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.

Staff transitions

How will you manage the need for remaining staff to take on more work as positions are eliminated?

We cannot expect our support staff to continue to do more work with less support and fewer overall staff. That is why we are looking at how we organize and do our work through end-to-end analysis of every function. The process of restructuring will significantly reduce redundancies, simplify procedures and workflows, reveal opportunities for automation, and create more rewarding and specialized work opportunities for frontline workers. Our ultimate goal is to support our teaching and research mission in a sustainable way, rather than continuing to distribute cuts across campus in a way that is not strategic and results in added burden on remaining staff.

[Updated September 2020]

How will new positions be filled? [How are people moved to new positions?]

Faculty to central unit transitions: Where administrative roles within the new model are the same or substantially similar to existing roles, we aim to transfer those existing roles (and the person in the role) from existing faculties and units into new central units within the model. This is expected to account for many of the roles within the new model.

New role creation from existing talent pool: Where new roles — those substantially different from existing positions on campus — are created in the centres of excellence, the transaction processing hub, as service partners, or in the staff and student service centres, existing staff will be asked to express their interest in those roles through internally restricted expressions of interest. Candidates for those roles will be selected from the pool of interested candidates. Because many new roles will not be an exact duplicate of existing individual roles, successful candidates may be provided with the additional training for their new appointments.

New role creation with differing requirements: Where new roles require talents, experience or skills not normally found within existing staff roles, those roles will be posted both internally and externally. All things equal, internal candidates will be given preference over external candidates when selections are made.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

How can faculties release people before systems are available in the centre?

The faculties have recently submitted their FTE allocation/reduction plans in two timelines: reductions needed before March 31, 2021 and reductions from April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.

We will review the plans in detail with the faculties to understand their systems and processes and to prioritize system development at the centre. Faculties have agreed to begin phase one by transferring or reducing less-critical processes, reserving the more critical processes for phase two (March 2021 to March 2022). This phased approach will allow the SET team to review and modify processes and develop support in the centre. Continuity planning will also be included to ensure knowledge is retained. These plans will include identification of core business operations affected during the transition period, resources needed to maintain minimum continuity, and key operational risks and their mitigations.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

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 be contracting out positions?

The university will continue to look for the most efficient means to provide administrative services and this could include exploring some contracted services. In such cases, the university will follow the processes defined within university policies and the collective agreements and engage the unions in the necessary consultation.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Job losses

How many job losses will there be and when?

As a result of government funding reductions in 2019/20 and 2020/21, in March the University of Alberta announced that at least 1000 full time equivalent continuing positions would have to be lost through layoffs, attrition, and retirements. At fiscal year end on March 31, 2020, approximately 400 of these 1000 positions had been cut. Since then, layoffs have continued, and through this year and next, we will need to continue to reduce our workforce and save $60 million. Consistent with our projection last March, the university must reduce its budget by $30 million by the end of the 2020/21 fiscal year.

The goal of both academic restructuring and SET is to help us restructure our administrative functions so that we can continue to provide high quality services with fewer staff. Without restructuring, we would be imposing an unsustainable burden on the remaining staff, to do the same amount of work with significantly fewer people.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

What is the timing of the layoffs?

We will provide as much clarity as possible about what we know and can anticipate will happen over the coming months. We know that the university must save $30 million by the end of this fiscal year; therefore, reductions are planned for January to March 2021. Further layoffs, equating to an additional $30 million, will happen in phase two (April 2021 to March 2022).

[Updated December 10, 2020]

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]

How will seniority factor into decisions around layoffs?

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.

[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]

At what point will support staff be able to feel that their jobs are secure?

We are confident that our plans will result in the savings we have published and will result in financial sustainability for the university. While the SET project is unprecedented among Canadian post-secondary institutions, we do know from looking at other universities around the world that have gone through similar transformations, that we can achieve these savings and at the same time maintain a very high level of service for our faculty, staff, and students. We also know the university has had a long history and has gone through hard times in the past; it is resilient and this will continue to be the case.

Of course the reality is that we cannot ever guarantee job security. We know that the Alberta government is facing very significant financial challenges, so it would be prudent of us to anticipate more cuts. However we will do everything we can to minimize the number of position disruptions across our campuses. With SET and academic restructuring, we are putting in place the systems we need to manage these kinds of challenges, create opportunities for growth, and create financial sustainability for the future.

