Institutional Innovation team uses creativity to turn challenges into solutions


Institutional Innovation 1 Conductor

In the fall of 2021, the HR call center, staffed with some of the friendliest and most helpful people on campus, found themselves interacting with a growing number of callers who wanted access to their employee information after hours or on-demand. The conventional call center model just wasn’t serving the needs of all Notre Dame colleagues. 

For the Office of Human Resources, this highlighted the need for a tool that would deliver answers to simple questions directly to colleagues.

At the request of Bob McQuade, then the vice president for human resources, a new team called ND Innovates was brought in to engage HR and their partners. Recently renamed Institutional Innovation, the group focused on using creativity to solve the problem.   

Over the course of one month, Institutional Innovation facilitated three design sprints that engaged HR, OIT, campus partners, end users and subject matter experts. The recipe for success: dedicated time and space, an invitation to think differently and great people with diverse perspectives. The ideas that these cross-functional teams envisioned and tested were robust: a digital organizational chart available to any employee, a personal profile serving as a one-stop shop for your employment information, a repository of position descriptions, a streamlined hiring tool and much more. 

As these solutions took shape, the user feedback was clear: These were tools and information the campus community wanted. Recently, many of these services rolled out with the launch of HR’s Self Service Center and new position management system. The concepts, taken to new heights by teams from OIT and HR, will have a meaningful impact on every employee and supervisor at Notre Dame. 

The bottom line: The team members in Human Resources figured out that the best way to help themselves was to help campus.

The Beginning of Institutional Innovation

In 2019, the Institutional Innovation (ND Innovates) team was born. It is the latest approach in a legacy of efficiency and financial stewardship initiatives at Notre Dame to address the rising costs of a college education for students, as well as a desire to make more resources available for financial aid. The University invested in an institutional innovation approach, and charged David Bailey, vice president for strategic planning and institutional research, to move the new team forward.

“Notre Dame is extremely fortunate to have this team dedicated to making a Notre Dame education more affordable and accessible for all of our students while finding creative ways to improve the services that we all use,” Bailey said. “The sponsorship of President Jenkins and the other executive officers from the inception of Institutional Innovation through today has been instrumental in its ability to take on the cost of higher education and have an impact across the University.”

Institutional Innovation follows an “assess, design, implement” model. In the “assess” phase, the team uses research, interviews and data analysis to better understand potential issues and opportunities and start the conversation with its partners. Then, cross-functional teams develop a set of holistic solutions and gather valuable feedback from potential users. On average, more than 20 individuals are involved over the course of the design phase. Finally, Institutional Innovation supports its partners in successfully implementing the solutions. According to Nick Johnson, executive director of Institutional Innovation, bringing entrepreneurial thinking to internal business problems is having positive results.

“If we are going to solve challenging problems on campus, we have to think and work differently,” Johnson said. “Institutional Innovation is trying that very thing. Dedicated, focused time … novel design-thinking approaches … radical candor … cross-departmental collaborative work teams. It has been remarkable to see the engagement and humility of the sprint participants. People leave energized, saying, ‘I can’t believe Notre Dame is asking us to think about solving problems in this way.’

“People are finding that creative thinking often can solve the problem without spending more money.”

Subsequent projects have included a partnership with the Office of the Provost to streamline the faculty appointment process, working with General Services to improve its effectiveness, helping Sara Bea Accessibility Services address the growing demand for its testing accommodation services and assisting University Enterprises and Events. The team consists of four members: Ryan Barr, Conor Montijo, Claire Slebonick and Johnson.

The Opportunity to Think in a New Way

Vice President of UEE Anne Griffith knew that the volume of complicated events was a challenge for her team. She could see the impact it was having on dedicated and passionate UEE employees, as well as their partners, and knew that addressing it would require outside perspective. She invited Institutional Innovation to take a look.

“Ultimately the value for us was the opportunity to think about things in a new way,” Griffith said. “The Institutional Innovation approach of facilitating a group to quickly, creatively and intensely think about problems and creative solutions was the ideal approach for us. The process unlocked ideas inside of ourselves that we didn’t know were there. Perhaps most importantly, we used existing resources to bring about change, including previously untapped features of software we already utilized.”

By the end of a single week, Griffith and her leadership team had a vetted problem, a solution prototype, high-level process flows, end user feedback, implications for her organization chart and a game plan to move forward. UEE built out implementation teams within its own division and is currently making these enhancements. For Griffith, working with internal teams was an energizing way to engage and involve her talented people.

“With the sprint, it was like we were able to fast-forward in time,” she said. “I was surprised and impressed by how many people contributed, and now we are doing the work of making those concepts real.”

Johnson said the credit belongs with the divisions and their leadership. “Teams and leaders who are putting forth challenges and inviting voices from both inside and outside of their units to solve issues are seeing results. It’s working because of their humility and engagement. Those leaders and teams deserve deep praise for taking a challenge head on, asking for help, trusting a process and then taking implementation seriously.”

Experiences with Institutional Innovation

Heather Christophersen

Heather Christophersen, VP for Human Resources

The NDHR team is thrilled with the successful launch of the Self Service Center and the new position management system! We absolutely would not have achieved such transformational solutions without the knowledge, guidance and dedicated work of the Institutional Innovation team. Nick and his colleagues partnered with the HR team to listen to Notre Dame employees and design solutions that respond to their needs. 

Mike Seamon

Mike Seamon, Vice President for Campus Safety and University Operations 

This past year, we focused on improving the processes and service levels of our General Services team. We invited Institutional Innovation to join us in seeing if we were being as efficient and effective as possible, and they added incredible value. The Institutional Innovation team partnered with us throughout the entire process, and continue to help us evolve in how we best serve the University community.

Bj 8

John McGreevy, Charles and Jill Fischer Provost

Faculty hiring is one of the most important ways my office partners with the colleges and schools, and I knew I wanted to get this right. My office teamed up with Institutional Innovation to sort through the data, understand more fully where the problem areas were and devise a plan. Institutional Innovation helped us to design a process that is more collaborative, transparent and ultimately efficient. I’m grateful for their partnership.

Margaret Morgan Sq

Margaret Morgan, Director, Center for Student Support and Care

I really enjoyed working with the Institutional Innovation team. I was very impressed and moved by the way they dove into the work of the Sara Bea Center, working to understand deeply the work we do, the students we serve and the ways that impacts our process. Because of this holistic approach, I really trusted the solutions and improvements they presented and we’ve seen a great impact as we have implemented their suggestions this year.