Rolling up her sleeves from day one, Joanne Tolbert-Wells went to the Campus to ask customers about their needs and solicit their input. Often working 10 to 12-hour days, Joanne has spent considerable time in meetings and interacting with customers to absorb the scope and complexity of the UIC environment.
Joanne started June 17, 2013 as the Director of Employment Services, and one of her first priorities is to determine the right balance between compliance, organizational needs and customer care. The central customer service question as she sees it is: what contributes to customer dissatisfaction?
Though many on Campus might see Human Resources as predominately transactional, Joanne sees a larger picture. “Our value is far beyond transactions,” she says. “HR professionals bring a unique set of knowledge bases and skillsets to the table. This enables our Campus partners to attract, support, reward and retain the most qualified faculty and staff.” Joanne’s focus consistently returns to the customer. Using terms like customer-centric and customer focused, she outlines her philosophy concisely: “Partnership is priceless.”
A major priority this early in her tenure is the need to feel fully competent in her new position in order to analyze customer issues and concerns more objectively. When discussing outcomes, Joanne responds first with a series of questions: “How do we define success? How is success measured? And who’s measuring it?” Service, she says, is defined by customer needs. “In a service environment, it is the customer who decides how successful you are.”
Within the next year she plans to set service metrics based on customers’ standards and expectations. Recognizing the complexity of many of the hiring processes, Joanne is considering changing the service model within the Employment Services unit to simplify and make it more relationship centered instead of transaction focused. “We will redesign how we deliver services. Not what we do, but how we do it.”
Joanne’s work philosophy is an extension of her personal desire to help people become better, to help people achieve their own goals. As a colleague and manager she is direct, honest, focused. Another quality she holds dear is empathy. Using machines to communicate through email, text, and phone is useful and efficient, but she prefers face-to-face interactions where she is able to convey and discern voice inflections, facial expressions and body language.
Rather than spending energy on changing people’s thoughts and opinions, Joanne prefers to focus on changing their experience. Her goal is that everyone who interfaces with the Civil Service hiring process walks away with positive thoughts and opinions, all due to having a positive experience.
Joanne begins every new interaction with one basic assumption: people want to do their best; working from the premise that everyone she works with is a “qualified, dedicated professional who strives toward excellence.” People, she says, feel a strong sense of personal value and sense of accomplishment in a job well done, a sense of purpose in their work. “There’s a great deal of utility in work. No one aspires to mediocrity.”
Working with Human Resources management, Joanne has begun the arduous process of redesigning the Civil Service hiring process to make it more customer-friendly and efficient, while balancing people, processes and technology. As a manager, Joanne sees her role as helping people do their job, though not in a way that’s directive. She sees her leadership style as “facilitative,” she says that her role is to “serve the needs of the people who report to me through identifying and providing the requisite amount of resources, support, information, and supervision that will consistently enable them to meet and exceed expectations.”
Attracted to higher education, Joanne has a great appreciation for academic environments. Having earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Jane Addams College of Social work, her appreciation comes from the fact that UIC is an institution that is mission driven, not profit driven. She started her post graduate career in community-based social work, and then transitioned into employee assistance program management developing a specialization in solving workplace problems. From there, she made her eventual career change into the field of human resources. To better equip herself in this new arena, Joanne earned a second master’s degree in Industrial Relations from Loyola University.
Academic environments feature prominently in Joanne’s employment experience. While working at all three Loyola University campuses in the Chicago area, Joanne served as the Manager of Employee Assistance Services and Manager of Employee Relations, overseeing employee assistance functions for over 9,000 staff members.
Subsequently, Joanne was the Managing Principal/Owner of The Development Group, an organization focused on training and organizational development consulting, which included strategic plan facilitation, competency-based recruitment, customer service training and design and implementation of employee mentoring programs. Her clients included Motorola, the American College of Surgeons and ComEd.
Just before arriving at UIC, Joanne worked with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, initially providing strategic oversight to all Human Resources functions in a Civil Service environment. She started in January, 2001 as the Director of Human Resources and by the time she left had been promoted to Deputy Executive Director, Administration. Well-rounded in numerous aspects of Human Resources, Joanne spent the past six years of her career providing strategic leadership of the IT and Administrative/Building Services divisions as well as Human Resources. Her 13 years of state government experience working with Civil Service employees places her on solid footing to begin her time as the UIC Human Resources Employment Services Director.
Though her professional style centers on collaboration, one of her hobbies hint at a slightly different “management style.” A self-professed movie buff, Joanne smiles broadly when she talks about her two favorite movies: the Godfather II and As Good As It Gets.
One of her personal mottos sounds like something both Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson would say - Hope and pray for the best, but always plan and be prepared for the worst.
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