The Ufirst Project

Meet Carolyn Kalantari, Dual Career Program Director


Learn more about Carolyn Kalantari, Dual Career Program Director.

Q: What are you most excited to be working on in your position?

A:  I enjoy helping, connecting, and supporting others. This role has permitted me to do so, while also supporting the overall recruiting mission of the University.

Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?

A: Playing with my kids, Kayvon (10) and Lailey (7), watching my son’s soccer games. I enjoy cooking and spending time with family and friends.

Q: What is your proudest achievement?

A: My children. I am proud of the people that they are growing up to be.

Q: What song would be your personal anthem/theme song?

A: Justin Timberlake, "Can't Stop the Feeling."

Q: What is something that would surprise us about you?

A: It took me several years to pivot out of my last career as a lawyer, before joining UVA in the Dual Career Program. I actually tried to leave the practice of law several times, but was really committed to the mission of the Legal Aid Justice Center where I worked. I took a year off, spent time with my kids and did some part-time work in the development office of their Montessori school. This turned out to be a good strategy, as it gave me some time and space to consider what I wanted to do next. Substantively, this part-time role also allowed me to engage in communications strategy and community building. These skills and experiences have been helpful to me in my current role, as Dual Career Program Director.

The Art and Value of Usability Testing

Still image from usability testing video

Still image from usability testing video

Workday go-live is steadily approaching. In preparation for that critical transition, a wide array of testing and training efforts are being implemented. One of the most crucial is usability testing. Our recent round of usability testing was specifically designed to observe managers from across all three entities on Grounds – Academic, University Physicians Group (UPG), and UVA Medical Center. 

So, what exactly is usability testing? 

At its core, the goal of usability testing is to observe – to provide everyday tasks for users to try while providing only as much guidance as necessary. This is in keeping with usability guru, Jakob Nielsen, who said, “… pay attention to what users do, not what they say.” He also famously said, “Designers are not users.” In other words, the intuition of even the most experienced people on the implementation team can’t anticipate real life issues that may arise in the use of the processes and interfaces they create. This makes observations of real users all the more valuable.

Usability testing quotes

To that end, users from each test group were assigned a variety of Workday tasks and asked to execute these on their own – using their desktop computers for some and the Workday smartphone app for others. Sessions were recorded for later analysis, with guidance only provided if the user could not complete the task unaided. In the small percentage of cases where redirection was necessary, just enough information was provided to get them back on track. The test monitor then noted where the difficulty started and incorporated that into the final report.

Examples of some of the tasks managers were asked to complete:

  • Find a colleague in Workday
  • Enroll in a training class
  • Add a dependent (including uploading documentation)
  • Approve a time off request
  • View payslip

Key findings:

  • All of the participants were successful – needing no assistance to perform the majority of tasks they were assigned.
  • At the conclusion of testing, all of the participants rated their confidence in their ability to perform all tasks at 4 or higher on a 5-point scale – and 4.6 or higher for 75% of those tasks.
  • There are clear training and self-help solutions for the tasks that users found challenging.

So, what did we learn from this round of usability testing?

One of the most important takeaways from any type of testing (particularly usability testing), is that there is no such thing as failure, unless there is a failure to learn from the experience. Fortunately, because Workday is already a thoroughly tested platform, the majority of our test scenarios were completed successfully. That said, any time a user encountered a challenge – either due to unfamiliarity with terminology or navigation – it provided a window into real world experience. This will allow us to make adjustments to the platform, where possible, and provide guidance during training, or in self-help materials, to head off these challenges for the remainder of the user population. 

In short, usability testing provides us with essential insights to support a successful transition in January. There are several rounds (and types) of testing still to come, as well as extensive training opportunities, informational sessions, and materials. We will keep you well informed with future posts and other communications.

From the Desk of Sean Jackson: The Peanut Butter Peter Principle

Sean Jackson, Ufirst Executive Director

Sean updating the Ufirst Project kanban board

As my family’s designated chef de cuisine, I was once assigned the formidable task of providing my daughter, a ravenous toddler, with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She ate the sandwich with all the reserve and discerning wisdom of a budding connoisseur and, at the conclusion of her meal, with a radiant smile she declared, “You make the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the world!” Flattered of course, and wanting to duplicate the experience, I could not resist inquiring, “Why is it so tasty?” She said, “There’s always peanut butter and jelly in every bite. You spread it right to the edge.” Rewarded by her exuberance and sincere praise, over the years, I have worked to refine and expand my cooking skills. This cherished memory has often informed my lean journey in different ways as well. We will explore one of those ways here.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Peter’s Plateau

In the 1960s, education professor Dr. Laurence J. Peter observed employees being promoted based upon their success in their current job until reaching a level in the organization where they were no longer competent. The individuals then spent the remainder of their careers in that organization stuck on what he called “Peter’s Plateau.” His resulting principle, that "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence...” was memorialized in a 1969 book he co-authored with Raymond Hull titled “The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong.” The book is still in print and contains many useful and relevant insights delivered with a healthy degree of humor. It is well worth reading. 

