Ask SET Anything: External Engagement Edition recap

Todd Gilchrist - 02 September 2021

Last Wednesday, the SET team hosted another edition of our Ask SET Anything event series. This edition focused on external engagement, and staff in this area were invited to learn more about the new External Relations structure, raise questions, concerns, and share feedback. We had another great turnout with approximately 215 staff joining us for the live Zoom meeting and another 100 watching the livestream. Thank you to everyone who joined the event.

External engagement workstream sponsor, Elan MacDonald (Vice-President, External Relations) and I were joined by a panel consisting of members of the External Relations portfolio and the SET team.

  • Sonia Piano — Associate Vice President, Marketing
  • Jennifer Pascoe — Associate Vice President, Strategic Communications
  • Kelly Spencer — Associate Vice President, Development
  • Sean Price — Executive Director, Alumni Relations
  • Jasbir Sunner — External Engagement Project Manager, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Rob Munro — Executive Lead, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Brian Stewart — Program Director, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Annette MacPherson — Senior HR Service Partner

For those who were unable to attend the event, a recording is available for viewing:


Transforming the External Relations structure

Much of the discussion focused on the new External Relations (ER) structure, which was released at the end of July, with information about how administrative restructuring will impact faculties and units. At the event, Elan MacDonald (VP, External Relations), emphasized that the process of developing the structure was a considerable undertaking which began in fall 2020 when the team first initiated discussions to create the service catalogue. In the year since, the team has established a new structure that brings together Communications, Marketing, Development, Alumni Relations, and Government and Community Relations services under one institutional umbrella.

Elan Macdonald gave a short presentation that provides further detail on the new structure, how it came to be, and the vision going forward.

Populating the new structure

A key priority is filling positions within the new ER structure, starting the recruitment process by filling the leadership roles so that each leader has the opportunity to build out their teams. With the Associate Vice President, Strategic Communications and Associate Vice President, Marketing both filled, the search continues to recruit the remaining director positions. From there, the senior partner and partner roles will be recruited—positions that are entirely new to not only the ER portfolio, but the university. Every faculty will have a partner who reports to a senior partner at the college level. The senior partner will work closely with the college general manager alongside college and faculty leadership, and shared resources will exist at the college level for faculties within it to access further communications, marketing, or digital support as needed. In essence, the partners are the faculties' liaison or gateway to resources for communications and marketing services. Additionally, the Vice Presidential portfolios will be supported by Senior Partners—one senior partner plus three communications associates supporting the Provost and VPRI portfolios and one senior partner plus three communications associates supporting USF and F&O.

As positions continue to be posted, be sure to regularly check the Positions Opportunities Page and Careers website.

Establishing a service culture

A number of principles guided the design of the structure, with service culture being a key driving force. External Relations' service delivery to faculties and units will be predicated on a service culture that ensures strategic, responsive, and timely service based on a deep understanding of needs. While restructuring is driven by cost containment, it's important to take the opportunity to improve processes wherever possible. The success of the model is based on staff working together as a team, creating client-relationships, and delivering service in an integrated fashion. The goal is to build one, cohesive and collaborative External Relations team for the benefit of the entire university.

External engagement web page

To keep you informed about ongoing changes and updates within the external engagement stream, a dedicated web page has been created. This web page tracks progress and provides updates as external engagement functions transition to the new operating model developed under the U of A for Tomorrow initiative. Here you will find an overview of the stream's approach, working group members, upcoming consultation events, FAQs, and more.

Consultation and upcoming events

The external engagement team has invested in a great deal of consultation with faculty and staff across the university. Feedback was heard on what was working well and more importantly, what needed to change. Hearing from hundreds of individuals, the team has worked diligently to establish a structure that incorporates this feedback and that will be responsive to the future needs of the university community.

As we continue with the UAT initiative, we want to ensure that staff have their questions and concerns addressed and learn more about the opportunities in the new model. We will continue to host engagement events including more Ask SET Anything events, so be sure to check the UAT consultation page for upcoming dates and further details. The next event will be the Ask SET Anything: Student Services Edition on September 17 from 11 a.m. - noon.

Below, you will find answers to some of the questions asked during the Ask SET Anything: External Engagement Edition. Stay tuned for these, and more that were submitted, to be answered on the SET FAQ web page and external engagement web page.

Todd Gilchrist
Vice President (University Services and Finance)
Chair, Service Excellence Steering Committee (SESC)



Questions asked and answered

Why does Alumni Relations have an Executive Director and Managers, instead of an Associate Vice President and Directors like the other portfolios?
In the new structure, Associate Vice President (AVP) portfolios are functional units and director teams are Centres of Expertise. AVPs oversee multiple directors and managers, but more importantly, their role is to integrate areas that are not discipline or function specific. Alumni Relations doesn't have those multiple functions because it is a more focused subject area. In the previous structure, it was under the AVP Development portfolio as a Centre of Expertise, with a team delivering specialized programs and services that Alumni Relations does so effectively. In the new structure we have recognized the strategic importance of our Alumni Relations team, and have created a direct reporting relationship between the Executive Director, Alumni Relations, and the Vice President, External Relations. The Vice President ER will be able to provide direct support and oversight to the Alumni Relations team to manage the changes from the new structure and ensure that relationships are preserved and strengthened.

There is a concern with moving to a centralized approach as faculties/units/departments all require varying communications/marketing strategies in order to be successful and competitive. How are you going to ensure that specific needs and services will be delivered centrally?
The communications and marketing partners are key team members who play a critical role in the success of the External Relations portfolio. The partners have a key leadership role in the structure as they will engage with deans, faculty general managers, and other faculty/staff members to develop a strategic approach to the faculty communications that fit with the university's overall strategic priorities. The partners will also ensure that the needs of the faculties and units they represent are considered through the institutional communications and marketing strategy, and are supported by the Centres of Expertise. As is the nature of communications and marketing, the work will be varied and diverse depending on the needs of the faculty. The partners will play a critical role in prioritizing the strategic needs of the faculty within the larger External Relations strategy and U of A brand, supported by the college/unit team and Centres of Expertise. The faculty partners, alongside the communications associates, will report to the senior partner for their respective college.

With what's been described as a more "flattened" structure, what opportunities will there be for career advancement within the new ER structure?
In the new structure there is a clear progression from associate to partner to senior partner to director to all the way up to AVP—a clearer trajectory compared to how our teams grew previously. There are also more mobility opportunities for staff to move between/from a central unit to support a faculty or a unit. This will allow staff to have a more robust experience once they're ready to progress to the next step in their career.

Will more information or a more comprehensive list be provided in regards to what tasks will be assigned to the different service areas?
The external engagement team continues to build on the service catalogue to determine what sits within a Centre of Expertise, what sits in Shared Services, or what is the responsibility of a faculty partner. We are also planning on a knowledge transfer process that will build on both the discovery data and the review that was completed last year. Details around this process will be made available shortly. Once the senior partners are in place, we will have further conversations about specifics, in order to determine the unit specific needs. This is still under development and will be an iterative and emergent process in the months ahead.

Can you provide more details about the new Events team within Alumni Relations?
The new Events team will initially focus on supporting the External Relations teams while we develop the supporting policies and processes. A review will be conducted of all the different audiences we specialize in reaching out to including alumni, donors, government and community, and assisting with some institutional events as well. From there, the vision is to grow the team to provide university-wide support where required, which is integral to our culture and engagement strategy. However, some elements of Events may be transferred to Shared Services where it is deemed appropriate; for example, event logistics as identified in the service catalogue.



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