Throughout it all, we remain committed to finding solutions that make it possible for us to retain our skilled workforce to the greatest extent possible and to make the working conditions for those remaining as positive and rewarding as possible.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

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

It’s understandable that you may feel anxious during this time of uncertainty. 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 manager, Megan McDougald, as it provides some context to the feelings we all experience during change.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Financial impacts

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]

Student services

With the proposed centralization of student services, what is being done to ensure that the student experience is enhanced or maintained?

It is important to note that not all student services are being centralized. Our objective is to be thoughtful and consistent with the operating model when considering how processes are streamlined and centralized through the Student Service Centre, and in other pockets of the student services stream. The Student Service Centre will aim to deliver many of our current student services, however, the Centre will also navigate students to services in other units, departments, faculties, and colleges. We expect that the Student Service Centre will support different pathways – for example, undergraduate, graduate, and international experiences. We also know that some student services will be best delivered at the faculty level. 

The Student Centre won’t be impersonal — students will still be able to talk to staff members or have personalized service. The intention is that students can easily access services, get the advice they need when they need it, from one location, with updated and clear information for when and where they should be able to get support in different cases. As with any change, we know that there may be a period of disruption as we adjust to the new system, but data from other institutions that have experienced a similar transition shows that this period is temporary. As we navigate through the transition, we will deploy a student engagement plan which will involve monitoring student satisfaction with service delivery, identifying gaps and issues, and ensuring continuous improvement. 

[Updated February 11, 2021]

Since advisors need to be close to the programs and students, how will centralizing student services enhance the student experience?

The key objectives of our stream are to build an ecosystem that enables quality student services provided from many different locations, including the Student Service Centre, and to build a shared knowledge base that will help advisors placed anywhere in the ecosystem to advise and help navigate their students to specific services. We will work to ensure a closer connection between colleges, faculties, program-level services, and the university-wide services that we provide, while improving the holistic student experience. This approach does not necessarily mean that the service will be generic for all students; rather, we expect the Student Service Centre will support different pathways — for example, undergraduate, graduate, and international students. We also know that some student services, such as academic program advising, will best be delivered at the faculty level. Advisors will exist all over the university and although executing different purposes, they will all have a common mission to provide high level personal support to students whether in a faculty or central unit.

[Updated Februrary 11, 2021]

Will the new Student Service Centre lose the personal touch staff now offer?

The Student Service Centre will provide personalized service as students will still be able to interact with  staff members.We will build on the service commitment to students that is already well-established within the Office of the Registrar and Dean of Students with a goal to enhance this already high level of service.

The intention is that students can easily find services, receive the advice they need when they need it, from one location, and with clear navigation paths for where they should be able to find support in different cases. The Student Service Centre will coordinate with the faculties and units on campus to ensure that knowledge based articles are kept up-to-date so that comprehensive and consistent information is provided to students.

In order to provide high quality service, we need more scalable services that allow for appropriate self-serve options and  workflow automations where possible, so that the people available can focus on customer service and manage the workload more effectively.  

As with any change, we know that there may be a period of disruption as we adjust to the new system, but data from other institutions who have experienced similar transition, shows that this period is temporary. As we navigate through the transition, we will deploy a student engagement plan, which will involve monitoring student satisfaction with service delivery, identifying gaps and issues, and ensuring continuous improvement.

[Updated February 11, 2021]

What will the student services look like for graduate students or students in professional programs?

For generalized or transaction-based inquiries, the Student Service Centre will support students with different pathways, such as undergraduate, graduate, transfer, professional program students, as well as international students. We recognize, however, that certain activities such as academic advising or clinical placements is best done at the faculty or program level because the advisors have specialized knowledge; it wouldn't be in the student's best interest to centralize these services. Faculties will coordinate their individualized student supports with the Student Service Centre in ways that provide a more seamless experience for students. From a student perspective, there should be no change in specialized service from their home faculty.

[Updated February 11, 2021]

Operating model

Can we get an 'interim report' from SET?

