Frequently asked questions — Service Excellence Transformation

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about the administrative restructuring arm of the University of Alberta for Tomorrow initiative.

Consultation and engagement

*NEW* Hearing the plan for "continual improvement" feels a bit daunting at this point in light of all the changes we have just gone through. Is there any possibility of slowing down for the next few months to allow staff to adjust to the changes to date, learn the new areas and services, take time for process redesign, and reset strategic priorities before returning to continual improvement?

The pace of change over the last 20 months has been dictated by the need to have a balanced budget for the 2022/23 fiscal year. We recognize that it has been uncomfortable. Unfortunately, we still need to work on process redesign and improvements to reduce the overall workload and help areas that are feeling overwhelmed. The pace of change will be lower but it is important that improvement activities continue to proceed.

[Last updated April 14, 2022]

*NEW* Will SET be reaching out to students on how restructuring has affected their feeling of Student Satisfaction?

The student services vision has been released and we expect the vision to be implemented by the end of the 2022-23 academic year by the central student service units with support from the UIO. Following implementation, the central units delivering the services will collect student engagement and satisfaction feedback. This will be coordinated through the Student Service Centre (SSC) and UIO.

[Last updated April 14, 2022]

*NEW* To what extent will the changes from SET be reevaluated to make sure we got it "right" and how can staff be involved as partners within these discussions?

Transformations of this magnitude, particularly in the amount of time the U of A had, will most certainly get a few things wrong. We are continuing to improve our processes and we have to adopt a continual improvement approach. This will include:

  • The use of indicator metrics (e.g., client surveys for internal usage; UniForum for external comparison) to understand the effectiveness of the different workstreams and programs. Those measures will improve as we go along as well.
  • A service governance structure to engage service providers and service recipients across the organization to make sure that we're continually moving forward and improving. Committees within this governance structure will include approximately even numbers of service providers and client representatives so the voice of the service user will be heard and acted upon.
  • Service partners acting as a key liaison for providing information and feedback between service recipients and service providers.

[Last updated April 7, 2022]

*NEW* People are still afraid to voice concerns or bring forward issues they see because they're afraid for their jobs on campus. What accountability structures are in place to ensure that employees can have that safe and healthy work environment that we know is going to be needed to carry this change forward?

The success of the new operating model relies on honest and consistent feedback, which includes raising concerns and issues. This feedback is essential in order to move forward and achieve continual improvement metrics. Soliciting feedback from staff throughout the organization will continue to be a priority of the University Initiatives Office (UIO), as it is for the university leadership as a whole.

We encourage staff to talk with their supervisors, but recognize that isn't always possible. Therefore, we encourage them to provide feedback or raise concerns by reaching out to whoever they feel most safe with. Some other examples may include:

[Last updated April 7, 2022]

*NEW* Are there plans to send out staff surveys related to mental health, workload, and the impacts SET has had on them?

Yes, an employee engagement survey will be launched at some point in the future, which focuses on the people and culture of the organization as we move forward. We recognize that the organizational transformation has been challenging, especially given the pace and necessary timelines as well as the inability for in-person engagement due to COVID restrictions.

[Last updated April 7, 2022]

*NEW* Lack of transparency and engagement with front-line staff is still an issue. How will you engage front-line staff concerning the changes yet to be shared with the community? How will these changes be communicated now that SET has formally ended?

The pace of the transformation was a limiting factor for the amount of stakeholder engagement. However the university worked to be as open and transparent as possible, and we will continue to do that. We will continue to share and engage with the university community through town halls, written communication, surveys, and more.

[Last updated April 7, 2022]

*NEW* How do we work together to evolve the culture of the university to rebuild morale to rebuild pride?

We are committed to moving forward with a "people strategy" that is centered around moving forward, building greater engagement, and continuing to evolve how we make decisions at the university.

[Last updated April 7, 2022]

What options do staff have to voice concerns or seek clarifications?

One of SET’s main principles is to encourage a transparent consultation process, as well as open and inclusive engagement. Throughout the administrative restructuring process, the SET team has been working—and will continue to work—closely with leadership teams and staff across faculties and units to hear their voices and ensure we abide by and honour our principles. Throughout the rest of this fiscal year and beyond, we will continue consultation and engagement on the implementation of the new administrative operating model through a combination of town halls, online input, faculty-specific meetings, targeted workshops, focus groups, engagement with unions, and discussions with Dean’s Council, the President’s Executive Committee—Strategic (PEC-S), General Faculties Council (GFC), and the Board of Governors.

While the development of the new operating model was determined by university leadership, the next phase of the SET program focuses on staff engagement to ensure the new administrative operating model is successful. We want to emphasize that the model is a framework and making it functional is a critical process that will require staff consultation and engagement from across the university.

To date, staff have been involved in the discovery phase of the six administrative workstreams' functional reviews. To learn more about the discovery process, as well as how staff are being engaged during this phase, visit this article. In addition, we welcome feedback and questions through the SET Feedback Form, and other channels, which can all be found on the consultation page

[Updated September 27, 2021]

Can we get specifics and/or an example of how staff consultation changed a decision?

Service catalogues are a prime example of how consultations with staff directly impacted decisions within the SET program. Developed in consultation with subject matter experts and leaders in faculties and central units, service catalogues provide an expansive list of activities and services in a particular functional portfolio (like IT, HR, or finance), and record where those services would be best placed within the model (college/faculty/unit, Centre of Expertise, Shared Services, etc.) The SET team is using the catalogues as a resource to inform organizational restructuring, drive the discovery process, and shape process redesign with the workgroups. They are an invaluable resource to SET, providing insight into how the new administrative operating model will function.

Another example are the workgroups that are providing input into process redesigns. The workgroups help define future state processes, consult with colleagues for feedback, identify opportunities to leverage technology to streamline and automate processes, and provide support with implementation activities. During the process design phase of the functional review, each stream issues a call for workgroup members. The open call is issued to leaders in each functional area to identify and nominate staff that have knowledge of the processes as well as the time to dedicate to the redesign. Through the formation of workgroups, staff working directly with these processes will have the opportunity to be engaged and provide input into how they are redesigned.

