The Ufirst Project

From the Desk of Sean Jackson: Let the Work Teach You

Sean Jackson, Ufirst Executive Director

Sean updating the Ufirst Project kanban board

Several years ago, I created a Lean game to illustrate how to learn from work. The game has four timed rounds. In the first round, the method of the work emphasizes waste. In the next, the method of the work changes to emphasize the relationship between the customers and the worker. After the second round, with their focus now on their customers, I ask the teams to consider how they can improve their cycle times before beginning the third round. In the fourth round, we introduce another significant change that challenges the team’s quest to reduce their cycle times. The only thing that changes over the four rounds is how the work is done.

When the teams form, they have no idea what the work is. By design, they do not have the ability to change anything for the first two rounds so they can focus their attention on the work and experience the power of waste and how it inhibits flow. Appearances are deceptive, however, and teams that look beyond them are rewarded.

For example, teams often fail to recognize that the novelty of the situation precludes any single team member from being an expert capable of offering a “solution.” Nonetheless, between rounds two and three team members engage in wasteful behaviors centered on status seeking and influencing each other rather than sharing and analyzing their observations and developing hypotheses. This approach frequently results in the emergence of a dominant team member who takes on the role of “teacher” often promoting some clever idea aimed at outsmarting the game rather than letting the work teach them.

What does it mean to let the work teach you?

It means that you learn by observing the work from the customer’s perspective. You develop an understanding and appreciation of what is valuable, and what is not. You recognize that there is nothing clever about empirical observation, and you realize that while a guide can help direct and focus attention, there are no shortcuts to insight. Most importantly, you understand that a “solution” is an emergent property of a system rather than its goal.

Letting the work teach you means that you hypothesize and experiment based on what you have observed. By putting insights into action, teams can observe and learn what is effective and what is not.

Life is inherently a process of transformation and growth. In the workplace, Lean’s concern is to make these processes deliberate, conscious, and aimed in a particular direction. Over time, we learn through our experiences that inner transformation precedes outer transformation. Once we apprehend that the process of transformation resides firmly at the center of our lives, all of the surrounding circumstances likewise transform into pathways for our growth. We can observe and experiment our way along these paths, reminding ourselves to let the work teach us so that we may cease to be “governed by epistemologies that we know to be wrong.”[1]

Let the work teach you. Don’t be clever. Act on what you learn.

Next month we will look at how we have put this into practice.


[1] Greogory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p. 491 (


Workday Wednesday: The Power of One

picture of a cloud shaped in the number 1

The Power of One for UVA

Workday is a unique system that leverages the “Power of One” concept that enables a better user experience for everyone.

One System

Workday is one system with a suite of HR functionality, including everything from Recruiting to Payroll. End users will no longer need to log into 3-4 systems to complete HR work. The Power of One means there’s no longer a need for Jobs@, Lead@, Taleo, etc.

One Community

Worldwide, all Workday users are on one version of software. This makes it easy for UVA to connect with other Workday higher education/healthcare customers to discuss Workday best practices, and provide suggestions to Workday on how to improve the system. In fact, UVA is a charter member of Workday’s “R1 University Community.”

  • Higher Education Customers include University of Miami, University of Washington, University of Southern California, Ohio State, Penn State, and many others.
  • Healthcare Customers include Boston Medical, The Ohio State University Medical Center, and the University of Minnesota Physicians.

Meet Michael Latsko, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives

photo of Michael Latsko, UVA HR’s Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives

Learn more about Michael Latsko, UVA HR’s Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives.

Q: What are you most excited to be working on now?

A: Since my work on the talent selection/transition process for the Ufirst project, I’ve been helping Kelley assemble her leadership team, and then helping the AVPs assemble theirs. I have a long to-do list with “develop new HR strategy” at the top.  I’m probably most excited to get to work with the new communications team to build on Kristie Smeltzer’s excellent stewardship of the function for the past year plus. The team has exciting plans for new UVA HR branding and messaging, as well as a new website!

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

A: Make your own kind of music (even if nobody else sings along),” popularized by Mama Cass Elliott in the late 1960’s (let’s see how many Google searches this response generates!).

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

A: Sundays are busy.  I have been the choir director and organist at Grace Episcopal Church in Keswick since 2007 (and before that at another church for 14 years).  Rehearsals start at 930a for the 11a service; I usually wrap up duties by 1p.  Then from 6-7p I’m “on the air” hosting “The King of Instruments” or “Evensong,” a weekly classical music radio program for WTJU. This summer will mark my 25th year of doing that.  Consequently, Saturdays are as low key as I can make them – generally a trek to the City Farmer’s Market in the morning, followed by a leisurely breakfast, puttering in the yard, and doing lots of errands.

Q: What is your proudest achievement?

A: Following the outcome of a monumental U.S. Supreme Court ruling, both of my parents walked me “down the aisle” to marry the love of my life in a service sanctioned by the Episcopal church, presided over by my rector at Grace Church, in the presence of our family and friends, at a favorite venue of mine and Cesar’s on a perfectly beautiful September day, followed by delicious food, wine and a raucous party.

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

A:  While on a business trip to Tokyo in the early 1990’s, I sang karaoke with a live piano player in a geisha bar. No, I did not sing “Make your own kind of music.”

Change: The New Normal

photo of Fredrick Martin, Senior Director, Change Management, UVA HR

Hear from Fredrick Martin, Senior Director, Change Management, on his experience with change and what that means for UVA HR.

I’m often asked what do I love most about my job and my response is, “I love watching an organization unleash and harness the power of change through innovation, creativity, and sheer grit”. Change is often viewed as a bad thing and any disruption to the organizational norms will undermine the culture. Change is the “new normal” in any industry whether it’s technology, health care, sharing economy marketplace, or higher education. There was a time when organizations wanted to be more adaptable to change but being adaptable is no longer enough. An organization now has to hardwire “change agility” in the DNA of its culture.     

Power of Disruption

Change or disruption can provide the space for individuals to explore, create, and shape their environment in ways that they haven’t been able to do before. We can reshape how we interact with our customers, the community and key partners, operating as a cohesive body of one and setting the standard for how HR services are delivered in higher education.

Seizing Our Unique Opportunity

The journey toward UVA HR is one that is historic in nature as we are transforming our service delivery model and the experiences we create for those we interact with each day. During this time of change, how can we leverage the disruption in order to create an extraordinary experience?  Together, we have created a great foundation and achieved great success, but the journey has truly just begun. We will encounter lots of change during our journey. But in all of this, many key factors remains the same. Our incredible people, our spirit, our commitment to our customers, our belief in the transformative power of people. It’s why I come to work inspired every day. It’s why we’ve accepted the challenge, and why we’re evolving every day!

Rise and Grind,


Launching the Solution Center

Infographic showing stats on the numbers of customers the Solution Center has served.


Hear from Marcus Hamilton, HR Analyst, Quality & Innovation, about what it took to launch the new UVA HR Solution Center.


What goals did you have and did you meet them?

At launch, our primary goals were to have established performance baselines and maintain service levels while expanding our support to the entire organization. Now faculty, staff, and team members are going to one place instead of two: one team, one place to call, one way to get your problem resolved. Making that transition seamless is difficult, but the team worked tirelessly to make it happen. I’m happy to say they succeeded.

Post launch, our goal was to identify quick wins and longer term continuous improvement opportunities. We have learned a great deal in a short time, and we have already instituted changes in staff scheduling and training resources, for example, based on that data.


How did you come together as a team?

We focused on sharing knowledge. We all came from different backgrounds and thankfully everyone was willing to freely share their knowledge and to make each other comfortable to seek clarification if needed. That openness has led to close bonds that make providing good service easier and dare I say, more fun.


Best part of being the first for the HR transformation?

We definitely developed a sense of camaraderie as we as ventured out first. It gave us a heightened sense of purpose and commitment to making sure it went smoothly so we could serve as proof that it could be done well. And since we had the benefit of going first, we are ready to support the other HR teams as they stand up.



What are you most proud?

I’m most proud of the team’s willingness to take on so many changes at once and still maintain—and in many cases improve—service.


What I am most excited about?

I am excited for the new technology we have in place, which allows us to interact with customers across channels in an integrated way and gather data to drive continuous improvement. We have been able to quickly implement process improvements with a richer and more immediate feedback loop that allows us to serve our customers better every day. It also allows us to report out on the team’s amazing work!


What’s next for the team?

Supporting the launch of the remaining UVAHR teams, continuing our ongoing improvement efforts, and preparing to provide post-Workday-go-live support.


From the Desk of Sean Jackson: The Art of Imperfection

Sean Jackson, Ufirst Executive Director

Sean updating the Ufirst Project kanban board

In February, we uncovered a technology issue on our project that required more time to resolve than we had available. This compelled us to reschedule our system launch date from July 2018 to January 2019. Our project plan was broken and we needed to repair it. In doing so, we resolved not to hide our repairs but to emphasize them so that we might continue to learn from the spots where we rejoined the pieces. This reminded me of Kintsugi.

According to legend, the Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490) once broke his favorite ceramic teacup. He sent it to China for repair and it returned mended, but covered with ugly metal staples. Dissatisfied with the inelegance of the repair, the shogun turned to Japanese artisans who removed the previous repair work and used lacquer coated with gold to repair the cup. The shogun was satisfied and thus was born the art and craft of Kintsugi, which translates as “golden joinery.”

An outgrowth of the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, the belief that posits and encourages us to see the beauty in the flawed and imperfect, kintsugi repairs broken objects in a manner that highlights the damage, rather than trying to hide it. The scars become important not only aesthetically, but also emotionally as they help us work through our regret for our loss and the recognition and acceptance of change as we interact with the transformed object. From a planning and execution perspective there is also the pragmatic benefit of understanding how historical risk factors have combined to influence the whole.

Our project includes a functional transformation in addition to a system implementation. The rescheduled system launch date means that we have the challenge of ensuring that we meet operational demands between now and January, extending our period of service stabilization. Our planning effort encompasses all of these areas and our team members and stakeholders have identified places of stress, strain, and things broken that require attention and mending. At each encounter, we ask why until we understand the root cause. Then we mend.

It has been difficult and challenging to develop a new plan that takes into account the myriad details that cut across our complex landscape. However, we have received a great deal of encouragement and support from our stakeholders, a reaffirmation of the importance of our work along with expressions of gratitude for our decision to maintain our commitment to quality by rescheduling our system launch. The engagement of and with our stakeholders has always been a point of strength on this project, and it remains so.

As we face together the challenge of stabilizing the delivery of our HR services using the current collection of technologies, we are bonding our relationships with confidence, respect, and grace, the golden joinery that will transform our broken project plan into one of imperfect beauty and lasting value.

UVA HR & Ufirst Win Prestigious Award

Michael Latsko, accepting the CUPA HR Excellence Award from CUPA-HR Southern Region president Leanne Fuller of Auburn University

Michael Latsko, accepting the CUPA HR Excellence Award from CUPA-HR Southern Region president Leanne Fuller of Auburn University

2018 Southern Region HR Excellence Award

We are excited to announce that UVA Human Resources has received the 2018 Southern Region HR Excellence Award in recognition of its transformative human resources work in higher education, specifically for the Ufirst project.

The nomination included an in-depth look at the Ufirst project including why the change was needed, how the new ideas were innovative, implementation strategies, and evidence of success with a focus on organizational change. 

The Ufirst project was launched to manage the complex transformation of UVA HR, and to implement a better employment experience across the entirety of the University – the Academic Division, Medical Center, and University Physicians Group. The project also enhances UVA’s ability to recruit, hire, retain and develop top talent in support of excellence in education, research, patient care, and public service.

The award was presented at the Southern Region Symposium of the College & University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA), the nation’s premier higher education HR association. The symposium was held in Charleston, SC in early March. 

Because we won the regional award, our nomination is now submitted to the national awards committee for consideration for the national CUPA-HR Excellence Award (that conference is in October in Indianapolis).

Thanks to the generous support of CUPA-HR sponsors, CUPA-HR made a contribution of $1,000 to UVA’s Faculty and Staff Undergraduate Scholarship.

Sean Jackson, Ufirst Project Executive Director said, “This recognition is well-deserved and I remain grateful for the dedication, thoughtfulness, and hard work of the entire Ufirst team.”

Kelley Stuck, Vice President for Human Resources said, “We consider it an honor to be recognized for the outstanding work of the Ufirst team, and all members of the UVA HR community, who have worked extremely hard to make the HR transformation project successful. Everyone should be proud of their contributions.” Congratulations!

Michael Latsko, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives said, “As an Ufirst project ‘alum’ and a UVA HR team member, it was a true privilege to accept the award on behalf of my colleagues and teammates at the CUPA-VA Southern Region conference. To have our collective work noticed and appreciated in this way should make every one of us very proud. The notoriety also fostered lots of interesting conversations with other higher education colleagues at the conference.  I definitely got the sense that UVA is leading the way in many areas of higher education HR as well as transformation, change and project management.”


“This award honors transformative HR work in higher education, recognizing individuals or teams who have provided HR leadership resulting in significant and ongoing organizational change within their institutions.”