How does this connect with a peanut butter sandwich? For that, we will need one more ingredient, from a time when I observed an organization that was struggling with innovation.

The organization had a flat structure (three levels) and the culture encouraged employees to “just do it.” Employees who just did it were recognized as “valuable team players” while those who struggled were politely marginalized. The organization also prided itself on being “nice.” In the preserve of the culture, saying “no” to a request from a leader was out of the question (“it’s not nice”). I learned that nobody, including the leaders, ever said “no.”

Being spread too thin

Success in this paradigm channeled more assignments and more work to the valuable team players. Yes, the “reward” for success was more work. Given the organization’s flat structure, instead of being promoted based on their past success, employees were being tasked based upon their past success. As with the Peter Principle, an employee’s past success undermined their long-term success and value to their organization and its customers.

Dedicated, hard-working employees were “just doing it” and spreading themselves too thin.

The employees were in effect spreading their peanut butter and jelly all the way out to the edge of the bread. Unfortunately, unlike a piece of bread, this edge was infinite, receding forever into the horizon, due to the organization’s insatiable appetite for more. When I reflected on how this particular organization was spreading people out to the level of their incompetence, I conceived my Peanut Butter Peter Principle: “In a flat hierarchy, every employee will be tasked to their level of incompetence.”

Now that I had the problem defined, the question was what could be done to change this culture? We will look at that, and how that experience has helped inform our Ufirst project, in next month’s post.

Meet Leslie Pierce, Director of Employee Relations

Leslie Pierce

Learn more about Leslie Pierce, Director of Employee Relations.

Q: What are you most excited to be working on in your position?

A:  In my role, I have the unique opportunity to work for both the Academic Division and UVA Health System. Each area has its own unique rewards, challenges, customers, policies, mission, and goals. I also have the pleasure to work with two great teams of employees. Our main focus, for now, is to build a strong Employee Relations Community of Expertise (COE), streamlining business processes and procedures, and improving operating efficiency.

Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?

A: On the weekends, I enjoy spending quality time with my daughter, Lauren, shopping, or traveling. I also enjoy attending concerts, plays, and going to see a movie. Lastly, I enjoy cooking a big Sunday dinner, watching cable television, and taking an afternoon nap.

Q: What is your proudest achievement?

A: Being selected as a Cincinnati YMCA Black Achiever by my former employer and being a positive role model for my daughter. I want her to know that if she works hard and puts in the effort needed to achieve her goals, the sky is the limit!

Q: What song would be your personal anthem/theme song?

A: “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy.

Q: What is something that would surprise us about you?

A: In 1996, I attended the Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson boxing match in Las Vegas. The match went 11 rounds, which was unheard of at the time for a Tyson fight, and Holyfield won. It was awesome!

Meet Mark Dunn, Director of Talent Management

Mark Dunn

Learn more about Mark Dunn, Director of Talent Management.

Q: What are you most excited to be working on in your position?

A:  I'm most excited to serve the team of approximately 37 talent management professionals, each focused on supporting the faculty, staff, and team members of this great university. We are excited to bring our brand of services to the organization this year, while actively partnering with the University to create new services in the future.

Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?

A: Spending time with my dynamic wife, Uconda, and my two sons (oldest is 7 years, youngest is 9 months).

Q: What is your proudest achievement?

A: Watching individuals who I have worked with and supported go on to live their life's purpose and passion. Any time I experience this, I am thankful and reflect on the blessings of my life.          

Q: What song would be your personal anthem/theme song?

A: I have many, but right now it would be "God is Good" by Chester D.T. Baldwin.

Q: What is something that would surprise us about you?

A: I am an open book and strive to be authentic in my interactions. I don't believe there are many surprises in me at the moment (this, in itself, may surprise some people).

Another Satisfied Customer

Barbara Strain

UVA HR is committed to finding solutions to HR-related challenges for our colleagues across Grounds. Recently, UVA HR partnered with leaders from UVA Health System to source, vet, schedule interviews, and process over 20 new hires. The effort did not go unnoticed. 

Barbara Strain, Director of Value Management for UVA Health System, in a recent thank-you note to Steven Snyder, Director of Talent Recruitment, wrote: 

“I wanted to personally thank you and your team for understanding the business need of the support departments and in developing hiring plans that worked for them. I agree the department leaders have also stepped up to rearrange work schedules to meet the cadence of the interviews. They recognize the effort that HR has put forth and the opportunity before them to make a difference.

Barbara Strain quote

“The addition of the mid-cycle orientation session was an extraordinary gesture and is much appreciated. 

“Please pass on my gratitude to the team for partnering with us and for their continued assistance in keeping the pipeline going.”

Meet Terri Stevens, Director of Compensation

Terri Stevens

Learn more about Terri Stevens, Director of Compensation.

Q: What are you most excited to be working on in your position?

A:  One of the things I’m most excited about working on in my position is a new strategic approach to compensation for faculty, staff, and team members. I feel honored to be part of such a great compensation team. Together, we will execute pay philosophy, support competitive compensation and maintain compliance with laws and regulations, while ensuring consistent philosophy and governance across the organization. I am excited about the new UVA HR and the important role compensation has to our success.

Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?

