administrators, deans and departments heads; and the work of an advisory committee that began shortly after Lewin's arrival at Purdue in March 2010.

"One of the first things we did was to create a new strategic plan for Human Resources that better aligns with the University's strategic mission and core business needs," Lewin says. "Our plan focuses on attracting, developing and supporting a diverse workforce, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of HR systems and processes, and providing greater transparency, communication and accountability of our processes and services. The future of HR involves a transition from a transaction-focused, reactive organization to one that is proactive, strategic, and customer-centric."

In support of his department’s strategic initiatives, Lewin created an HR director of academic units position to support areas reporting through the provost, and a director of talent acquisition position to recruit key administrative and professional staff as well as those with specialized skills. He also merged the benefits and compensation areas under one director.

To streamline customer services, two areas will provide one-stop support -- Academic Units and the HR Service Center. Academic Units will provide HR consulting and strategic planning services to deans, vice provosts and others, and HRSC will offer customer service to all Purdue faculty, staff, retirees and stakeholders.

"When someone calls the HR Service Center with questions about CIGNA or life insurance or compensation, one staff member will be able to assist with all three topics instead of having to transfer the customer to other areas," Lewin says.

An automated system is being added to track customer interactions and to follow up with questions to gauge customer satisfaction. Lewin says the step will allow HR to continuously improve in this area.

HRSC also will serve as the central location to manage all transactions, beginning with benefits and leaves and adding others, such as salary administration and employment, over time. Lewin expects more automation of transactions in the future, following the successful launch of the online benefits enrollment system in 2010. 

Centralizing and automating more transactions through HRSC will allow staff in other HR areas to concentrate on their core responsibilities to better serve all employees.

"The compensation area will be able to focus on compensation design and making sure we stay competitive within the Big Ten and within the market," Lewin says. "In Benefits, they can focus more on medical plan design and health promotion and wellness."

The new Leadership and Organizational Development area, formerly Training and Development, is working on several other initiatives, including career pathing; succession planning; and pre-supervisory, supervisory and managerial training. The training would be presented in weekly or biweekly one- or two-hour sessions instead of half-day or full-day sessions.

"We would like to take the same approach that the University takes with its students," Lewin says. "If we allow for a longer period of time for training with short sessions, it becomes a better fit with schedules and allows for continuous learning."

The Leadership and Organizational Development area also is involved with the development of a performance management tool for the University that will provide common standards for annual reviews but also can be customized for different departments.

“I believe everyone should have an annual performance appraisal, not only so they know where they stand and how they can improve, but also to provide information on how they can continue to develop their skills and move up within the organization," Lewin says.

As part of a compensation pilot, HR is currently testing a one-page job description to classify exempt positions -- a change from the 7-8 page form used now.

"HR represents many demographics of Purdue, and doing a pilot within our unit is almost like doing focus groups," Lewin says. "We also know that if this pilot doesn't work in HR, where people have a background or enhanced knowledge in job descriptions, then the form may not work anywhere else."

Other HR efforts for the next year will involve the findings of the Blue Ribbon Healthcare Committee, on which Lewin serves. The committee was charged with recommending strategies for managing the University's health care budget while continuing to provide affordable quality health care for employees and their families.

The committee's early recommendations include modifications to Purdue's medical plans, the establishment of an on-site clinic and on-site pharmacy, and an increased emphasis on health promotion and wellness efforts.

"The biggest challenge we have not only as a human resources department but as a university is the rise in medical expenses," Lewin says. "Purdue's medical plans paid claims amounting to almost $119 million in 2009, and our claims cost for 2010 is $129 million. We need to look at how we can do more with wellness and health promotion so that people can avoid or manage chronic illness. Our WorkLife Programs area will be heavily involved in this effort."
About Luis Lewin, vice president for human resources
* Education: Bachelor's degree from Wilmington (Ohio) College in psychology, secondary education and Spanish. Master's degree in modern languages from Ohio University.

* Professional experience: Chief human resource officer at Ohio University, 2008-10; senior vice president of corporate human resources at Tribune Co., 2000-08; additional human resource management positions at Tribune Co., 1987-2000.

* Hobbies/interests: Lewin is a long-distance runner who has completed several marathons and half marathons. He enjoys cooking, listening to classical music and traveling overseas.

* What he would like the Purdue community to know about him: Lewin is a proud grandfather to a 3-year-old granddaughter and 7 -week-old grandson, and a 5-day-old grandson. He was born and raised in Chile, coming to the U.S. in 1969.