On November 26, the Service Excellence Steering Committee (SESC) released the Service Excellence Transformation (SET) Interim Report, which provides the data, analysis and rationale that went into the decision for the new operating model and also shares details about the transition planning, HR principles, and next steps for the U of A community.

[Updated November 27, 2020]

Why was only one model proposed and not various options compared to the different restructuring models presented?

During the process of determining which framework to propose to the Board, we reviewed the full spectrum of operating models that are used at universities across Canada, the US, the UK and Australia, from fully-centralized models to completely devolved models. Both ends of the spectrums present pros and cons, but completely centralized is too much of a culture shift from what we have now, and completely devolved or decentralized is too expensive. We landed on a more blended model framework.

While leadership has determined the university’s operating model and organizational structure, staff will be involved in the details surrounding the specific processes and services in order for the model to be successful.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Are you considering the past issues in consolidations that were already tried and what did not work so as to avoid the same problems in the future?

Yes, we are looking at many other high-performing, research intensive universities internationally that have gone through similar restructuring — to learn from their experience. We have also looked at other Canadian universities who have used elements of this framework, including University of Calgary (service partners) and University of Saskatchewan (transaction processing hub).

This does not necessarily mean we are replicating any particular institution’s approach or operating model. No university has faced a funding challenge of this size, within these timeframes, that we know of, which is why we are considering a range of institutions so that we can take advantage of what has worked, and avoid what did not.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Why did you not do this reorganization before?

The UniForum data has indicated that the University of Alberta requires a greater effort to provide the same (or in some cases lower) levels of service compared to other universities. We started benchmarking with UniForum using 2018/19 data and the original plan was to complete two years of data collection before contemplating any changes. As such, it is likely that the university would have started making changes in 2021 if there were no budget pressures, and would have been conducted over the course of five to ten years.

However, the extreme nature of the operating budget cuts have forced us to start the work earlier than intended and at a much faster pace than would have been initiated under different circumstances.

The extent of our budget pressures is unprecedented and has necessitated the university to holistically review how administrative services are provided.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Why are you treating all faculties the same?

Faculties are treated equitably. Those faculties that have already made structural changes and are operating more efficiently have received a smaller reduction target. As well, some faculties with different mandates (e.g. Native Studies, Augustana, and Campus St. Jean) received some relief to recognize their unique nature.

The FTE resource model approved by the Board of Governors was developed to predict resource allocation to each faculty and centre unit. This model first determined how much centralization would be needed for each functional area across the university. Then it was used to determine the total number of FTEs to be allocated to the faculties and centre units. FTE allocation was determined based on the number of students, the research intensity of the faculty, the facilities footprint, and the number of non-administrative staff.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

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]

Where do APO's fit into this new operating model?

APOs will continue to play a lead role in supporting the university’s academic mission and will have key positions within and throughout the new operating model. 

[Updated December 10, 2020]

How are we going to remove unnecessary bureaucracy?

All processes that are moving to a structure in the new model will be reviewed to determine if the activities are needed and if they can be simplified and improved. The team will look for and eliminate steps that do not add value. The SET team will engage internal audit and enterprise risk management for their opinion on processes that are overcontrolled compared to the risk of failure or non-compliance. We have engaged our community and will continue to identify unwarranted bureaucracy.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

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

As part of the transformation, the university will complete a functional analysis of individual processes. This analysis will engage individuals that are most familiar with the current processes and will identify and correct inefficiencies. The design principles will include simplification and will ensure that control processes will be proportional to the risk (e.g. financial, reputational, safety, etc.) which will result in less bureaucracy.

In addition, we have started to engage staff including the Staff Advisory Team to identify processes that have little to no value or that have inefficiency within them. These will be prioritized and actioned for completion. The university is also adopting a continuous improvement model and inefficient processes that are not addressed during the first phase of the transformation will be addressed in the long term.

In the initial stages of SET, a Rapid Process Improvement (RPI) program was implemented and a number of inefficient systems were identified and actioned for improvement.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

The new model feels sterile. Will we lose the university culture?

The U of A has its own unique culture that can and will be maintained with the new model and structure. While we will be working together in different ways through the new administrative operating model, we are still a community that prides itself on supporting the U of A mission with excellence. Ultimately we are all responsible for the culture we create. With empathy, patience and understanding, we can become stronger and more connected than ever before.

[Updated December 10, 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 at the Staff Service Centre: respond to benefits and payroll queries, provide expense advice, IT support.
  • Examples of services provided in the Transaction Processing Hub: support for payroll, expense reimbursement, accounts receivable and payable, scholarship payments, job posting administration.
  • Examples of Centres of Excellence: 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 December 10, 2020]

Will any existing units be left as-is, or will all units be moved to one of the new models?

We have not yet designed to that level of detail. For those units that are already providing central services, such as IT, HR, and Finance, there will likely be movement from the faculties into the centre. However, we also know that there are some services that will need to be anchored in the faculties and will stay there.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Consultation and engagement

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

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 consultation and engagement. 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. Full implementation of the model will unfold over the next 18 months; 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.

As of February 2021, 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

[Updated Februray 22, 2021]

How much participation will faculties have in determining which staff/roles are redeployed from their units?

We have been and will continue to work closely with deans and leadership teams across faculties and units to hear their voice and understand exactly what is important to them. The transformation is a joint effort and will require collaboration across the university to ensure the right activities are transitioned to the appropriate units within the operating model and processes are updated or changed.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Why haven't employees been directly involved in developing the operating model? / How can you make changes to my role when you do not know what I do?

The new operating model is based on research and evidence around best practices; it defines, at a high-level, the organizational structure necessary to provide services across the university with a reduced operating budget while maintaining a sustainable workload for all employees. While the development of the new operating model was determined by university leadership, it is only the first step in the SET plan. As part of the scheduled next phase of the SET program, staff engagement and consultation will be critical as we review each functional area and design new processes.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

What is the discovery process?

The discovery process is the first phase of the workstream functional reviews. Its purpose is to understand key process and staff activities within each of the six functional workstreams, as well as identify opportunities to consolidate and automate processes. This process consists of two steps, the first being information gathering, where key contacts are identified and service catalogues are reviewed. During this phase, the project team connects with functional experts in the respective functional area to learn more about the current state of processes at the university, which informs what kind of work is being done, where it's done, and by whom. It is also an opportunity to discover good practices, systems, and processes within the faculties and units that can be applied more broadly to the institution through the redesign process.

The second step is the process impact assessment which will assess similarities and exceptions in processes, among other analysis functions. During this phase, the discovery data will ultimately inform a prioritized list of processes to be redesigned first. The prioritization list is based on a variety of criteria including a risk profile, change effort required, dependencies, and more. Thereafter, the processes and activities will undergo a detailed process analysis which includes further consultation with working groups composed of operational staff and service end-users. Lastly, the discovery findings will also help us ensure that proper supports are in place for transitioning to the new model.

For more information on the discovery phase, read our article here.

[Updated Februray 22, 2021]

Equity, diversity and inclusivity (EDI)

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]

How are you going to ensure EDI issues are addressed?

As we develop plans for administrative transformation with the SET program, we are continually guided by our commitments to equity, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) as outlined within the university’s EDI Strategic Plan. We recognize that as the university’s workforce is reduced due to budgetary constraints, these reductions are likely to negatively impact the progress made in providing a more inclusive work environment. As we implement new administrative structures in the future, we will actively follow established EDI practices with the desire to increase/maintain representation from under-represented groups in our decisions regarding new appointments and role recruitment. EDI has been, and will continue to be, important to the university and the SET program.

We have also asked all members of the SET team to complete the federal government's GBA+ training, so that we have a better understanding of unintentional biases and all EDI issues as we're designing the processes.

[Updated February 5, 2021]

Service culture

Are you saying that administrative personnel are not doing a good job at “service excellence?”

We all acknowledge that administrative personnel across our university take great pride in the services they provide and work hard to serve their staff, students, and community. Despite our best attempts to provide consistent and high-quality service at all times, we also recognize that our processes, procedures, and systems can be a barrier, and as a result, service provided is sometimes inconsistent.

By redesigning our systems, processes, and structures, we can provide more efficient and effective customer service, while at the same time improving staff satisfaction and fulfillment. It is also vital that we create a common understanding of service culture and develop methods to measure the effectiveness of our service delivery model as an input to a continual improvement process.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Satisfaction with some services provided by central units hasn't been strong in the past — how are you going to change this?

