Our FOI of the Tekara Organizational Effectiveness Contract
It’s been a while since we’ve discussed Vision Vancouver’s goal of bringing “systemic social change” to City Hall. For over 2½ years Vancouver's Mayor Gregor has supported the efforts of his hand-picked City Manager Penny Ballem to massively reform the way public servants do their jobs. Initially there was cautious support for reform, but after months of upheaval and reports of plummeting staff morale, it's became clear that City Hall was on a difficult track.
Reeling from a series of leaks coming from within the Hall documenting workplace malcontent, Dr. Ballem decided it was time to call in the experts. With the backing of Mayor Gregor, the City Manager hired Tekara Organizational Effectiveness Inc. to come in and advise her on how to overhaul the City's workplace culture. She also put in place a full-time "Manager, Organizational Change," and a host of "Change Consultants" (see May 2011 HR Dept. org chart), who are still occupying one of the mostly empty upper floors at 12th & Cambie.
Now an FOI placed by CityCaucus.com shows that all that “systemic social change” didn’t cost spare change.
Documents released by the City state show that the budget to hire Tekara was set at $47,000 to assist them in coordinating a series of meetings to help staff cope with all the change. The invoices state Tekara was billing up to $2,000 per day for their services. Our FOI request accounted for a approximately $23,520 worth of billings.
Now, this is only the money devoted to coming up with a plan for change. Implementing that plan involves a whole other set of costs.
It’s been months since all of the feel-good change management meetings occurred, yet I’m still hearing nothing has significantly improved at City Hall. A veteran staffer told me, "No matter what Ballem is spending on change consultants, it's doing squat for folks on the front-line. This is all a big PR exercise." Of course, some staff do approve of Vision's New Order.
A summary of the staff survey conducted by yet another external contractor revealed some serious issues bubbling just under the surface. The Hay Group report confirmed that the majority of staff were unhappy. 43% of staff had an unfavourable impression of their current leadership. Meanwhile, 30% couldn’t decide either way, while a paltry 27% had a favourable impression of their bosses.
Fellow blogger Frances Bula summed it up nicely in a post she wrote on this subject. Here is an excerpt:
I continue to hear about people who want to leave because they just don’t feel like their work is valued or that they have any real say.
The new media policy continues to be demoralizing for many at city hall. It has been revised, by the way. Media have been given a list of about 15 senior managers at city hall whom we are now allowed to contact at will. But it leaves off dozens of people who have been regular and helpful sources for the media in the past, along with others we may want to contact in the future.
The unmistakeable message for staff on the no-fly list is that they’re considered too dumb, too unable to express themselves coherently, or too dangerous to be allowed to speak publicly. As one said, “They’re telling us we can’t talk because we’re not supposed to express opinions before reports are discussed by council. But we’re paid to write reports that have our recommendations in them.
In the end, I’m convinced that throwing thousands of dollars at a change management consultant was indeed more about optics than dealing with dysfunction. Staff’s concern regarding the nature and pace of change at City Hall still remains very high – and we don’t need a costly survey to confirm that.
If Vision Vancouver continues down the path of politicizing staff and pushing them out of City Hall for simply upholding the principles of a non-partisan public service, they’ll continue to face problems.
What Mayor Gregor seems to forget is a big percentage of his 9000 employees either live in Vancouver or they have networks here. That’s a very large pool of potentially dissatisfied voters heading to the polling booths this November.
Low staff morale is just another X Factor which will contribute to some very interesting results in November's civic election. I’ll have more to say on the topic of staff satisfaction in the coming weeks as Vancouver prepares to sign another collective agreement with CUPE.
Post by Daniel. Follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus.