Controls: show



[log in] or [register] to leave a comment for this document.

Go to: all documents

Options: show

Looking inside:
PFR Strategies and Plans: Commentaries
( display item 9)



[home] [about] [help] [policies] [legal disclaimer]


[profiles] [forum]

return to container details page
previous display
next display

Analysis: Organizational structure

18-May-2011 [159]

• An outside analysis of “Renewing our focus – Moving forward with Structural Change in Parks and Recreation.”

A letter to David Miller

From Jutta Mason/ Friends of Dufferin Grove Park

On Monday November 17, 2003, the senior management of Parks and Recreation dropped a bombshell on its employees. They called together all the neighbourhood-based supervisors and local-area managers and told them that their jobs were about to be transformed or to disappear. In fact the entire structure of this public-space enterprise was about to change completely.

As a citizen who’s been much involved with my local park and also with the bigger picture for about 18 years, I was alarmed at the hints I heard about this meeting. I tried very hard to find out details but it was tough – the 200-odd staff who had been summoned had all been sworn to secrecy. However, rumours started to fly, all the way down to park litter-pickers, and various staff whom I knew looked very unhappy. Then on Friday, an envelope with no return address was left for me at the rink office in Dufferin Grove Park, marked “confidential.”

Inside was a paper entitled “Renewing our focus – Moving forward with Structural Change in Parks and Recreation.” This, I gather, is the official document unveiled in power-point at the secret meeting. I have spent part of the weekend analyzing the contents to see how they would affect our park. This is what I learned:

There will be one less director and there will be 18 fewer area-managers and neighbourhood supervisors (the report says 28 less, but apparently 10 of those positions are vacant already). The remaining 182 staff at that meeting will be assigned to very large sections of the city, and they will float according to a list of “functions” rather than being assigned to any neighborhood.

This is a very bad blow for neighbourhoods. In our area, if this change goes through, our very active ‘park friends’ group will have to work with 21 different supervisors and 6 managers, where we currently work with three supervisors and one manager. (The details of this complex new maze, as they would affect our area, are listed in the appendix at the end of this paper.) The working relationships we slowly built up after the last big upheaval when the megacity was created, will disappear in one stroke. And the story will be the same for citizen’s groups (park friends and advisory councils) all over the city.

But there’s more. If I am reading the report correctly, the role of the “strategic planning” section of Parks and Recreation (to be called the “Strategic and Business Services Unit”) will be greatly increased and they will add 22 new people who are called “officers,” and who will be the vigilant eyes and ears of senior management. 12 of them would be sent all over to gather information and bring it back to senior management for analysis and planning, and 10 would be sent all over to investigate and report on how well the plans were being carried out. The planning document says they’ll be expected to “operate with a minimum of supervision,” reporting only to the Operations Support Coordinator.

The operations support coordinator in turn would report to the Director of the Strategic and Business Services Unit. This office would be in charge of all strategic planning, budget, financial and performance measures, and business services. (The business part is selling things to people, like for example, fitness programs and advertising space and the right to place Pepsi machines or Coffee Time franchises in parks.) The Strategic unit would be large: 22 managers, supervisors and officers within the unit itself. Then if you count all the special officers placed in the other sections but reporting to this unit, that would be an additional 13 (including one officer reporting from the general manager’s office).

The organizational chart of this unit looks business-generic – it could be referring to General Motors. There is no sense that they’re referring to parks or people.

It may be unfortunate or it may be intentional that the unit’s numerous investigative staff are called “officers.” In some situations, the totalitarian connotations of such an arrangement could possibly be softened in the day-to-day, by the working loyalties developed over years among parks staff. However, in this case the proposed restructuring is so sudden and so thorough that it would likely swamp out the remaining networks of trust and respect among supervisory parks and recreation staff throughout the whole Division. (The 18 yet-unnamed positions to be eliminated mean that any staff openly disagreeing with this revolution right now could suffer a harsh consequence.)

An unusually dedicated parks-crew foreman told me yesterday that the city looks at their employees not as people, but merely as numbers, which can be moved around at will. This report pretty well says the same thing, praising the new system for its “city wide staff allocation…allowing for increased flexibility in placing staff where they are most needed operationally.”

It is likely that the “re-structuring” is an attempt by senior management to show the new council that they are taking radical steps to address their Division’s overspent budget. The budget problems are real and must be solved, but this plan is no solution. If these plans go ahead, the new municipal government will begin with an exceedingly damaged parks department.

The report has other major problems:

1. The problem of poor consultation

Citizens: The strategic planning process leading up to this report is described as based on “extensive community consultation with Toronto’s diverse communities.” As a representative of our 180-member park friends’ group, I can describe our portion: I was invited to attend one meeting, where strategic planning staff outnumbered citizens. By way of introduction we were shown a TV infomercial about Toronto and then were given sheets with specific planning and vision options from which we had to choose. The strategic planner who led the meeting said that we could not discuss anything other than those options, and she meant it: when an elderly woman tried to raise a concern, the planner interrupted her with the instruction to “stay on task.” After an hour of this, I left before the end of the meeting. Other park activists I’ve talked with told me they had either given up going to city consultation sessions, regarding them as a waste of time, or they had never heard about them.

Staff: I have the impression that no staff below the director level were consulted on this huge organizational change.

2. The problem of misleading numbers

User census: to underline the competence of the current management, this report says that presently 400,000 Torontonians are registered in recreation programs and 2.6 million take part in swimming, clubs, or skating. These numbers are impossible – unless indeed every man, woman and child in Toronto is engaged in a city recreation activity.

Polls: the report also repeats the oft-mentioned Environics poll supposedly showing over 90% satisfaction with Parks and Recreation. In fact, the telephone poll (of approximately 500 people) listed over 40% of the 90% as being only “somewhat satisfied” with the parks, even less with recreation centres. Canadians, well-mannered as we are, may not want to act too grouchy when a pollster calls us at home at dinnertime on an April evening. So the respondents chose the “glass half full” option. That means this Parks and Recreation administration doesn’t have a polling basis for repeating too often, as they do in their report, that under their leadership “the Division is delivering excellent services.”

Money: the report concludes that these changes will save approximately $2.5 million. Last year’s 2003-budget-committee projections called for the elimination of 9 supervisors and 8 managers, estimating a saving of $650,000. That’s 17 people. This report calls for the abolition of 18 positions (in addition to the ten that were already vacant from before). It’s obvious that cutting one additional person would not bring the savings to $2.5 million. But there is no additional math showing why the savings would be so large with this organizational deconstruction – just an assertion. In the context of other million-dollar miscalculations of Parks and Recreation expenditures this year, as well as rumoured million-dollar arithmetic errors in their accounting department, this report’s savings estimates need more proof than is here.

3. The problem of ungrounded management language

The report refers to citizens as “clients” and “consumers” and even “customers” of parks and recreation services. A ferry ticket price or a summer camp fee is a “consumer product category.” The report says Parks and Recreation needs a transformation, allowing the planners to think big at the top. They are “positioning themselves” to promptly analyze city-wide trends, easily identify costs and implement changes, flexibly place staff and match them to new portfolios, seamlessly accomplish change at the same time as minimizing staff change and above all, repeated on almost every page, “move the division forward.” They say they are devoting themselves to “a dynamic process that requires continuous evaluation and fine tuning.”

It looks like maybe the folks at the top have lost their way, in the world of this management language, ungrounded in real parks or real neighbourhoods.