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]

How are Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) generated?

SET may provide guidance and advice to functional units, but each unit will develop KPIs by working with employees and other stakeholders. The KPIs will be published and accessible so they do not come as a surprise to anyone.

KPIs will be one of several mechanisms to measure a process’s effectiveness and efficiency, and will be used to develop priorities for continual improvement.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Will 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 can you claim there will be any improvements in service 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 you possibly make this change in the 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.
  • Where possible, individuals will be directly appointed into new roles that are similar to their position. This will help retain institutional knowledge.
  • 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 December 10, 2020]

Data and research

What is UniForum?

The UniForum Program was developed by an academic in 2009 specifically to compare the cost and effectiveness of administrative functions across a collection of universities. The program now includes universities from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Canada, and continually evolves based on member experiences.

The program divides administrative activity into 65 individual categories within 11 high-level functions. As a starting point in our analysis, we aggregated all costs associated with administrative services and compared that to all other participating members in the UniForum collection. As all costs are aggregated and statistically validated, any errors in coding to individual services did not affect our high-level analysis.

The University of Alberta has gone through two rounds of data collection, in 2019 and in 2020.

See here for complete information about UniForum at the U of A or for information on UniForum in SET.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

How much are we relying on UniForum data?

UniForum has been used as a baseline for the SET program process. To further validate the UniForum data, we have also analyzed the university’s current administrative functions’ organizational structure using PeopleSoft data which is independent of the UniForum data.

UniForum has been used as a baseline for the SET program process. To further validate the UniForum data, we have also analyzed the university’s current administrative functions’ organizational structure using PeopleSoft data which is independent of the UniForum data.

See here for complete information about UniForum at the U of A or for information on UniForum in SET.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Is UniForum data reliable?

Concerns surrounding the data collection process — such as discrepancies between an individual’s choice in coding their tasks, or a supervisor’s choice in coding tasks without employee input — are valid. However, with the large volume of the data, miscoded tasks will not significantly affect the SET model.

We analyzed the UniForum data at the function level. For example, if an employee miscoded time spent budgeting as account reconciliation — both within the same function (Finance) — this would not affect the analysis since the information is aggregated. While potential miscoding does impact the distribution of work between functions, they make statistically insignificant impressions on the model.

Ultimately, employees and supervisors will need to decide during implementation what roles will be needed within the new operating model, and will use their knowledge of the service requirements to make these decisions.

See here for complete information about UniForum at the U of A or for information on UniForum in SET.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Why is Nous making all of the decisions?

All decisions reside with the university. The SET program team and university leadership have engaged Nous to help advise, guide, and contribute to our model development based on their extensive experience and knowledge of transformations across a number of research-intensive universities. They have added incredible value by making recommendations on how to complete the transformation. We have assembled an integrated project management team which includes Nous consultants and University of Alberta staff.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Vice-presidential reorganization

Who made these decisions?

The decision to restructure the VP portfolios was a decision made by senior leadership to support a more centralized administrative operating model.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

What is the timing of these changes?

While the new organizational structure is effective immediately, changes will be implemented over time with completion by March 31, 2021.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Why do we have new leadership positions at the senior level?

Now that the new administrative operating model has been approved, we need to ensure that the appropriate organizational structure is in place to support this more centralized model. This has necessitated some new positions at the senior leadership level. For example, the AVP Marketing and the AVP Shared Services. Other AVP roles have been eliminated or changed their focus, such as the revised AVP Innovation & Commercialization or the AVP Campus Services.

Another issue with the current structure was that some existing senior positions had too many direct reports; this limits their ability to provide the direct interpersonal leadership that each direct report needs to succeed. The new approach reduces the number of direct reports to most senior leaders and streamlines to 6 to 8 per senior leader. This results in a 33% reduction in the number of direct reports to the VPs, excluding deans.

[Updated November 2020]

Space and facilities

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.

KPMG was contracted through a competitive bid process to review space and facilities practices across the university. Their report will be released in January and will provide a thorough assessment, recommended strategies and best practice approaches.

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.

[Updated December 14, 2020]