Terri Stevens and Sky

A: When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my two dogs, Reese and Sky. Reese is an 11-year-old Saint Bernard/springer mix and Sky is an 18-month-old Saint Bernard who currently weighs about 150 pounds. Accepting my position with UVA allowed me to move back home, closer to my children and family. I’m enjoying being able to spend time with them as well.

Q: What is your proudest achievement?

A: One of my proudest achievements was winning the Gary Willis Leadership Award through the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA). I was nominated for this national award for the work I did at my prior employer, implementing a new salary range structure. The project involved moving from thousands of pay ranges to a single set of structured salary ranges 2.5 percentage points apart, each with a 60-percent spread. The implementation process directly affected 13,000 employees and about 1,500 jobs. The new structure helped to create a level of transparency that allowed employees to better understand pay. I was one of two individuals recognized in 2012 for this national award.          

Q: What song would be your personal anthem/theme song?

A: Great question. I actually think I have more than one: Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be,” and Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.” Music is such an important aspect of our lives. It can create certain emotions, lowers stress, elevates mood, and allows us to explore our creativity. As you can see, I like many different genres of music.

Q: What is something that would surprise us about you?

A: Several years ago, I submitted an application to be on “The Amazing Race.” My son, Chad, would have been my partner, had my application been selected. He wasn’t too thrilled, but said that we would definitely make people watching the show laugh.

Behind the Scenes in Payroll: Testing 1, 2, 3

Payroll testing image

Payroll team members deep in the testing process.

Payroll staff, technical trainers, and subject matter experts were busy testing Workday in June to make sure both the team and the system are ready to pay everyone at UVA correctly and on time when the system goes live in January.

The team of 15 Payroll staff performed "cross-sequential" testing and training, which means they focused on a diverse cross-section of workers and their payroll results over the course of a year. With this type of testing, the team was able to confirm the various types of earnings, deductions, and taxes as they calculated and accrued toward limits in an environment that mimicked the natural payroll cycles, spanning 26 bi-weekly and 12 monthly pay periods. They worked with a test population that represented the Academic Division, Medical Center, and University Physicians Group.

Paul Grisdale

Paul Grisdale
Director of Payroll Services

Paul Grisdale, Director of Payroll Services, says the intense testing caught key system changes that otherwise would not have been captured prior to go-live and provided interactive, hands-on training, maximizing operational readiness. 

"We've developed payroll processing checklists and control sheets across all three entities," he noted. 

Although the three-week testing period was long and sometimes arduous, it aided the team's comfort in navigating the system and boosted their knowledge of Workday, says Grisdale. It helped that the trainers and subject matter experts collaborated to make fun activities like Workday scavenger hunts, Workday Payroll Relays, and "Who Wants to Be a Payroll Partner?" (based on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?").

LeTrecia Mathis, a member of the UVA Finance Payroll Services team, said “I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to interact more and get to know my new co-workers. I enjoyed the ‘fun’ put into learning!” 

We appreciate this newly-formed team's concerted efforts to make sure everyone gets paid correctly when Workday goes live. If you see a Payroll team member around, give them a high five, because they're working hard for all of us!

Securing Your Information With DUO

Locked personal data graphic

In additional to Workday’s comprehensive security program, the University is dedicated to protecting your information with DUO. You use DUO to verify your identity when logging in to Workday. You can use the DUO app on your mobile device, or DUO can call your mobile or desk phone for confirmation. Either way, using DUO, you’re in quickly, easily, and safely.

For additional information regarding UVA’s two-step authentication process, click here.

You Asked, We Answered – Your Questions from Preview and Feedback Sessions


Our Preview and Feedback sessions provided not only a look at the future of UVA HR, but also provided a forum for end users and stakeholders to ask essential questions. How will existing processes be changing? How will basics like time off and recruiting work after Workday go-live? 

We’ve reviewed all of your submitted questions – there were literally hundreds – and consulted with experts across Grounds to get you the answers you need. Check out the top-five questions below, and browse the full list here.

Your Top-five Most Frequently Asked Questions:

1Q: Can the Workday inbox interface with the Outlook inbox so I don’t need to look in both places for HR-related messages?

A: Yes. You will receive emails in your Outlook inbox notifying you that you have action items waiting for you in your Workday inbox.

2Q: How long will Workday maintain information?

A: Indefinitely, for data entered directly into Workday after go-live. There is a limit on how much historical data can be migrated into Workday – and that varies, based on the topic, as well as compliance requirements.

3Q: Can I see how Workday works?

A: Yes. Visit the Ufirst website by clicking here. You can watch videos to see the technology and how it works. Additional learning aids and training will be available soon to assure that everyone is comfortable using Workday in time for go-live.

4Q: How will I interact with HR in the future?

A: The new model delivers expertise and agility through the Centers of Expertise. You will have HR support from the Solution Center, HR Business Partners, Employee Relations, Recruiting, and the Talent Management team.

5Q: What does the Workday launch support model consist of?

A: The Workday support model at go-live is robust, including open labs, the HR Solution Center, HR Business Partners, Workday Partners, and escalation paths to technology resources, as needed.


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