SET Update

Todd Gilchrist - 28 January 2021

Hello colleagues,

I would like to thank all of the people who have joined me for recent Ask SET Anything events. As we move through the organizational changes that lie ahead, open communication will be key. As part of that, I will provide periodic updates on our progress.

Working through the transition timeline with an agile process

We’ve met our commitments and the milestones planned to date. For example, we released the SET Interim Report to share our progress and started a functional review of the services we currently provide. 

As you know, the university adopted a new administrative operating model in October 2020, and we are now working on the two-phase implementation process.

The first phase, which will be completed by March 31, is focused on the $30 million budget reduction. The second phase, which runs through 2021, is focused on service and staff transition, but also requires us to reduce our budget by another $30 million. Where these two phases overlap, we have temporary processes in place to ensure critical work is not neglected. 

That approach may seem unusual, but with SET, we’re not following a traditional approach to project management where we develop all of the details and then launch everything at once. I know many of us are planners, and we struggle with not having the answers in advance. You might be feeling anxious or uncomfortable with the uncertainty. But it is important to note that this more agile approach is intentional and best enables the achievement of the short-term cost reduction and long-term service transition imperatives of the SET initiative. In short, we’re planning the details as we go and transitioning our services when we’re ready in a series of smaller changes over time. Maintaining our services through the transition with temporary adjustments is an example of how we will ensure the success of this approach. This method allows us to adjust and transition quickly, and learn what we need to as we go. 

We have provided a timeline that outlines the key stages and next steps. Over the coming months, we’ll focus on the procurement and space and facilities transitions, complete Phase 1 of our budget and staff reductions, and begin to transition people and services to the new administrative operating model.


A new model for administrative activities

From town halls and Ask SET Anything events, I know that many of you still have questions about how the new administrative operating model will work. We’ve developed the following graphic for those who are visual learners like me. From a bird’s eye view, the model centralizes many of the services, administrative activities, processes and functions that are common to faculties and units across the university. But it’s more than centralization. 

It’s about designing service partner roles—strategic professionals in HR, finance, IT, research administration, external relations and students services—that will facilitate positive and aligned relationships between the Centres of Expertise and colleges, portfolios, faculties, departments and units.

It’s about setting up the Centres of Expertise—with specialists whose services and knowledge are accessed primarily through service partners—for success. 

And it’s about developing something new, the Shared Services (the Service Centres and Transaction Hub) team that will operate the service centre, execute tasks, and outline processes for greater efficiency.


How will this model work in practise? Let’s take a student, for example. Someone who needs help would access the Student Service Centre. As this first point of contact, the Service Centre would take the time to understand the student’s needs and problem-solve with the skills they have. If necessary, the Service Centre staff member would connect the student to the appropriate specialized support in a Centre of Expertise by discussing the needs with a service partner. Here are some other examples of how it might play out.

Experience change courageously

Change can be stressful. Even I find the pace and volume of change, compounded by the pressures of the pandemic, to be a challenge. It means that I must be even more purposeful and focused on my physical and mental wellbeing. You might be wondering what role you can play as we move through these changes. 

  • First and foremost, take care of yourself. Learn how to strengthen your mindset and embrace change. Make sure you understand the effects change can have on mental health
  • Get prepared. Even though we don’t have all of the answers yet, the best way to ready yourself for the change is to gather information. Review the ongoing updates to the UAT website, especially the SET frequently-asked questions section
  • Team up. Brainstorm with your colleagues about how you can help each other through a stressful and busy time at the university, and what service excellence means to you. 
  • Look for ways to support each other. Share workloads as best as you can, provide a listening ear and encourage others to get help when they need it.
  • Get involved. Share your ideas with your leaders and participate in consultation opportunities. Help us by flagging inefficiencies and offering your suggestions for how we can automate processes and reduce duplication. 

In the coming months, we’ll share more resources to support you through the restructure and champion a new way of doing things.

A new culture of service excellence and accountability begins soon

SET is a program of transformative change that doesn't just impact where work is done, or who does that work, but also fundamentally changes how work gets done at the detailed process level. The new operating model supports our university community at all levels. Our service culture will be established through collaboration, professional development, measurement, accountability, and continual improvement; it will be underway in the May/June timeframe. I’m excited about the new opportunities this presents for our people.

I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has participated in our consultation opportunities, shared your feedback, and asked thoughtful questions. 

Our next opportunity for input is on Monday, February 1: the Finance Edition of Ask SET Anything. I welcome finance staff, and anyone who is interested, to share their ideas and questions about the finance administrative restructure and transition process.

These discussions guide and inform our work, and it’s very important to me that I understand your perspective. Please let us know what concerns you have and we’ll work to mitigate risk and answer your questions.

Todd Gilchrist
Vice President, University Services and Finance