Reflections on Service Excellence Transformation

Bill Flanagan and Gitta Kulczycki - 23 July 2020

Last week, we held our second university-wide town hall within a seven day period. The response from the U of A community in the early stages of this transformation has been remarkable — thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful feedback and engagement.

More than 1,500 people joined us for the July 15 town hall on Service Excellence Transformation (SET), with 1,000 people participating in our Thoughtexchange forum and sharing nearly 800 thoughts. Another 5,000 have viewed the town hall recording over the past week. If you missed the town hall, the recording is available here.

In the Thoughtexchange forum, one of the top concerns is that the university’s staff must have a strong voice throughout this transformation. This is important feedback and we fully agree that staff have a critical role to play. In response to these concerns, we are establishing a Staff Advisory Team that will help guide our work on both SET and Academic Restructuring. The group will include staff representatives from all faculties and major academic support units. Nominations for this Team will be solicited through faculties and units. It will be important that the Team ultimately has broad representation across faculties, employee categories, and EDI groups. We anticipate the Staff Advisory Team will be up and running in August. Details for how to apply will be coming soon.

The Staff Advisory Team will not be the only means for staff to engage with U of A for Tomorrow. We encourage everyone — staff, faculty, and students — to continue to share your perspectives through:

  • Town halls
  • Thoughtexchange forums
  • Ongoing faculty and unit workshops
  • Upcoming user groups and pulse surveys
  • U of A for Tomorrow website

Overview of Service Excellence Transformation

Service Excellence Transformation (SET) is one of two major components that make up U of A for Tomorrow — the other component being Academic Restructuring. The two initiatives work in parallel with one another as the processes themselves are highly complementary.

SET will focus on transforming our institutional business processes, with a concentration on the following streams of work:

  • Examining academic support functions, whether done centrally or in the faculties
  • Redesigning services and processes, with a focus on achieving economies of scale and specialization
  • Redesigning procurement practices, including consolidation of suppliers and implementation of a strategic procurement framework
  • Reviewing our current approach to space and facilities

While the urgent motivation for restructuring is financial, there are many long-term benefits to re-examining and restructuring how administrative services are provided. These include opportunities to simplify workflows, automate processes, reduce bureaucracy, find efficiencies, and improve the quality of our services.

Reflections on the Thoughtexchange Discussions

Hundreds of important questions and comments have been raised through our two Thoughtexchange forums, and these will guide our discussions and decisions moving forward. At this early stage, we don’t have answers to every question. Instead, your input is helping us identify the core issues that we need to address to make this transformation successful. Here were the top questions raised:

We saw a glimpse of the faculty restructure — what will the administrative restructure look like? What are the operating models?

We are in the very early stages of this process, and no operating model has been decided upon. Before we propose any concrete ideas for restructuring, we are engaging the university community to gather information. The SET team is currently working with faculties and units to develop an accurate picture of the university’s administrative structure, and to understand the intricacies of how each unit operates.

We do know that a “one size fits all” model will not work for the university, nor for individual units. If we look to other institutions that have been successful at this work, we see that transactional activities have often been centralized while other administrative roles — financial analysis and forecasting, or human resources advising, for example — often remain embedded in faculties because that is where they are needed. As we begin to explore models that may work for the U of A, and develop a concrete proposal, we will continue to seek your input and feedback.

Are there plans for generating revenue through new streams?

We are actively exploring additional revenue opportunities. Some future sources of revenue could be:

  • Increased enrolments — both domestic and international
  • Land trust (This will take some time to develop.)
  • Course-based, professional masters degrees
  • Microcredentials
  • Online and international programs

We are encouraging other revenue generating activities where appropriate. U of A for Tomorrow aims to streamline our academic and administrative systems and reduce our costs so that we can invest more incremental revenue into our core teaching and research mission and the student experience at the U of A.

How many jobs are you anticipating to cut?

At the end of 2019–20, we had 400 fewer positions as we closed off that fiscal year. This included reductions through retirements and attrition, as well as through layoffs. Based on the current budget with the anticipated grant reductions, we estimate another 635 position reductions in the current fiscal year. Some of this will be through retirements and attrition, and some will involve layoffs. These changes are the result of the significant cuts to our budget, and not because of restructuring. We know that our staff want to see leadership by example, so restructuring in all areas are on the table. We are looking at leadership portfolios to consider how we can restructure them to make them more efficient and cost effective.

How will you keep burnt-out staff engaged throughout this process, and how will you support staff who are having to take on additional work?

We recognize that this is a very challenging time given the impact of budget reductions, the uncertainty of COVID-19, and the pressure of organizational restructuring. We appreciate all that staff are doing. Thank you for all your efforts.

We hear many concerns about unsustainable workloads, which is exactly why we need to take a holistic look at our processes, find efficiencies and pursue significant changes. We cannot expect to perform the same amount of work, in the same way, with fewer resources. Instead, we need to think carefully about how we restructure our work on campus to reduce the impact of cuts, ensure staff are supported, and continue to deliver exceptional teaching and research.

Continued Consultation

Thank you again for your critical engagement with our service transformation. Your feedback, thoughts, concerns and questions are all helping to inform the SET team’s discussions and proposals. We will continue to keep you informed and engaged as we move this transformation forward.

Bill Flanagan, President and Vice-chancellor
Gitta Kulczycki, Vice President of Finance and Administration


You can view the data reports from each Thoughtexchange forum here:

Report: July 15 — What are your thoughts and questions about administrative restructuring?

Report: July 15–22 — When you think of change efforts the university has mounted in the past, what advice do you have as we move forward?

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