In July, UF Human Resources welcomed the newest member of its leadership team, Assistant Vice President Maureen De Armond, who most recently served as associate university counsel at Iowa State University. Since earning her JD from the University of Iowa, De Armond has served in a variety of legal and leadership positions in private industry as well as public higher education and hospital settings.
De Armond’s extensive experience in human resources – including, among other areas of expertise, labor and employment law, discrimination, conduct and performance – will be a valuable asset as UFHR seeks to fulfill its Strategic Commitment. De Armond kindly shared her early impressions of the University of Florida and a bit more about herself with us during her first week with UFHR.
Tell us a bit about the path that led you to choose your career path as well as what led you to UF.
Before I decided to pursue law school, I was a high school teacher. I mention this because education is something that is important to me. Good teachers and professors shaped my life in ways I cannot even measure. I also feel that I can appreciate what it takes to be a dedicated educator.
When I began practicing law, this background also influenced me to seek out higher education and K-12 clients, as well as representing public and municipal entities. I always found working with educational institutions and public agencies to be more rewarding than my corporate clients. (Nothing against large insurance companies, of course.)
When I had the opportunity to become an in-house attorney at Iowa State University, I recognized right away that working on a college campus was where I wanted to be. In time, I also found the partnerships and collaborative projects much more interesting (and energizing) than the work that was strictly legal.
While I highly value my legal background, my inclinations today lean toward process improvement and employee engagement. As an attorney, I felt like I was getting involved too late to prevent problems and my role as counsel restricted my ability to be innovative.
What prompted your decision to make a change from working within the general counsel office environment to working in HR more directly?
Growing up in rural Iowa, the land grant mission is something that really speaks to me. If I was going to leave Iowa State University—a place I really care about—I definitely wanted to join an institution that held similar values. After looking into UF and its history, I felt like the institution and Gainesville would both be good fits for me.
But it was really the on-campus interview that got me excited about the possibility of coming to the University of Florida. The caliber of professionals employed by UFHR—at all levels—is just incredible. The UFHR staff I met while interviewing sold the position—not the title, not the beautiful campus, not the warmer weather. It was the people who sold the job for me.
Tell us a little about your new role at UF.
My title is Assistant Vice President of Human Resources, and I report to Jodi Gentry, who is the Vice President. I will work predominantly with employee and labor relations with matters relating to faculty and staff. There will be plenty of “other duties, as assigned,” I am sure—that goes with the territory.
I am hoping to find ways to innovate and improve efficiencies and build even stronger partnerships across campus. These describe the means, however, not the end. Ultimately, we want to build the best processes possible to contribute to the overall success (and preeminence) of the university. If we are going to do that through people, we have to manage them well and treat them fairly. In its most basic terms, my role is to help develop and facilitate UF doing just that.
What are some current trends that face HR organizations in higher education, especially as they relate to your new role at UF?
Some challenges are universal and timeless—even institutions as old as UF still grapple with how to recruit and retain top talent. How do we engage employees and keep them engaged? When we have an employee who is not performing, how do we help him or her change course? If an employee cannot or will not change course, what happens next? How do we help train and empower managers to handle uncomfortable situations, especially when they would rather not?
These are not new challenges, but we do see the nuances flowing from variables such as the impact of new technology on the workplace (e.g., cell phones as a distraction; social media as the forum for workplace disputes; employees strongly preferring text and email as a means to communicate over face-to-face conversations; employees wanting to connect with superiors—or vice versa—on Facebook).
Are there strengths you have observed since joining UFHR? Any areas for growth you are eager to support?
The entire UFHR team is dedicated to this institution. The pride in and loyalty to UF is evident and there is definitely tremendous energy and excitement in UFHR right now. Our vice president is still fairly new to her role, I’m new to UF and the role, and both the director and associate director of Employee Relations are new to their roles. This is an exciting time to join UFHR—we are all very motivated to move the dial and make things better.
It’s funny, I’ve worked places where people really resisted change and clung to the notion of: This is the way we’ve always done it. That is not at all the mindset of UFHR. Instead, the sentiment is: How can we make things better? If it’s broken, let’s fix it! What a great environment to join.
What are some of your overarching goals over the next year—or even more long range?
UFHR has recently shared its new strategic commitment to campus. Our guiding principles are to: drive results; promote inclusiveness; be agile, forward-thinking, and bold; and model excellence. In every way possible, we will be designing my own goals and the ER goals around these guiding principles.
The ER team serves as a wonderful resource for campus leaders and employees. To be clear: this is already an incredibly talented group. My hope is to develop ways we can be even more proactive, responsive and efficient.
What would you like campus to know about you/your role?
Generally, I view human resources as a field that must embrace a robust customer service philosophy. We need to be strategic, of course, but we also exist to help leaders lead, support the recruitment and retention of high performing faculty and staff, and ensure our policies and practices are fundamentally fair. We must be responsive and reliable to be credible. I do not see how you can do this without adopting a customer service mentality. Such a mentality is clearly evident in our guiding principles and this is a mentality I definitely embrace.
In my role, I plan to be as accessible as I can possible be and I will certainly reinforce that expectation with my team—though, I am confident they already share my view on this topic.
What can be challenging is the reality that some employee relations issues and concerns simply take time to review and address. It is not easy to balance expectations for immediate results against the need to be objective and diligent—especially when investigating misconduct or reviewing a complex matter. Managing the expectations of leaders and employees alike (especially regarding timelines and possible outcomes) is something that we will want to invest time into with each situation.
My hope is to earn the trust and respect of campus leaders, faculty and staff so that they increasingly regard me and the entire Employee Relations team as a reliable and trustworthy partners. I am really looking forward to building those relationships through actions. I am (and I am not exaggerating here) simply thrilled to be here and be a part of the University of Florida family.