Meet Bryan Garey, Assistant Vice President for Talent

Bryan Garey, Assistant Vice President for Talent

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

A: Talent is at the heart of what HR is about: sourcing, selecting, retaining, and developing great people are essential to the value we add to UVA. And, it’s exciting to lead a new team to find ways to make a difference in moving the University forward. From the candidate experience to the hiring process to onboarding to performance management, I hope we can make processes easier for customers and the positive results of the work more obvious and with greater impact. I am excited by the challenge and grateful for the opportunity to serve UVA in this role.


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

A: I love Bruce Springsteen so I will pick his truly great song, Born to Run. Beyond the literal story of the song, I find it’s a call to action, of breaking free and living in the moment while moving forward to make things better. And, it’s full of energy!


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

A: Trying to find a little extra sleep which seems so elusive these days. I also enjoy seeing friends, hitting a winery, working out, and running errands and doing chores. Church is usually part of the weekend and sometimes a hike in the woods or a camping trip. I like weekends for variety and fun and they are all very different for me.


Q: What is your proudest achievement?

A: My two girls, Virginia and Evelyn. Va. is a 2 nd year UVA student and Evelyn is a high school junior. They are great kids…and also have a wonderful Mom.


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

A: My theatre background may surprise some, but I have found this rewarding on a personal level and even helpful in my HR career. I love to travel and hope to be fluent in Spanish someday. I also continue to study the piano, taking up lessons about 5 years ago. It’s slow going, but very enjoyable. I like to learn new things and challenge myself with new experiences.

Meet Adam Weikel, Assistant Vice President for Service

Adam Weikel, Assistant Vice President for Service

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

A: I am equally excited about WHO (HOO) and WHAT. There is no doubt that the University of Virginia and UVA Health System represent a special place to learn, live, and work. Steeped in history; distinguished among peers; and internationally recognized as a leader in higher education and healthcare. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t want to be part of such an impressive community!  We all know that the people make the organization and I love how you all have the exceptional ability to celebrate the past while building the future. I am most excited about getting to know and work with all of you as we build the future HR organization.


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

A: I have an eclectic taste in music, so this is a tough question. This song is a bit obscure (even for Parrot Heads ) but I suppose “It’s My Job” by Jimmy Buffett speaks to my general outlook. The lyrics are about individuals in challenging occupations who take pride in their work. It ends with the realization that we all have an important and unique role to play if we are going to achieve collective success. 


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

A: Spending time with family and enjoying the great outdoors. I also consider myself a DIY weekend warrior and frequently find myself working on some type of home improvement, landscaping, or woodworking project.


Q: What is your proudest achievement?

A: I take great pride in creating opportunities for others. I attribute my professional achievements to the talented teams that I have had the privilege to lead or have been a part of. Coming from the public sector (Government), it has been extremely rewarding to connect people and families with the services they need, and to measurably improve efficiency and efficacy along the way.


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

A: I am a wanna-be-homesteader. I would love to grow all my own food and live off the land.

Meet John Kosky, Assistant Vice President for IMPACT and Decision Support

a photo of John Kosky, Assistant Vice President for IMPACT and Decision Support

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

A: The opportunity to be part of a major HR transformation of this magnitude and to provide leadership and vision in designing and implementing tools, services, and resources that will make us all great decision-makers. UVA is on the cutting edge within higher education, and that is my comfort zone.


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

A: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python’s Life of Brian – it is sort of how I approach life. Let’s be positive, have a great sense of humor, and not take ourselves too seriously. Enjoy life!


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

A: I have many hobbies that occupy my time ranging from reading to trekking, but largely most of my down time outside of Fall semester is spent traveling. My wife and I (and our 2 Doberman children) believe in working hard and playing hard, so when the time allows, we are on the road and experiencing all the world has to offer. Our most recent trips were Iceland and Peru, with Antarctica, Nepal, and South Africa the next to come. Fall semester is all about the college football season and we travel to most or all of the games to root on our UGA Bulldogs!


Q: What is your proudest achievement?

A: Being the first in my immediate family to graduate college while serving in the military. I’m a first generation citizen on my father’s side and from Native American roots on my mother’s side, so being able to accomplish many life goals, mostly unattainable to my family, have been my proudest moments.


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

A: We own and operate a small 400-acre farm in the North Georgia mountains, with chicken, cattle, pigs, etc. This is our little sanctuary and we escape there often. Second, I am a major culinary nerd / foodie / wine freak so I love to get very creative in the kitchen cooking using various techniques like sous vide, spherification, complex baking, etc.


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