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Brody embodies a customer-driven approach to human resources

Matt Brody, 2012 Massey Award winner
Matt Brody

How can I help you?

Matt Brody learned to ask that of each customer when he was a teenager working at a department store in the suburbs of Long Island.

This became the motto that has guided him in every job he has had since.

In the past 10 years at Carolina, Brody has infused that client-centered philosophy in the way the Office of Human Resources (OHR) does business, said Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Brenda Malone.

Much of what OHR does focuses on process, but Brody never lets himself forget that it is really about people. He sees every person who walks through his door as a customer needing his help. That is part of what makes him so effective, Malone said.

He is a problem solver whose instinctive approach is finding a way to help people “get to yes,” she said.

“While state policies can be extremely complicated and limiting, Matt strives to be sensitive and responsive to customer needs and to present viable options and solutions.”

That commitment to service also led to Brody earning a 2012 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.

First ‘an IT guy’

Even though Brody has built a reputation as an HR professional, he started out as an “IT guy.”

In 1986, he earned his undergraduate degree in information systems at the University of Maryland University College, where he later earned a master’s degree in management.

The City of Durham hired him that year because of his acumen with information technology at a time when personal computers were the exception, not the norm.

Brody saw himself as the go-between with the city’s central IT organization and outside technology vendors and the police officers and fire fighters who used their products. That meant he had to understand their needs, and at the same time understand what the computers could do to meet them.

“I was an IT guy,” Brody said. “I did not know a thing about law enforcement or the fire service, but I knew I needed to learn to assure that our new systems best met the needs of the city’s public safety agencies.

“The first thing I did was go out and ride in the police cars with the officers, spend time with detectives and observe in the 911 center. I wanted to learn first-hand about what each of these professionals did so I could be in a position to provide them the IT support they needed.”

In 1989, he took that knowledge to Duke University, where he spent five years working in the central HR organization in a variety of technology roles and later as a supervisor in the recruitment and staffing unit.

He then served as an assistant director of public safety, helping to manage a large security and police operation serving Duke’s academic campus and medical center. That experience in particular gave him great insight into what it is like at the department level to navigate complex human resources policies.

Back to central HR

Brody said his experience at Duke proved to be invaluable. But nothing could have prepared him for the degree of administrative complexity he would encounter when he joined Carolina’s Office of Human Resources in 2002, he said.

His initial appointment as the senior director of human resources communications, planning and systems tapped into his technical and administrative skills. At the time, personnel actions for faculty and EPA non-faculty employees were handled largely on paper forms. Brody envisioned a totally automated system called EPAWeb, which is still in use today and popular with campus departments.

In 2006, Brody moved to the provost’s office in the newly created role of assistant provost for academic personnel. He completely revamped many EPA personnel policies and developed training classes on those policies and procedures for HR facilitators. These steps helped to demystify many complex personnel processes for campus HR staff.

In 2007 when Malone came to Carolina, she asked Brody to return to OHR. Responsibility for EPA non-faculty personnel administration had been moved back to OHR from the provost’s office. In recognition of his many skills, Malone promoted Brody to be her principal deputy. He continues in that role today as associate vice chancellor for human resources.

Brody divides human resources work into two distinct approaches.

The first is what he calls the “HR police” approach, which Brody described as “all about telling you what you can’t do” given the myriad of complex personnel regulations.

The other approach, which Brody favors, is the consultative approach, which seeks to help someone find an alternative that achieves the person’s objectives while complying with all relevant personnel laws, rules and regulations.

“If you are open-minded and take the time to dig beyond the initial question to try to understand what people are really after, a solution usually emerges,” Brody said.

For him, finding a “way to yes” if at all possible is key.

Why we’re here

Brody’s previous experience includes a stint as senior project manager in MIT’s central IT organization, something that led to his appointment as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Information and Library Science and the Gillings School of Global Public Health. He has co-developed and taught graduate-level courses in project management strategy and practice.

Brody said he wanted to see what it was like to walk in a professor’s shoes and to share some of his practical experience with students.

“Developing a new class is incredibly labor-intensive and also very risky, because until you deliver it you don’t know exactly how well it is going to be received,” Brody said. “Then, standing in front of a class of bright graduate students and holding their attention and engaging them in a meaningful way, let me tell you, is hard work.”

For Brody, the students were his customers, just as they are for all Carolina employees.

“The student is paying tuition and expecting to really take something away from this class. You feel a responsibility to give them their money’s worth,” Brody said. “I will say that being able to teach, even on a very small scale, definitely gave me a direct window into why we are all here at Carolina.”

By Gary Moss, University Gazette
Originally published by University Gazette: September 25, 2012 – 12:07 pm
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