[Updated September 27 2021]

Operating model

*NEW* Not all areas were contemplated by SET, yet everyone took the cuts. A couple of areas got a lot of new positions, while others continue to struggle without being looked at. How do areas go about getting their structure and workload reviewed?

A core feature of the operating model is to take advantage of economies of scale through a centralized approach to service delivery. SET targeted specific areas such as HR, finance, and IT for this centralized approach, reducing people in both the faculties and central units, before creating positions centrally. The overall resources in these areas have decreased but there is a need to grow central capability to provide the services.

Throughout the SET program, the organizational structures of all of the administrative areas have been or are in the process of being  reviewed to meet the organizational design principles and to fit within the operating model.  

It is recognized that there are workload issues in some areas and ongoing process improvements and process redesign will result in a reduction of overall workload. If areas continue to need support to review their structure and workload they should talk to their unit leader, service partners and shared services to determine what resources are available to help with workload.

[Last updated April 14, 2022]

*NEW* We have heard that the Research Partner Network will not be created. What are the university's plans to compensate for the workload which should have been taken up by this group?

The full research partner network has not been created yet.

The university needs to move to a more centralized model to enable the provision of partners, similar to the other streams and this is currently under review.

The implementation of the partner network will be progressive. This is the best way to ensure a sustainable growth of the network and alleviate any potential disruptions in the redistribution of the research administration workload. The partner network will initially consist of three senior partners and five research facilitators who will be assigned to initiate and support the development of the network, which will be expanded along with the portfolio's other functions. The three senior partners have been hired, and the research facilitators will join them to support the development and implementation of the Partners Network.

In the meantime, before the partners are hired, everyone should continue to carry on their current role unless otherwise informed. More information will be available when each step of development is reached. Please review the VPRI redesign article and organizational charts for more information.

[Last updated April 14, 2022]

*NEW* How does simply improving processes reduce workloads? A few examples where that does not seem to be the case: the new structures, covering previous coworkers' work, and managers' increased direct reports can not be addressed by only improving processes.

Our goal with redesigning processes is to reduce redundancies, simplify procedures and workflows, and reveal opportunities for automation. Ideally, once the new process is implemented, this will reduce overall effort, thereby reducing workload.

This can include making sure that self-serve processes are as simple and intuitive as possible to benefit the entire university community. However, we are also looking at eliminating work that provides little value, improving upon our technology, and leaning on managers to adjust workloads.

For example, through guidance with SET, the Research Services Office (RSO) expanded the contract-signing authorization limits to empower people closest to the process to make decisions, thus reducing the number of times that escalations are required for approvals at the institutional level. This improves approval workflow, and the reduced number of RSO signatures saves everyone in the office time and speeds up the process for researchers. Although this is one small part of the research contract process, it has already had a positive impact on staff in the office.

[Last updated April 14, 2022]

*NEW* We've heard throughout SET that staff will not be expected to do more with less. However, that doesn't match current workloads and expectations. How is the university planning to address these high workloads to ensure that staff are actually doing less with less?

Unfortunately, we are at one of the most challenging stages of the transformation because staff positions are at their lowest and processes and transitions are still being implemented. Because of this, we know that this is a challenging time for staff in central units as well as faculties and departments.

We cannot expect our support staff to continue to do more work with less support and fewer overall staff. In the new model, we must rethink how we deliver services. This is why we are focused on process redesign to ensure full adoption of the new model.

It's important to recognize that although the SET project is ending, it is still early in the transformation and improvements are continuing. We are continuing to redesign processes, eliminate work that provides little value, and improve upon our technology.

[Last updated April 7, 2022]

*NEW* How many staff will be in the new University Initiatives Office (UIO)?

It will grow in the coming months to 5 FTE staff positions. It is intended to be a very small team with concentrated project management and change management expertise that will be supplemented as required—depending on the initiative that they may be working on—through secondment or partnered resources from relevant portfolios.

[Last updated April 7, 2022]

*NEW* How will the UIO address high staff workloads moving forward?

Indirectly, the UIO, working with operational areas, will address the staff workload through redesigning processes and fine-tuning the operating model. However, leaders working together with their teams will hone the reduction of workloads, identify activities that can be eliminated, and strive to make processes more efficient.

[Last updated April 7, 2022]

How can you justify growth in the centre when the faculties are the core to success?

While the core mission of the university — teaching, research, and community engagement—is fulfilled by our faculties, administrative functions are critical in supporting them.

The SET program is designed to provide administrative services in the most efficient manner so as to maximize resources allocated to the core mission. The most efficient, cost-effective, and consistent way to offer administrative support across the institution is by allocating a higher percentage of administrative resources to the centre, which offers economies of scale.

However, the overall resources available for administrative services will be significantly lower than what currently exists.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

How are you making sure to address the inefficiencies at the university and remove bureaucracy?


As part of the transformation ,all processes that are moving to the new model will be reviewed through a functional analysis to determine if the activities are needed and if they can be simplified and improved. This analysis will engage individuals that are most familiar with the current processes and will identify and correct inefficiencies, as well as eliminate steps that do not add value. The design principles will include simplification and will ensure that control processes will be proportional to the risk (e.g. financial, reputational, safety, etc.), resulting in less bureaucracy.

The SET team will also engage internal audit and enterprise risk management for their opinion on processes that are overcontrolled compared to the risk of failure or non-compliance. Ultimately, we have engaged our community and will continue to identify unwarranted bureaucracy.

[Updated September 22, 2020]

Can you give examples of the type of work each of the centres or hubs would perform?

With the new services and activities offered in the different elements of the operating model, please recognize that this will be an iterative process with bumps in the process. We will be monitoring and mitigating to address these as we make these transitions.

  • Example of services offered at the Student Service Centre: connect students with counselling services, provide confirmation of enrolment, support student payments (e.g. tuition).
  • Example of services offered in Shared Services: respond to benefits and payroll queries, expense reimbursement, accounts receivable and payable, scholarship payments, job posting administration
  • Examples of Centres of Expertise: Within the AVP HR, Health, Safety & Environment portfolio, there may be Centres of Excellence such as Talent Management, Health & Wellness, Safety & Environment. Additional examples of Centres of Excellences will be updated in January 2021.
  • Example of Service Partners: An HR service partner embedded in the Faculty of Arts would work with the Department of Sociology to provide HR support, such as recruitment, and manage the work done by the team at the Talent Management Centre of Excellence. This service partner would report to the AVP Human Resources, Health, Safety & Environment.
  • Examples of faculty-managed roles: Academic student advisor in each faculty, farmhand at the University Farm/Ranch, dental assistant at the School of Dentistry, program administrator of the Engineering Co-op program. Additional examples of roles will be updated in January 2021.

[Updated September 22, 2021]

What is a service partner and can you define their roles and responsibilities?

With the implementation of the new operating model, we aim to ensure that we are consistently and uniformly delivering a set of integrated, discipline-specific services across the entire campus. Service partners are integral to the new model. They provide strategic support, ensure that policy and strategy is applied appropriately and facilitate connection to services in the central functions. The partners are in place to provide advice and guidance in their specific discipline at the faculty and department level. They will be supported in their activities by a senior partner, who will have their own clients at the college/portfolio level, but will also deal with escalated issues from, and provide leadership and oversight to, the partners within their area of responsibility. 

The premise of this job system is that if partners are provided with a formal structure that promotes regular communication and discussion on discipline specific matters, we can align our delivery and provide consistent and integrated service to the entire university.

[Updated September 24, 2021]

How will the services already within the central units be impacted by the centralization of services?
As a result of the more centralized operating model, there will be a significant shift of university administrative personnel from faculties and central portfolio units to the new central structures. It is important to note that central service units follow the same model as the faculties and will, therefore, transfer the corporate functions that are not core to their mandate to other central units.

While central units will be larger in the new model, they have also been provided budget targets and will be required to make reductions prior to consolidation to meet these targets. While consolidated staff numbers in the end-state are higher in the central units than currently, the intention is that those additional staff members will come from faculties and departments.

[Updated March 11, 2021]
I have a large project coming up and I am unable to hire any staff while the new operating model is being implemented. What can I do in the interim to ensure this project will be supported?
The SET project is divided into two phases, with the first phase largely driven by our budget imperative that we need to meet by March 2021. Phase two is when we start to see the transition of services in which we will encounter a period of bumpy road. During this time we need to make sure that we're not neglecting critical services, although it might mean that we have to make some conscious decisions that we won't be moving forward with some things, either deferring or stopping them altogether, if need be.

If you need help for a particular project during this period, please don’t hesitate to reach out so we can connect you with appropriate people to help with resourcing or alternative solutions.

[Updated March 1, 2021]
Why are so many more administrators required in the new model? How is appointing extra managers, specialists, directors, advisors, etc. saving costs?

The SET program adopts a holistic approach to administration and our outlook is at the scope of the entire university. While it may seem that we are adding more layers of management, we are actually redistributing those resources to be more efficient. Overall, the number of management layers will be reduced and the span of control of the managers will be wider and more focused. 

[Updated May 6, 2021]

How will we ensure that roles and services are not duplicated anywhere within the university (for example between shared services and the colleges)?
A key priority of the new operating model is that everyone will experience a reduction of bureaucracy and duplication. Therefore, the services provided will be determined through an evaluation process to ensure it is provided at the most appropriate level and that it is not duplicated elsewhere within the institution.

[Updated June 24, 2021]
The operating model report states that one of the guidelines of administrative transformation is to “elevate the level of responsibility for administrative staff across the university.” (p. 10) Why is there no mention of increased pay to coincide with the increased workload of this responsibility increase?

New jobs are being designed, and existing jobs amended, in accordance with the new operating model. Jobs are leveled* based on their accountabilities. We try to never make placement decisions in isolation as evaluation requires us to look at the whole job system in order to determine the proper evaluation for each position.

*Job leveling is a concept that works alongside organizational layers. It is a broader term than grade level or Hay Score and assists in standardizing jobs. 

[Updated June 24, 2021]

One of the stated priorities is reducing administrative and financial burdens at the faculty and departmental level. What steps are being taken to measure the effectiveness of this strategy?

The goal of the SET program is to create administration structures that focus the maximum amount of the university’s resources and energies on its core mission of excellence in teaching, research, and community engagement. The new operating model supports our university community at all levels and will be rooted in a new culture of service excellence and accountability; and this culture will be established through collaboration, professional development, measurement, accountability, and continual improvement. Measures such as service excellence surveys and other means will be in place to gauge the effectiveness of our strategy and the service quality following transitioning.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

In streamlining services, is there a commitment to ensuring equal access to services across departments and faculties?
Under the new operating model, faculties, departments, and units will all have the same access to services. One of the goals and resulting benefits of centralizing ensures equal access to services across the university, and new entities like Shared Services and the Centres of Expertise will make sure that commitment can be met. With services more centralized, faculties, departments, and units will all have the same place to go to and process to follow when requesting services or submitting an inquiry.

[Updated June 24, 2021]
Can you provide clarity on the six functional workstreams, as well as the status on each?

A significant amount of the SET program is focused on administrative transformation, which has been divided into six areas of focus, or what are known as functional workstreams. It’s important to understand that SET is not following a traditional approach to project management that would have us develop all the details in advance and then launch the new systems and structures at once. Instead, we have chosen a more iterative process and methodology, which has us doing the detailed planning as we go and transitioning services when they are ready. This approach can be uncomfortable, particularly for those that prefer to have the details planned in advance, but this approach enables us to change and move quickly. Therefore, it’s also important to recognize that each functional workstream is moving at its own pace through its own discoveries and processes, and therefore, each will reach milestones at different times.

Here is a high level overview illustrating the workstreams and their respective timelines for various activities. For more information on the six functional workstreams, please review their individual web pages, which can be accessed here.

[Updated September 22, 2021]

When and how will administrative support services be provided to an administrative support unit?

Support for administrative units will mirror support provided to colleges, faculties, and departments.  Service partners will be assigned to central portfolios and Shared Services, and Centers of Expertise will support all staff and faculty. All of these functions are currently being filled and onboarding and training is proceeding so these individuals can be successful in their new roles.

[Updated October 19, 2021]

Job losses

*NEW* With the SET program ending, are there any more staff layoffs expected?

By the end of March 2022, the phase one and two position reductions will be complete. However, we can't ever guarantee that people will never be impacted by ongoing changes in an organization. The following are some of the areas that will still involve change:

  • The Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, one of the university's largest faculties due to its size and complexity, will have ongoing work for the next several years to align with the operating model.

