Breaking Down Barriers – Jill Pollock, VP of Employee and Information Services and CHRO at University of Colorado

Stephanie Harris Human Resources, Issue 05 - May/June 2013 Leave a Comment

By Stephanie Harris

Jill Pollock began her career at a time when the professional world was much different for women than it is today. As one of the first women to hold a management position for a major corporation, she constantly was breaking down barriers—and has been doing so ever since.

Pollock began her career with Ford Motor Company in the 1970s, and after holding corporate and divisional management positions in the firm’s planning, labor relations, and human resources (HR) administration functions, she opened her own management consulting practice, where she mastered the skill of effectively handling turnaround situations for organizations. quotejp1


Pollock is currently the Vice President of Employee and Information Services and Chief Human Resources (HR) Officer for the University of Colorado (CU). As such, she manages a $300-million operations budget and oversees various functions within the university, including employee learning and development, information security, payroll and benefit services, and information systems.

With such a disparate set of functions to direct, the constant challenge for Pollock is balancing each of these against the others. “Each one of those functions has major initiatives underway,” she said, “so it is important I balance those and understand the implications of each so we can have a good sense of the direction we’ve taken.”

One major initiative currently on Pollock’s plate, and one she has been instrumental in implementing, is CU’s Health and Welfare Trust, in effect since 2010. This forward-thinking, self-funded trust, which this year will administer health plans on behalf of 56,000 employees and their families, emphasizes prevention initiatives as core elements of its plan.

“By doing so,” Pollock said, “we are able to focus on aspects of wellness and prevention that can be effective in enhancing the health state of our employees.” The trust provides an opportunity, she said, to test new ways of healthcare delivery and design that might be instructive for the balance of Colorado—if not nationwide.

Aon Hewitt Jill Pollock sidenoteMany Firsts

As one of the first women to work in management for a firm such as Ford, Pollock was somewhat of a pioneer, or a “superwoman,” as she would say. “By being part of a period where there were very few women in the workplace, I was always the ‘first of’ in the things I did,” Pollock said. “I was the first woman to travel for Ford on business, and the first woman to be a labor representative representing management with the United Auto Workers and other unions that Ford had at the time.” She was also the first female to sit at the bargaining table for Ford, and remembers her colleagues initially thinking that she was in attendance to take meeting minutes.

It was always a challenge to say ‘this is who I am and this is my role,’” she recalled. “There were some wonderful opportunities that arose serendipitously because there weren’t many of us [women], and I had pretty significant exposure to the senior leadership.

During this time, Pollock broke down barriers pertaining to the role of women in the workplace and vocally advocated their ability to fill professional roles. “We were, as women, doing new things, hitting up against a lot of stereotypes and yet prevailing.”

infogjp2Turning Around New Opportunities

After spending 12 years with Ford, Pollock began her own managing consultant practice specializing in turnaround situations for public and private clients. When organizations faced an issue that had to do with their employees, Pollock and her team were called in to solve the problem.

“I would go into an organization that was troubled for some reason, and I would approach it by asking questions, gathering ancillary data and listening a great deal.”

Pollock would look to see if the data and the voices matched. She would try to determine whether employees were seeing an issue the same way or if there was something they were not sharing. Often, she would go back to ask more questions.

“Then it’s a matter of reviewing all of the information you have, seeing if there are patterns or conclusions you can draw, and making recommendations to the senior leadership of that organization on what changes might be made to improve the environment.”

Pollock refined her skills in this sort of forensic HR and, over time, has developed a reputation as a turnaround expert. While operating her consulting firm, she performed these services for several higher-education clients, and after 17 years, closed down her practice to work directly as the head of HR for a former university client.

Balancing Act

Pollock began working for CU in 2008, coming in from the role of Chief HR Officer at Texas A&M University. In her current role, she is responsible for enterprise-wide functions that relate to information technology and employees, such as Oracle/PeopleSoft, research administration software and related infrastructure; information security; payroll; total rewards design and administration; policy; online and blended comprehensive learning, development and compliance; and liaison with the State of Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration.

Along with the various functions she oversees, Pollock manages six direct reports and, indirectly, a staff of 200 employees. There is no typical day for her, aside from meeting with each of her direct reports once a week for at least an hour. She often finds herself keeping several lists to ensure she is balancing her responsibilitiesappropriately.

“I sit down at the beginning of the week and say, ‘what is it we need to accomplish?’” Pollock explained. “I balance that against what we need to accomplish this month, and then I set quarterly agendas for all of us, so we can see where we are on a regular basis.”

She also maintains an outcome-focused mindset, which helps her rectify issues and develop solutions more effectively. “If I’m looking at an issue, I see it as an entire issue with all the complexities that might not even relate at the moment to the issue at hand,” she said. “I often think backward from the desired outcome to the process.”

Pollock also practices the belief that rhetoric should precede actions. “If we’re going to pursue
something new, I like to talk about it ahead of time,” she said. “By talking about it ahead of time, and looking for people’s input and ideas around it, I’m also asking them to own that idea if they like it.”

By doing so, Pollock emphasized, people already will be warmed up to the idea and it will come as no surprise when it is implemented.

Keeping Busy

As the Chair of CU’s Health Trust, Pollock hopes to develop and grow the program over the next few years. “There are things I’d like to do to demonstrate that our kind of organization and our research and plan design are going to be of value to this country and how it approaches the health state of our citizens,” she said.

And as technology and telecommunications continue to evolve, and online courses become more prevalent in the university setting, Pollock would like to play a role in this learning shift. “Higher education is being affected in a big way with technology and the ability to do massive, open online courses,” she said. “Being a part of that discussion is important to me because I think I have something to contribute organizationally in my thinking.”

From healthcare initiatives to technological and learning advances, the barriers are different today than the ones Pollock helped break down during the early portion of her career. But she plans to continue influencing the landscape of her field for quite some time.

“There are a number of things I’d like to do yet, so I don’t have any real notion as to when I’d like to retire,” she said. “I have too many cool things to do.”

Stephanie Harris a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.

Jill's Key Partners:
TIAA-CREFF (Financial Services) | Mercer (Actuary & Health Plan Consulting) | Aon Hewitt (Total Rewards Consulting)

Stephanie Harris

Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.

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