Automating Healthcare
Solving business problems with savvy automation

Creating a supervisory tree

Business problem
The financial system provides an organizational structure for departments (Organizational buckets). But the people in those departments also need an organizational structure — a supervisory tree. This function would normally be provided by a human resources system (HRIS). Unfortunately, the Meditech payroll module, which we use for some of the functions of an HRIS, does not track supervisory relationships. In any case, an HRIS only tracks employees, and non-employees also need a supervisor.

What's the connection?
At a prior employer, the HRIS tracked the primary supervisory relationship for employees, but the connection was based on the person. In other words, Joe Smith supervised Bob Jones, and the HRIS linked the employee IDs of the two people.

This process design has a huge flaw. If one of the people leaves the organization, the supervisory connection is broken, and must be manually reestablished when the vacant position is filled. The results were predictable: at any given time, a high percentage of positions did not have a supervisory assignment.

Learning from the mistakes of others, our new process links positions instead of people. This means that even if a position is vacant, the supervisory assignment is never broken. The only way to break a connection is to change a position number.

Making connections
We built an application on the intranet for managers to make supervisory assignments. Logically, the first step in the process is finding the position. Most of the time, that's done by selecting the department:

Next, select the department:

All the positions in the department are displayed, and the manager can select any combination of positions to assign:

Sometimes the supervisor's position is vacant, so the supervisor search offers the option of looking for the position number instead of the current incumbent's name:

What about reorganizations? In that case, we need to find everyone reporting to a position, and reassign them to someone else. The first step is selecting the current supervisor. This can be done by looking up the current supervisor (shown below) or looking up the position number if the position is vacant.

If there are multiple supervisors that match the search criterion, select the correct one:

A complete list of all supervised positions in all departments is then displayed, and the reassignment process works exactly the same as shown above.

Automatic connections
So what happens when the department responsible manager ignores the e-mailed requests to make a supervisory assignment? We make the assignment for them. If any position has not been assigned to a supervisor within three days, an automated process assigns the department manager's position as the supervisor for the unassigned position. This ensures that no position remains unassigned, and the department manager can always correct the assignment at a later date.

Lessons learned

  • Linking positions by position number — not employee number — works beautifully.
  • Only one primary supervisory assignment does not reflect the complexity of real organizations (many people have one or more "dotted line" relationships), but it's good enough to meet most needs.
  • It is essential to have an automated assignment process if the manager does not act.
  • There is no point in waiting more than a few days before making an auto-assignment. Conscientious managers will make assignments immediately, and others won't bother even if given more time. We initially allowed two weeks, but subsequently used data to reduce to three days.

Posted 22 March 2008


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Creating A Supervisory

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