  • Ongoing continuous improvement activities in the organization will occasionally result in restructuring and, therefore, people could be impacted.

[Last updated April 7, 2022]

Why are layoffs not contemplated for faculty members?

While layoffs of faculty are not possible under the AASUA collective agreement, the university has implemented enhanced hiring controls that restrict the hiring of new faculty members to fill vacancies attributed to resignations and retirements. Under the new operating model, faculty members will focus on the delivery of the university’s core mission — teaching, research and community engagement — rather than administrative leadership positions.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

You talk about compassion and empathy, but a friend/colleague of mine was recently laid off and the process didn't seem very compassionate. How can you explain this?

We recognize that a layoff of a staff member is an action that greatly affects that individual and their family and during the process. Choosing to lay off a staff member is one of the most difficult decisions a leader has to make and one that they will always remember. Many of the steps taken during a layoff process are defined in our collective agreements and are taken in the interest of protecting both the individual and the organization. Due to the current working situation — with many of us working from home— processes have been adjusted to be mindful of additional sensitivities. We have done so in consultation with NASA and AASUA to ensure we can support employees as best we can through a difficult situation.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

What options are there to enable managers to skillfully lead a conversation with a direct report so the layoff is tailored best to their needs?

Much of the layoff process is already defined within the collective agreements. That being said, supervisors and managers should review the nature of the conversation with their HR partners who will guide them through the process and will support you in developing communications and messaging.

[Updated March 1, 2021]

Data and research

*NEW* Could the Nous group comment on how well the U of A did, compared to work they have done with other organizations?

The decision to make informed and targeted change, rather than across-the-board cuts was bold and important. It was the difference between this period of the university’s history being seen as managing a financial crisis or an opportunity to build something for a better future. That decision, and the commitment from the university community to see that decision through to the completion of the SET program, has resulted in one of the most important university transformations our team has been part of.

Already, changes have resulted in efficiency gains twice the size of other multi-year transformation programs we have seen at universities and to make these changes in less than two years is rapid for an institution of this size. That pace and depth of change has been both impressive. But, we also know that transformation programs of this magnitude, particularly with job loss, are difficult and challenging. The effort and commitment to treat everyone impacted by the changes with dignity and respect is deeply important—and the Nous team have seen wonderful examples across the U of A community of this throughout our work with you.

Looking forward, the challenge is sustainment—as is the case for all universities that have undergone this level of transformational change. So while the intensity and nature of change will shift, achieving a culture of service excellence should not be considered complete. The work the community has done as part of SET has built a foundation to build upon and achieve your ambitious goals for the future.

[Last updated April 7, 2022]

*NEW* When we started, we participated in the UniForum benchmarking surveys as a means to compare ourselves against other institutions. Are we going to continue to participate in UniForum? Or do we envision creating some of our own benchmarks, including satisfaction with service levels as part of University Initiatives Office (UIO)?

The U of A will continue with the UniForum surveys to measure both cost and satisfaction performance. The next cycle of data collection for UniForum will be launched in the coming weeks.

From the data that was captured in the first year of the SET program, we have seen the expected financial improvement from the transition as well as the anticipated drop in service satisfaction. Based on experiences from other universities that have gone through similar transformations, service satisfaction levels initially decline, but return to, or exceed pre-transformation levels within a year or two.

[Last updated April 7, 2022]

Retention and career opportunities

*NEW* What are the university's plans to become an employer of choice following SET?

We understand that the pressures facing the U of A today are significant and we must take urgent action in order to remain a top university and employer of choice for our current and future staff. We continue to strive for an accessible, equitable, and inclusive community of students, faculty, and staff that supports our learning environment shaped by curiosity, rigorous inquiry, evidence-based decision making, respect, and a culture of human rights.

Restructuring (especially through process redesign) creates a workplace that significantly reduces redundancies, simplifies procedures and workflows, and reveals opportunities for automation. This means all new roles in the model can experience more rewarding and specialized work and sustainable roles. New systems will also allow individuals to work in a dynamic team environment.

A few things SET has made easier for employees already:

One of the primary ways the U of A continues to be an employer of choice is through the career advancement opportunities that staff are provided, especially under the new model. The new operating model allows for greater experience and exposure across the university the opportunity to take their career in many directions that they may not have contemplated before, including to or from a faculty, central unit, or college. The university will also encourage staff movement through all administrative areas which will allow individuals to gain new skills.

[Last updated April 14, 2022]

*NEW* Faculty and staff are tired and burned out; people don't have the energy to think critically and provide feedback about the changes because we are just trying to accomplish our day to day tasks. What will be done to address staff burn out?

As new structures are being realized across campus, and as we continue to seek efficiencies in what and how we deliver services, we encourage faculty and staff members to communicate with their leaders on how they are feeling and work with them to find a sustainable balance.

To help staff assess what self-care supports are right for them, HRHSE's Health and Well-being Resources for Employees site offers a number of different programs and services including:

We also encourage all faculty and staff members to access the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) and counselling services for support as they need it.

[Last updated April 14, 2022]

I’m (my co-worker is) feeling incredibly stressed out. What can I do for support?

It’s understandable that you may feel anxious during this time of uncertainty. Between budget cuts, restructuring, moving to remote teaching, and experiencing the pandemic, faculty and staff have encountered difficult, sustained change. Please reach out to one of the health and well-being resources available through the university for support. We also encourage you to read the article about building resilience written by SET’s change management lead, Megan McDougald, as it provides some context to the feelings we all experience during change.

[Updated September 24, 2021]

Of the positions that have been filled to date, were all of them posted on the careers website?

All positions filled to date were posted on the U of A Careers site. The positions include leadership positions, new AVPs, Faculty General Managers as well as roles in new areas within the operating model including many positions in IST, HRHSE, Finance, Shared Services, and Student Services.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

Will career development and growth opportunities be available for entry level jobs, not just managerial roles?
One major objective of UAT is to create clearer career paths for opportunities across the U of A, enabling our employees to learn and grow. Historically, such advancement has often been limited to a specific unit on campus. UAT will help to open up opportunities for career advancement across the university, and will exist. at all levels of the organization regardless of where you are in your career. The new operating model offers individuals greater career potential, which means entry level jobs will have a clearer advancement path on where they could potentially take their careers at the university.

For example, Human Resources, Health, Safety & Environment has created the HR Service Specialist role, a developmental position to enable current U of A employees to develop new skills and gain experience to help further their HR career.

Overall, the new model creates a workplace that significantly reduces redundancies and simplifies procedures and workflows. This means all new roles in the model can experience more rewarding and specialized work, sustainable roles, and clearer career paths.

[Updated September 22, 2021]
What level of authority will the colleges/faculties/departments have as it relates to the recruitment of NASA positions? How do you see the role of the HR Service Partners fitting into this?
The budget owner (faculty) will have the authority to hire but they cannot duplicate services that are already provided by the centre. HR Service Partners will assist with recruitment as needed, leveraging the expertise in the Centres of Expertise and Shared Services to support the college/faculty/department/unit.

[Updated June 24, 2021]
How are the new positions’ hay points and salaries structured? Is there standardization across the board?

Positions’ hay points and salaries are evaluated by the Job Design & Evaluations team within the  Organizational Design & Talent Centre of Expertise. The majority of new roles created through restructuring have been standardized and job families have been created to ensure both equity across the university as well as flexibility within positions in order to allow for progression and appropriate differentiation.

[Updated October 19, 2021]

Financial impacts

*NEW* Why, specifically, is the research portfolio under-resourced and underfunded compared to portfolios such as marketing and communications? When will the budget prioritize the research administration supports that are lacking?

We all agree that research is vitally important to the success of the University of Alberta. However, most research administration is not done in the portfolio, instead taking place in faculties. When combined with the activity happening in the VPRI, the university spends more than other research-intensive universities.

While it is difficult to compare resourcing from one internal portfolio in the university to another portfolio in the university—their functions and related activities are so different—if the university were to move towards a more-centralized approach to research administration as other portfolios have done (such as External Relations, which houses the Marketing and Internal Communications units), then the university would need to invest in VPRI to stay in line with peers.

We are working to improve the effectiveness of our research administration resources to use them to their full efficiency. SET has established a project to work with the VPRI to bring about the implementation of the new research administration model. This includes reviewing processes and structures, central versus decentralized activities and the most appropriate Indirect Cost of Research Distribution (ICR) model. This project will continue after March 31 and will be transferred to the UIO.

[Last updated April 14, 2022]

Why are there not more reductions of high cost salaries?

The SET program includes a review of the university’s organizational structure to ensure it supports the new operating model and integrates best practices. As part of the reorganization, the total number of layers within the organization will be reduced and the average number of direct reports for every supervisor will increase (with the exception of VPs, who had too many direct reports to be effective and whose direct reports were reduced by 33%). Overall it is anticipated that this approach will lower the total cost of salaries associated with university supervision.

Earlier this year, there were changes to the executive team, which included reducing the number of vice-presidents through the merger of University Relations and Advancement, and reducing the number of presidential direct reports through the merger of General Counsel and University Secretary into one role. As a result of those changes, the executive team has decreased in size by 22%, with a savings of 25% as compared to 2018. These changes have resulted in reducing salary expenditures in the executive team by over $900,000 a year.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Why are we not growing revenue as a means of dealing with the budget reductions?

The Government of Alberta has mandated that the university meets the expenditure target independent of any revenue generation.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

How are you going to cut more than $100 million from our operating budget, increase enrolment by 10,000 students, and still fulfill the teaching, research, and service mission of the university?

This is an ambitious plan given our significant financial challenges. We must act quickly and take a strategic approach. The U of A’s participation in UniForum, a global benchmarking initiative to advance effectiveness and efficiency in administrative services, has revealed that compared to Canadian, US, Australian and UK peer institutions, the U of A’s administrative and space costs are significantly higher, and services and processes less efficient. With significant restructuring of how we deliver end-to-end administrative processes and services, we can reduce expenditures and ensure that more funding directly supports research and teaching.

Through this process, each area has been provided a budget target and the corresponding FTE reduction at average salary as of March 2021 and March 2022 and each area is developing their plans on how to meet the targets. This process will result in $30 million of labour savings for the 2021/22 financial year and an additional $30 million of savings for the 2022/23 financial year.

Please see the SET Interim Report for a detailed overview of our challenges, opportunities, and the new model.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Why do we not stand up to the government? [What happens if we do not meet our budget?]

In all of our interactions with the Government of Alberta, we always do all that we can to make the case for investment in post-secondary education as a means to advance educational opportunities for all Albertans, support research that will advance society, and drive economic growth and diversity in our economy. We further underscore the significant financial pressures facing the university. However, we recognize that the Government of Alberta is itself facing enormous financial challenges with a projected deficit of over $21 billion in this year alone. The Government of Alberta has also made it clear that we are not permitted to submit a deficit budget. If the university did so, further reductions would be required the following year. Ultimately, both academic and administrative restructuring will position the U of A for long-term fiscal sustainability and provide staff with greater opportunities for career fulfillment and growth.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Equity, diversity and inclusivity (EDI)

What EDI actions has SET implemented so far beyond GBA+ training?

As your question highlights, all SET team members were asked to complete the Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) training offered by the Government of Canada. Other professional development through the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) is also being incorporated as applicable (i.e. Webinars on unconscious bias, systemic racism, etc.).

The GBA+ training has also been incorporated into process redesign and all working group members are asked to complete this training as part of their process redesign preparations.

Other actions include:

  • A key contributor to UAT/SET has been the UAT Staff Advisory Team (SAT). The SAT was designed to be an appropriate blend of Faculty and functional membership, staff teams, and levels of hierarchy, as well as endeavoring to ensure representation/participation from women, members of visible minority groups, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
  • As part of SAT, an EDI sub group was developed. This group developed a number of recommendations (short term, medium term and long term) which were presented to the Service Excellence Steering Committee (SESC) and also shared with the university's EDI Working Group.
  • A presentation by the Senior Advisor, Equity and Human Rights, Office of the Provost was completed with both the UAT SAT team, as well as the SET team with materials shared that could be incorporated into our project work.
  • The monthly UAT pulse survey is available in both English and French.
  • Our Ask SET Anything (ASA) events always include representatives from the Sign Language Interpreting and Real Time Captioning (CART) Services; Accessibility Resources team. Additionally, when registering for these events, registrants are asked if they have any other accommodation requirements.

[Updated March 2, 2022]

Is the university collecting data to capture if members of equity deserving groups are being successful in remaining employed at the U of A?

The U of A  has a workforce diversity census that is completed every three years (last completed in the fall of 2019), with new employees invited to participate quarterly. This survey collects data on relevant equity, diversity and inclusion measures. (Any publicly reported results will be limited to aggregated totals to ensure that no individual can be identified).

Moving forward, measures are being considered that will track our success in attracting and retaining employees from equity deserving groups.

[Updated March 2, 2022]

In the process redesign activities, is SET using GBA+ training to understand how the changes impact the different kinds of employees we have at the U of A?

Our process redesign methodology incorporates ways to understand how the changes impact different employee groups, including meeting with impacted stakeholders and completing a change impact assessment as part of our change management activities. The change impact sessions that take place as part of process redesign ask working group members to consider questions such as:

  • How will you train your employees to consider EDII and GBA+?
  • How can diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging be incorporated into processes?
  • What gaps do you see?

[Updated March 2, 2022]

What kinds of EDI supportive actions has the university adopted in the recruitment process to fill new positions?

Some of the supportive EDI actions that are part of the Human Resources, Health, Safety and Environment (HRHSE) Strategic Plan and have been adopted in the recruitment process include:

  • Reviewing recruitment policies, strategies, and processes to ensure they support bringing diversity and inclusion into recruitment and hiring practices and progressively expand the number of qualified diverse candidates.
  • Establishing methods to ensure the creation of diverse talent pipelines.
  • Recommending diversity statements for position postings that describe the university’s commitment to II & EDI.
  • Recommending selection criteria to assess candidates’ commitment to and knowledge of II & EDI.
  • Working with Sr. Advisor, Equity and Human Rights, Office of the Provost to develop and deliver practical training for the HR team on their roles and how they can support II & EDI in people practices.

Further questions on the U of A’s recruitment process should be directed to Tanya Wick, Associate Vice President,  Human Resources, Health, Safety and Environment.

[Updated March 2, 2022]

What are the university’s future training plans with regard to EDI?

The University of Alberta operating model continues to move forward, there will be additional professional development opportunities related to Indigenous, diversity, equity and inclusion. A few examples of training for all U of A employees that is underway or under development include:

  • EDII training is currently under development and will be made available to the university community once completed.
  • The Service Excellence Training Modules include an EDI component that is being developed by internal resources.
  • HRHSE has partnered with the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) to offer webinars on the latest thinking about diversity and inclusion in Canada. Some possibilities include: Getting Started - Diversity and Identity ii. Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: A Best Practices Guide for Recruitment, Hiring and Retention. Of special note, all U of A employees have free unlimited access to all CCDI webinars and resources using their ualberta email address to register.
  • U of A employees also have free access to Academic Impressions, which offers a range of live learning opportunities to maximize interaction and engagement on a variety of topics relating to diversity, inclusion and equity. A recent article, Shining a Light on Diversity and Inclusion, is an example of the resources available to us.

[Updated March 2, 2022]

How are we going to address gender pay equity issues as part of SET?

Gender pay equity for academic staff groups is currently a bargaining issue. However, through SET, one of the objectives and priorities is standardizing position descriptions, which will create consistent and equitable application of salary bands while supporting career progression and growth. If gender pay inequities are discovered for other staff groups, HR will review these on a case-by-case basis to make appropriate corrections.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Service culture

How are you going to ensure satisfaction with services provided centrally?

Establishing a new culture across an organization requires that we first acknowledge our current limitations before we can improve. In the past, we have fallen short of service satisfaction targets, partially due to inefficient processes.

Through the SET program, we are collaboratively working towards a culture of service excellence within the University of Alberta. This starts at the top of the organization.

As part of the new model, service excellence is instrumental to achieving success in the future of the university. The SET team will engage with key stakeholders (ie: deans, students, etc.) to establish the following, among others:

  • Service-level agreements through consultation with faculties and units to set standard levels of service.
  • Measurement processes (also known as Key Performance Indicators/KPIs) to gauge our service levels against the standards. Measures are likely to include client satisfaction surveys, cycle times, response times, error rates, etc. and will include a formal service complaint process.
  • Service training and professional development programs, required for all administrative staff.

Accountability for service quality will start with university leadership and all administrative staff will have a clear understanding of acceptable service levels.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Will Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) be used to monitor individual employees as they strive to meet an unrealistic workload?

One of the reasons the university has undertaken the SET program is to ensure staff have a reasonable workload within the funding envelope mandated by the government. It will not be possible to maintain our current administrative services with a significantly reduced workforce without re-organizing the methods by which that service is delivered.

KPIs will instead be used to measure client satisfaction of our services provided.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

How will service levels improve with fewer people?

We know that we have excellent staff. You are providing the best service you can within the systems currently in place. However, many of those systems have simply evolved to their current state rather than being systematically and strategically designed from start to finish. With a detailed design approach and by embracing technology where appropriate, we will be more efficient and have the potential to improve service levels with fewer people.

We will also focus on continual process improvement, ensuring that functions are operating optimally and that staff can best deliver the services required to support the university’s core mission.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Will automation reduce service levels as there is not a personal touch?

The government funding reduction necessitates the university reduce its budget by $110 million. To continue to provide (and improve) services as planned, we are investigating opportunities for automation for some services. This will allow services that need the personal touch to be provided face-to-face. In some cases, however, introducing technology and automation can directly improve service delivery by speeding up the process or making answers available to clients with greater ease. It also has the advantage of taking over routine and repetitive tasks, so that staff can focus on the more interesting and complex aspects of their job, which creates a more fulfilling work experience overall.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

How can these changes be made in this short time frame without something breaking?
Ideally we would complete this transformation over two to three years but unfortunately in order to meet our budget requirements, we will have to complete phase one of the transformation in approximately nine months (June 2020 to March 2021). There is risk of failure during the transformation that needs to be tightly controlled; the first step is to complete a business impact assessment to ensure the control process is proportional to the potential consequence of failure. Other mitigation measures include the following:
  • Complete process impact assessments to determine the consequences of failure.
  • High-consequence areas will be reviewed more thoroughly.
  • Faculty FTE reduction priorities will be reviewed in detail to determine phasing of new processes within the center.

Phase 2 of the transformation will be completed in a longer period of time (March 2021 to March 2022) which will allow for better control.

The university will adopt a continuous improvement process to correct inefficiencies in the long term. For more information, the transition plan can be found here.

[Updated September 27, 2021]

In streamlining our services to be efficient, how will we foster creative problem-solving and outcomes, especially in the near future when COVID-19 and this restructuring will call for innovation?
The university will develop an approach to service delivery that will first and foremost, begin with a service culture vision. This will help develop a problem solving culture throughout the entire organization.

The functional review process will create teams of subject matter experts that will be asked to improve administrative processes and will consider people, processes, technology, and best practices from other organizations. Our operating experience during the pandemic has demonstrated the ability to work from home and will also provide input into the redesign process.

[Updated March 1, 2021]
What does "service excellence" mean? What proportion of our efforts are targeted at cutting costs, versus achieving "excellence,” and what does this say about our priorities?

The two issues shouldn’t be conflated. The cost cutting is a result of government imposed reductions and will happen with or without SET. The “excellence” comes from trying to make the best of a bad situation by creating a new operating model that can succeed with 1000 less staff.

[Updated April 21, 2021]

Space and facilities

*NEW* What does it mean to "implement ancillary report actions"?

As part of the Facilities & Operations (F&O) portfolio, ancillary services include a diverse group of departments and service units that generate sufficient revenue to build operational and capital reserves and deliver strategic business solutions. They include Campus Services (such as Residence Services) and Support and Recreation Services (such as Campus and Community Recreation and the Botanic Gardens)

A review of ancillary services was completed as part of SET to compare operations to other organizations and to determine a consistent approach to establish annual financial targets. It is this approach that was referenced as part of the ancillary services initiatives.

[Last updated April 14, 2022]

*NEW* With the evolution of COVID variants, will the U of A prioritize using the reduced building space for front-line workers who need to be in-person over the administrative staff who can perform their responsibilities online or virtually?

The Public Health Response Team (PHRT), part of Facilities & Operations, has been organizing the COVID response, and you can find information on working During COVID-19 on the HRHSE site. SET's space and facilities initiative is not yet complete and requires an investment to be able to realize longer-term savings. A risk review and mitigation process will be completed before there is any reduction in space.

[Last updated April 14, 2022]

How do you plan to reduce our building footprint by almost a third to maintain the sustainability of the university?

In June 2019, the university Board of Governors, on the recommendation of the General Faculties Council, approved an Integrated Asset Management Strategy to maximize the use of good space, minimize the potential for critical failures that would affect the core mission, reduce operating costs and start to reduce our significant deferred maintenance burden. This strategy will guide any future decisions over the closing or decommissioning of facilities.

For more information, refer to page 19 of the SET Interim Report for more information on how SET plans to better optimize space usage across our campuses and keep an eye on the space and facilities page for further updates.

[Updated September 27, 2021]

Is shifting people to under-utilized spaces not simply making another space less utilized?
The space management function within the Integrated Planning & Partnerships (IP&P) Department is focused on providing faculties and departments with space that supports their needs, while aiming to make efficient use of space and facilities across the university. Space Management works collaboratively with each faculty and department through time-intensive processes to develop functional space programs, which helps define their space needs and ultimate space allocations, as well as layouts and utilization.

The SET space and facilities review is still in progress and plans to improve space utilization has not been fully developed. It is likely however, that through this review, a plan to consolidate underutilized space in order to repurpose these areas will be developed. As a result, it may be necessary to move people to create this consolidation.

[Updated March 1, 2021]
Where will the staff and student service centres be located?

As transitions are already unfolding and the U of A is still preparing for a return to campus, it’s likely that aspects of the staff and students service centres will initially be delivered online. Eventually, the Staff Service Centre will be located at Enterprise Square – you can read about the renovations currently underway here. The Student Service Centre will have a physical location on North Campus and will initially be housed in the Administration Building until it takes up final residence in the new Dentistry/Pharmacy centre once refurbishment is complete

[Updated June 24, 2021]

Staff transitions

Will my pay be reduced in my current role or if I move to a new position?

Redeployment or transfer to a position at a lower grade/evaluation will follow collective agreement provisions for the appropriate employment type. If an existing employee is the successful candidate for a new position through an expression of interest or recruitment, all terms and conditions of the new position will apply to them.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

What happens when an employee goes from a higher paid position to a lower paid position?

If an employee applies for a position posted that is a lower grade from their current position, then the band of the lower pay scale will apply. In other circumstances, the process will depend on the employee type and applicable collective agreement, compensation policies and past practice.

For APO/MAPS employees:

  • In the event that an APO/MAPS employee applies for a new APO/MAPS position that has a maximum salary range lower than the incumbent's current salary, their salary may be lowered to the maximum of the new salary range.
  • If an APO/MAPS employee applies for a position with a salary range greater than their current salary (ie: a promotion), their new salary should be equal to, but not lower than their current salary (or the minimum for the new salary range, whichever is higher); however, the appointing officer may provide an increase of one step to the new position.
  • If HR re-evaluates an APO/MAPS employee’s existing position to a lower grade/hay point, they would be retained at the pre-evaluation level on the current grade until they no longer hold the position in accordance with collective agreements.
  • If an APO/MAPS position is no longer required, then 'reorganization' (Article F10) applies. The employee may be provided an option of transfer, and if that transfer is to a position at a lower hay point, they accept the role knowing it is a lower salary.

For NASA employees:

  • If a support staff employee is directly appointed to a lower grade position, there is a process under the collective agreement that specifies their current salary level would not be impacted. This implies the work is similar/the same to their current position.
  • If the NASA employee is being offered a new position at a lower grade, the position disruption language applies and the employee would have the option to take the new position at the lower salary or choose one of the other options offered through the position disruption process (ie: severance, lay-off, and recall).

[Updated December 10, 2020]

What are the implications and process for an employee changing associations? [Does an employee keep years of service for the purposes of benefits and seniority?]

Typically, service is recognized in the NASA, AASUA and MAPS agreements as service with the university if service is unbroken and there is a direct transfer from one to the other. There is no language in the AASUA agreement regarding seniority. Benefits would apply according to the benefits applicable to the position the employee is transferring to.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Will you allow contracting of work?

We understand that through restructuring, we cannot expect our support staff to continue to do more work with less support and fewer overall resources. There may be exceptional circumstances where a faculty or unit has a need outside the standard service provision. In such a situation, it is expected that the faculty/unit engages with the relevant AVP to discuss the function/need and determine how it can best be supported within the new structure. Should it be determined that contract work is required, in these cases, the university will follow the processes defined within university policies and the collective agreements and engage the unions in the necessary consultation. External contracts for that faculty/unit will be supervised through the central portfolio.  

[Updated October 7, 2021]

How will the transition take place if we are still working from home when it is implemented?

It is likely that the initial stage of the transition will occur in a period of time that people will be working from home. There have been many lessons learned on the capability to work from home during this period, and these lessons will be incorporated into SET planning in both the short and long term.

[Updated September 22, 2021]

How and when can staff expect to hear from their supervisors about the status of their position so they can assess whether they need to apply for one of the new central roles?

SET will share general changes, including what services are being centralized and the associated timeline, in The Quad and other channels.

As services transition from faculties and units to central units between now and March 2022, supervisors are responsible for reviewing the activities remaining with staff. Based on remaining workloads and restructuring requirements, supervisors will decide when positions are no longer needed.

Our overriding principle is always to meet all requirements within the collective agreement. Supervisors and leadership within the units will work with HR Partners to consider the options with the applicable employee agreement and advise you of changes to your role. Your position could be eliminated and lay off provisions under the applicable agreement would be applied.

One of SET’s goals is to hire from our existing staff complement. Our staff are exceptional, and despite the budget cuts required of us, we hope to retain as many people in new roles as possible. To get ahead of potential impacts to your role, please consider applying for the new roles on the Positions Opportunities Page (POP) [link] and Careers [link] website. We do encourage that you speak with your supervisors about applying for a new position and read this article for more information: Deciding to apply for new roles in the U of A’s New Structure.

[Updated October 7, 2021]

A lot of support staff members are highly skilled. Will they have opportunities for other positions in the new operating model based on their skill set?
We agree that our staff are highly skilled and that staff movement must meet all of the requirements within the collective agreements. A number of new positions will be developed and posted, for staff to have the opportunity to apply for. When applying for these positions, staff members can judge if they have the necessary skill set and experience for the position, and determine if the position is of interest to them.

The SET team has created the Position Opportunities Page, an online resource which lists upcoming positions that will be part of the new operating model. Our goal is to transparently provide information on new positions that have been planned as part of the new model, and to the extent that we can, keep our university community informed.

[Updated March 1, 2021]
It's been mentioned that restructuring will help career advancement, but with fewer positions available, how will this work?

The new operating model offers individuals greater career potential and a clearer advancement path within a given function, which is independent of  the number of positions available. The move into roles with more of a speciality focus can aid career progression as well as provide valuable strategic support to leaders within the university community. In addition, staff will be able to apply for similar jobs in other areas of the university due to the greater standardization of administrative roles. The skills and experience learned in one job will have greater transferability to similar jobs rather than work in a unique position which has limited transferability.

[Updated April 21, 2021]

Considering all the movement of staff, how will we know who fills the disrupted roles that we work closely with in order to continue to work effectively?
Each unit is responsible for sharing the appropriate information with the units and faculties it serves, just as it does now. When a faculty/department/unit hires or moves staff to positions that deal directly with other individuals, as required, to provide the service, the clients will be informed of the appropriate employees’ names. This may be by direct email or by a combination of email and web site change/updates.

[Updated April 21, 2021]
How will seniority factor into decisions around layoffs and hiring?

Seniority is defined within the NASA collective agreement and must be taken into consideration when making support staff layoff decisions. When multiple employees are performing work in identical positions within a seniority unit (as defined within the collective agreement), seniority will determine the order in which position disruptions must occur.

There will be roles created due to the changes in processes and responsibilities. This will create expressions of interest which employees will have the opportunity to apply for, and will be determined based on merit.

[Updated September 22, 2021]

If we apply for a new position and are successful, will we be able to provide support to our current department to ensure a smooth transition?

It is necessary for all areas of the university to work together during the transition to ensure critical functions are maintained as new processes are implemented.  As such, when an employee is moving from one department to another, we have asked the hiring supervisor and the original supervisor to discuss the timing and nature of the transfer to meet the needs of both areas.  

[Updated October 19, 2021]

Can staff apply to an Expression of Interest (EOI) position during their disruption period?

Yes. Employees can apply during their notice period for Expressions of Interest postings, as per the EOI’s direct wording:

“This competition is an internal expression of interest opportunity as part of the Service Excellence Transformation initiative and is restricted to NASA salaried university employees (Regular and Auxiliary Salary) currently employed with the university or within a current notice period. Applicants must demonstrate that they have recent and relevant experience performing some or all of the duties sought through the advertisement they are expressing interest in. Please indicate your internal status using the "Advertisement" drop down menu when applying.”

[Updated October 19, 2021]

We were told that with staff moving centrally, the work would shift with them, but in actuality, a large amount of work is being left behind in the faculties and units? What is the plan to address this?

The original design work with SET always indicated that a percentage of the work would still be completed within the faculties and colleges, as indicated in the table below.  SET has begun to work with a few representative faculties in collaboration with the colleges to design their organizational structures to integrate with the new operating model.  Learnings from this activity will be communicated to all faculties for their use as they complete their own reorganization.

College & Faculty Work Distribution

[Updated November 25, 2021]

With HR staff moving from faculties/departments into the Staff Service Centre, we are finding service gaps. Why did these staff members not take their work with them?

Positions in Shared Services (including the Staff Service Centre) are new jobs. Some duties may be similar to what staff did in previous roles, but they have different responsibilities under the new model. While many HR transactional activities will transfer to Shared Services, some HR tasks remain and need to be initiated within faculties and units. We are working with managers to clarify what HR activities remain and identify how those tasks will be completed at the local level. At the same time, we are implementing an interim solution to address the gap.

[Updated December 3, 2021]